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ISSUE 121 VOL 19 PUBLISHED 5/2/2008

Noise pollution controlled

By Natalie Neal
Contributing Writer

Friday, May 2, 2008

Noise pollution. Many of you may scoff at this concept but it is a seriously underrated environmental crisis. According to the Deafness Institute, almost 28 million Americans have hearing loss and one-third of these is caused by loud noises. Fortunately, the world is finally hearing the irritating buzz and taking action to make our planet a pleasantly quiet place.

Recently, the European Union passed legislation limiting noise exposure to 85 decibels. This new law requires employers in Europe to limit workers' exposure to potentially damaging noise.

No one is affected greater by this law than the entertainment industry. The Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra dropped "State of Siege" from their repertoire, exceeding 97.4 decibels, which is roughly the equivalent to a volume of a pneumatic drill.

In addition, musicians are being asked to wear decibel-measuring devices and noise-muffling headphones during moments of fortissimo as well as brass sections are asked to sit behind see-through anti-noise screens to protect the other musicians. One musician, Alan Garner, an oboist and English horn player at the Royal Opera House is outraged by this new regulation. "It's like saying to a racing-car driver that they have to wear a blindfold," he said.

Garner is not the only one who feels hindered as a musician-artist. The Times of London reported that bagpipe bands could face extinction since the amount of noise produced from a pipe band exceeds 120 decibels.

Ian Hughes, who heads a bagpipe band, laments the potential doom for the traditional instrument. "These limits are far too low. If we have to go with these regulations, pipe bands won't exist," he said the British newspaper. "Every pipe band in the world will be above the maximum volume level."

For you bagpipe lovers, fear not; they can still thrive in the United States. However, America has its own bone to pick with noise pollution.

Two years ago, a Louisiana man filed a federal lawsuit against Apple claiming iPods cause hearing damage. At maximum level, iPods can reach up to 120 decibels, the same noise level of a jet plane taking off.

Restaurants are now being rated based on noise level. Since the second most common complaint of restaurants is sound level (poor service is the first), the San Francisco Chronicle has added a noise ranking system. "Pleasantly Quiet" is represented by one bell icon and can be defined as under 65 decibels. The range goes all the way from "can talk easily" to "can only talk in raised voices" with the number of bells and decibel levels increasing.

However, for the last category, called "too noisy for normal conversation," the Chronicle gives up on the bell icons all together to represent this category with a lit bomb. Although a bomb icon meant to represent a loud restaurant may seem extreme, it is true that prolonged exposure to noise pollution has negative effects on humans.

Aside from annoyance, it's been shown that exposure to loud noises for a period of eight hours or more can increase blood pressure and cause other cardiac issues, even without the person being consciously disturbed.

Booming noises can also cause gastric problems. Those exposed to loud sounds for years, such as musicians or construction workers, can become partially deaf.

More surprisingly, noise can also lead to violence -- it is reported that many assaults and murders can be attributed to a noise issue that spiraled out of control.

Humans aren't the only ones suffering from an over-stimulated tympanic membrane (eardrum). Michael Bloch looks at the adverse effects of noise on the wildlife: Noise disturbs feeding and breeding patterns of some animals and has been identified as a contributing factor of the extinction of some species. Also, military sonar has been responsible for the deaths of possibly thousands of dolphins and whales since it confuses their echolocation system. Noise causes increased incidences of miscarriages in caribou.

Even closer to our campus life, in dairy cows, excessive noise reduces feed consumption, milk yield and rate of milk release. Think of that next time you turn the dial on your stereo to 11.

What can we do to do our part on reducing noise pollution? Bloch, editor of has numerous suggestions to make our planet a "pleasantly quiet" place to live.

He believes that in addition to "turn out the lights" days and "don't drive" days, we should have a collective "no excessive noise" day. Right now, to cope with too much noise, we add to it by turning our music louder or yelling to block out the booming background.

"If your lifestyle is a particularly rowdy one, consider planting more shrubs and trees around your property," suggests Bloch. "Not only will this reduce noise affecting your neighbors, you'll provide shelter and food for animals."

Although this is a viable and environmentally friendly suggestion to reduce noise pollution, I doubt Residence Life would appreciate the sudden appearance of new forests. It might tip off Public Safety to suspicious behavior as well.

There is actually a simpler solution to noise pollution than creating your own personal jungle; be mindful of your noise level. There is definitely a time and place to rock out, but during the other times, turn down your music and don't always yell to cover up ambient noise. Sometimes a whisper can be more enticing than a shout anyways.

Natalie Neal '10 is from Edina, Minn. She majors in English with a concentration in media studies.

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