Noise pollution can be defined as the intrusion of unwanted sounds into our daily lives. There are much more simultaneous sounds and noises occurring in our environment today more than ever. Noise pollution contaminants are not physical particles; they are waves of sound that interfere with naturally occurring waves in the same environment. Noise pollution has negative effects on our mental health, our hearing abilities, and on the wildlife of the planet.
While noise pollution is not believed to cause mental illness, it may contribute to anxiety, stress, and hysteria. It is assumed to accelerate, increase, and possibly intensify the development of mental disorders that can occur later in life (Hagler, 2005). It is easy to believe that noise pollution can cause headaches, but it is interesting to note that it can also have adverse effects on sexual potency and cause an increase in social conflicts. People showing symptoms of depression, the elderly, and children are especially vulnerable to these effects. Noise pollution can affect the way our mind controls the body as well. Exposure to acute noise can trigger nervousness, resulting in an increased heart rate and blood pressure. Constant hormonal responses like that are not healthy for our cardiovascular system and will cause increased stress. How noise pollution affects task performance has also been well-studied. Noise will increase human error and decrease motivation (Halger, 2005). Other problems that may arise are difficulty paying attention, dulling of problem solving skills, and a negative impact on memory. Once again, these problems are particularly present in children. One feeling that we humans are very familiar with is the feeling of an annoyance. Noise is sound, and sound that has a very low frequency causes vibrations. These vibrations have very much to do with the increase of annoyance in people that are exposed to heavy noise pollution. Sub-woofers in a car, which are utterly asinine, are a great example of an annoyance that one may experience due to the vibrations of a sound that contains low frequencies. The term annoyance does not even come close to covering all the negative effects that noise pollution has on social behavior. Social and behavioral effects may seem subtle, but are quite complex. Some negative reactions include anger, disappointment, exhaustion, and helplessness. Behavioral changes include even the smallest things, like closing windows and doors to eliminate unwanted sounds. Social indicators of noise pollution problems include hospital admissions, drug consumption, accident rates, and reports of depression. Noise is also directly correlated with a decrease in helping behaviors and an increase in aggressiveness. As we go about our daily lives, we do not stop to think about something that quite significantly affects our lives. Noise pollution is a public health problem that has numerous negative effects and should be thoroughly addressed.
Not only does noise pollution affect out mental health, but it also impairs our hearing. It can also interfere with our communication and disturb our sleep. As our populations grow and our daily activities expand, our culture makes more and more noise. We cannot see it, it doesn’t really cause pain, but noise pollution has serious public health implications. As our environments get louder, there is a need for action on both a local and legislative level. Children’s ears are especially more vulnerable to the effects of noise pollution. Hearing impairment happens when a person is exposed to sound levels of 80 dB (decibels) or louder for an extended period of time, which is similar to the level of heavy truck traffic (Hagler, 2005). Noise can also interfere with our ability to understand normal speech, which can lead to handicaps and disabilities. Communication problems can lead to lack of self-confidence, irritation, fatigue, and trouble concentrating. Apart from communication, another very important part of our lives that may be affected by noise is our sleep. When our sleep is interrupted, we end up unable to function at our peak performance. Noise pollution that occurs while sleeping can cause higher blood pressure, an increase in heart rate, more body movement, and a spike in the amplitude of the heart’s pulse. Other side effects include depressed moods, fatigue, and overall decreased performance. It is quite apparent that noise pollution is not something to be taken lightly.
As humans continue to populate the world and create civilizations on the last remaining vestiges of untouched earth, wildlife populations continue to shrink is size. Between the years of 1970 and 2007, the United States alone had an increase in population by one-third. Traffic on roadways tripled, while air traffic also increased by more than triple between the years of 1981 and 2007. Noise can have a very negative impact on wildlife and can decrease the chances of survival by altering the delicate balance of predator or prey detection. When deer, for example, are exposed to the sounds of a train passing or constant traffic, their response to predators becomes much more casual, therefore decreasing their chance of survival. Noise also interferes with communication, reproduction, and navigation. The pollution from noise is also causing species to communicate louder, which is called the Lombard vocal response (Lane, 1971). When one species speaks louder, it will mask another, causing the entire ecosystem to eventually all speak more loudly. Not all species are able to simply talk louder though. Some species will not adjust, resulting in longer search times for possible mates. Some species end up attempting communication less. Animals are not so different from people. They too have stress levels, heart rates, and behavioral changes like abandonment of territory and reduced reproduction (Cornman, 2003). As humans, we hear sounds from entertainment, education, work, and communication. We use sounds as a form of pleasure, understanding, and identifying. Animals respond to sounds in a very different way than we do. Their responses depend on many variables including types of habitat, previous exposure, life history of the species, and characteristics of the sound itself. When a wild animal is exposed to the sound of an overhead aircraft, the animal’s heart rate will increase and create an imbalance in their metabolism and hormones. Excessive exposure causes unnatural stimulation of the nervous system which can result in chronic stress levels that are harmful to the health of wild life and their reproductive fitness. Many of the animal species have evolved very sensitive hearing in order to take advantage of the quietest conditions. Their amazing hearing abilities are constantly being compromised by loud sounds. A common response to more severe noise pollution is panic and escape behavior. Such responses have potential of causing injury and energy loss. Behavior responses include habitat avoidance and a decrease in food intake. Younger mammals are at risk because they could become trampled by adults attempting to flee from a loud sound. Bird eggs could end up being exposed to predators due to the escape attempts of a parent. Noise pollution is becoming so rampant, that it may eventually threaten biodiversity. There are very few quiet places left, and the places that are quiet, are even more vulnerable. Solutions need to be made such as quieter roads, quieter airplanes, and restriction of travel in protected natural areas. The evidence indicating serious damage to wildlife is abundant. While long-term effects need to be more closely studied, it is clear that there needs to be a world-wide effort to come up with a solution to this devastating noise pollution problem.
There are not enough people that are aware of the effects of noise pollution. The consequences are serious and are occurring worldwide, affecting both humans and animals. The negative effects of noise pollution causes detrimental results for wildlife, mental health problems, and higher risks of hearing impairment. As society expands, this issue must be addressed as it has become a fairly serious public health problem.
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Dave Cornman. (2003). Effects of Noise of Wildlife. Nature Sounds Society. http://www.naturesounds.org/conservENW.html. Accessed February 22, 2012.
Lane H, Tranel B (1971). “The Lombard sign and the role of hearing in speech”. J Speech Hear Res 14 (4): 677–709. http://jslhr.asha.org/cgi/content/abstract/14/4/677. Accessed on February 20, 2012.
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