Acoustics
Indoor climate and well-being

What Happens When Sound Turns into Noise Pollution?

1 January 1

Noise pollution is an unseen threat. It exists both on land and beneath the sea, indoor and outdoor. In this article, we discuss the causes, the effects, and possible solutions to minimise the effects of noise pollution.

noise-pollution

Noise pollution is defined as any unwanted or disturbing sound that has an adverse effect on the health and well-being of humans and other living organisms. I am sure, we’ve all experienced the uncomfortable feeling of poor acoustics at home, in the office, at school or in a restaurant enjoying dinner with friends. 

Living in Noisy Cities  

As the population grows, the number of people living in crowded urban areas will also increase. It is estimated that by 2050, over two-thirds of the population will live in urban areas, which will only increase the amount of noise pollution[1].  

Long-term exposure to day-evening-night traffic noise levels of at least 55 decibels affects an estimated 113 million Europeans[2]. Furthermore, 22 million Europeans are subjected to high levels of noise from railways, 4 million to high levels of aircraft noise, and fewer than 1 million to high levels of noise from industries[2]

According to a recent BBC report, parts of the London Underground were "loud enough to damage people's hearing," with noise levels exceeding 105 decibels on many lines[3]. According to the report, some were "so loud that hearing protection would be required if they were workplaces."[3] 

Based on a survey among citizens of the EU, by the World Health Organization (WHO), 80% of respondents believed that noise affects their health. Per the World Hearing Index, a person living in the loudest cities has hearing capabilities equal to someone 10-20 years older[4]. Overall, the findings revealed a 64% correlation between hearing loss and noise pollution[4]

For all these reasons, it is important to be aware of the environmental noise impact and take safety measures for a proper sound reduction.  

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Map of Exposure Noise Pollution Index

When Does Sound Become Noise?  

There are different sound levels that can damage human health and ability to concentrate and work. It is important to be aware of these levels in order to address noise pollution. 

Sound is measured in decibels. Sounds below 70 dB (decibel) are generally considered safe but sounds above 85 dB can damage your hearing over time. To put this in perspective, rustling leaves is about 20 to 30dB. An ambulance siren is 120 dB while popping a toy balloon is 154 dB. Moderate loud sounds, like alarm clocks, road traffic noise, and even operating hairdryers are considered to have an average of 90 dB. 

In addition to dB levels, the duration and frequency of exposure to noises need also to be considered. This means that a sound that we initially don't think is too loud can still have an effect on our mental and physical health.

Article illustration, Rockfon, blog post, insight, graph, noise, hearing damage

The graph illustrates how long we would need to be exposed to different levels of sound and noise in restaurants before it becomes harmful [5].  

However, noise pollution is not only something we find outside. It is also present inside restaurants, schools, the office and our homes. 

6 Causes of Noise Pollution 

Noise pollution can be seen and felt in a variety of ways. Some of the causes and sources are things we see and experience every day but choose to ignore. Some of them are listed below. 

1. Industrialisation: 

Machines in large industries make a lot of noise. Aside from the common exhaust, generator, and grinding mills, there are numerous other appliances that contribute to noise pollution. 

2. Events: 

Nowadays, large speakers are used to playing loud music at weddings, parties, or gatherings. While this may be 'fun' to some extent, it causes a lot of disruption and noise problems in the neighbourhood. Bars, discos, and pubs all contribute to noise pollution. 

3. Vehicles: 

It goes without saying that vehicles are the next source of noise pollution. The honking or even the mere sound of some vehicles and their silencers is a total earache. 

4. Human Activities: 

Everyday appliances such as the television, grinder, mixer, and so on generate a lot of noise. It is only torture when all of the houses in the neighbourhood begin to do this. It has a negative impact on the quality of your life and the neighbourhood. 

5. Poor City Planning: 

Poor urban planning also contributes to noise pollution. Noise can enter our surroundings in many ways. Traffic jams and constant honking, congested areas, competition for basic amenities, and large families sharing small spaces can all cause noise to enter our surroundings. 

6. Building Sites: 

Mining, the construction of flyovers, or even a simple house repair all generate a significant amount of noise. Drilling is an excellent form of exercise. Construction equipment is extremely loud and difficult to tolerate. 

All of this has negative effects on our quality of life and causes a lot of trouble in our neighbourhood. 

What Are the Impacts of Noise Exposure? 

Every day, millions of people are affected by noise pollution. According to WHO, traffic noise affects one out of every three people in Europe. Noise pollution has a significant social and economic impact in addition to the purely medical effects on individuals. Noise-Induced Hearing Loss is one of the most common health effects it causes (NIHL). 

Noise pollution causes sleep disturbances, which affects an individual's work performance during the day. It can also lead to hypertension and cardiovascular issues, such as heart disease or high blood pressure. This can cost the health system more money. Furthermore, noise pollution also has a negative effect on children's school performance. 

WHO estimated approximately 15% of the world's adult population has some degree of hearing loss. 1.1 billion young people worldwide are at risk of hearing loss as a result of unsafe listening habits[6]. Exposure to loud sounds on personal audio devices and in noisy entertainment venues falls under this category. Nearly 2.5 billion people are expected to have some degree of hearing loss by 2050, with at least 700 million requiring hearing rehabilitation[6]

Infographic over Ear and Hearing care

These health issues can affect people of all ages, especially children. They have a higher sensitivity to noise. Many children who live near noisy airports or streets have been found to suffer from stress and other issues, such as memory, attention, and reading skills impairments. In addition, children who listen to music at high volumes on a regular basis are at risk of developing hearing problems. 

The health and well-being of wildlife are also impacted by noise pollution. Research suggests that loud noises can cause caterpillars' hearts to beat faster and bluebirds to have fewer chicks[7]. Animals use sound for a variety of purposes, including navigation, food discovery, attracting mates, and avoiding predators. Noise pollution makes it difficult for them to complete these tasks, affecting their ability to survive. 

Noise pollution is not only affecting animals on land, but it is also becoming a growing issue for those who live in the ocean. Ships, oil drilling rigs, sonar devices, and seismic tests have made the once-quiet marine environment loud and chaotic. Noise pollution has a particularly negative impact on whales and dolphins.  

These marine mammals rely on echolocation to communicate, navigate, feed, and find mates. And ocean noise can interfere with their ability to echolocate effectively. The sound blasts can cause serious injury to marine animals' ears. Scientists believe that this noise is also contributing to whales' altered behaviour[7]

How Do We Reduce Noise Pollution?  

Sometimes it’s not possible to eliminate the noise sources altogether, particularly in highly populated cities. However, we can all take part in the act by for example: 

  • avoid very noisy leisure activities; 
  • opt for alternative means of transport such as bicycles or electric vehicles; 
  • do your housework at recommended times; 
  • insulate homes with noise-absorbing materials, etc. 

Educating the younger generation is also an essential aspect of environmental education. 

The Health and Safety Executive (UK) recommends using acoustics solutions such as sound insulation or absorption to reduce and control undesirable sounds. Furthermore, we should include low noise emission elements during the design plans of buildings and avoid noisy machinery in certain areas. By implementing soundproof ceilings, such as acoustic solutions from Rockfon, sound levels will effectively be diminished, which can significantly:  

  • improve people's well-being;  
  • increase productivity at work; 
  • enhance learning in school; 
  • reduce recovery time in the hospital.   

At Rockfon we believe that good acoustics goes hand in hand with sustainable products and unique designs. Therefore, reducing noise pollution corresponds to better well-being on multiple levels. Our acoustic solutions are made with high-quality materials. This ensures that people will be comfortable in their environment and able to focus, rest, heal and thrive. 

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Sources: 

United Nations. 2018. “68% of the World Population Projected to Live in Urban Areas by 2050, Says UN.” United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs. May 16, 2018. https://www.un.org/development/desa/en/news/population/2018-revision-of-world-urbanization-prospects.html

“Noise Pollution Is Still Widespread across Europe, but There Are Ways to Reduce the Volume — European Environment Agency.” n.d. Www.eea.europa.eu. https://www.eea.europa.eu/signals/signals-2020/articles/noise-pollution-is-still-widespread

“Noise Levels on the London Underground.” 2021. Ultimate Ear. February 5, 2021. https://ultimateear.com/blog/noise-levels-on-the-london-underground/

“Mimi Hearing Technologies | Worldwide Hearing Index 2017.” n.d. Mimi Hearing Technologies. Accessed March 16, 2022. https://www.mimi.audio/en/blog/2017/3/8/worldwide-hearing-index-2017

Mourik. 2018. “Public Silence.” Medium. November 22, 2018. https://medium.com/@architectenvanMourik/public-silence-22e6567615d

World Report on Hearing. 2021. World Health Organization. https://apps.who.int/iris/rest/bitstreams/1334317/retrieve

National Geographic. 2019. “Noise Pollution.” National Geographic Society. July 16, 2019. https://www.nationalgeographic.org/encyclopedia/noise-pollution/