By Sarah Madison Repollo | October 11, 2023
Blaring alarms are not a typical sign of the Earth’s decay, as rising temperatures and overflowing landfills are more usual symptoms. But in a world where sound has become a major pollutant, noise pollution is ringing louder than ever before.
With the height of the Covid-19 pandemic coming to a halt, the many restrictions that came with it have been loosened. Borders have opened back up and people are out in the streets again—meaning more noise. Because of this, a relatively unheard of problem—a danger that may be audibly loud but relatively ignored—has captured the spotlight.
Noise pollution and its effects on people
Noise pollution deals with any sounds higher than 65 decibels. The World Health Organization has added that anything above 75 decibels is harmful to humans, while noise higher than 120 dB is downright painful.
The effects of noise pollution range from individual consequences to worldwide environmental impacts. For humans, hearing loss is the biggest downside of consistent exposure to loud noise.
But noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) isn’t the only thing that sounds can do. They can trigger high blood pressure, heart attacks, anxiety, among other health issues. Even the ability to focus and perform normal day-to-day routines can become impossible when living in a perpetual state of noise.
Subdivisions and quiet neighborhoods thrive for this reason, as humans are aware of the nuisance noise causes. But to animals, creatures that cannot uproot and leave their habitats as easily as people can, noise pollution has become an even bigger problem for them.
Effects on terrestrial animals
Countless species use sounds to communicate. In the wild, where survival depends on groups working together to forage for food and evade predators, manmade noise tends to interfere with the animals’ ability to accomplish these tasks.
One species that is reliant on sound for survival is the bat. Bats use echolocation—a method that reflects sound to communicate. While beneficial for their prey if the predator is unable to successfully hunt them, this causes biodiversity loss and the extinction of certain animals.
Terrestrial creatures deal with the bulk of human noise, especially given the fact that they share the same space with humans. However, marine life too is affected by the noise pollution people bring.
Effects on marine life
Whales and dolphins use echolocation just like bats. But with ships, oil drills, and other undersea activities, migration and breeding patterns have changed over the years due to the stress that loud noise induces below the waves.
Research has also shown that the phenomenon of dolphins and whales stranding themselves on beaches could be caused by sonar devices. Visibility is limited down under, and sounds tend to travel quicker than light in the ocean, so sonar devices are used to navigate the waters. While we have established that 65 dB is the minimum for sound to be considered noise pollution, sonar devices can be as loud as 235 dB.
Human beings cannot live without creating noise. Infrastructure development, transportation, social events, and other evidence of human life are the primary causes of noise pollution. While unrealistic to halt all sound-producing activities, the solution to this growing problem is awareness. The more people who know and understand the consequences of noise, the less chances of humans and the environment as a whole suffering in the long-term.
After the initial step of awareness, the next stride to combating noise pollution is taking action. In every aspect of their lives, humans can opt to do things that produce less noise. For example: avoiding setting off firecrackers during New Years Eve and choosing to do a simple countdown dinner instead. Governments can also implement or enforce laws that reduce noise pollution in public places, such as separating residential areas from commercial businesses.
Although this not-so-silent danger continues to threaten our world in the present, raising awareness, implementing noise reduction laws, and encouraging the general populace to choose to be quieter is the best that can be done to address noise pollution once and for all.