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Columns : Letters to The Editor Last Updated: May 4, 2017 - 6:25:11 PM

Noise Pollution
By Kreimild Saunders PhD
Apr 30, 2017 - 11:18:31 PM

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Thousands of Bahamians are being physically and psychologically harmed by the environmental impact of noise in the city of Nassau. We are not alone, this is a global problem that is multiplying as a function of the exponentially growth of populations within cities and the rapid growth of cities from the 20th Century to the present. The World Health Organization (1999) argues that the growth in noise pollution is unsustainable. It points out that the concept of noise pollution and control should not be viewed as a luxury for developing countries, pointing out that noise is particularly acute in developing countries, especially heavy traffic.

Although we have a growing awareness of the adverse effects of global warming and air pollution in Nassau, in the latter case because of the crisis of regular dump fires, there is not enough awareness about the detrimental impact of noise, among the general population. Even in the developed countries it is one of the most overlooked environmental stressors. On a daily basis, the city of Nassau is bombarded by noise coming from airplanes, traffic flow, honking horns, car alarms, music, construction, barking dogs and so on.  But, our citizens are not even aware that their ears are being damaged, let alone other harmful effects.

C.R. Adderley (2008) locates noise (unwanted) under three statutory provisions dealing with nuisances in the Bahamas (Penal code (1927); Dog Licence Act (1942); and the Environmental Health Act (1987). As a nuisance, it is defined in law as “something (an act, object or practice) that invades or interferes in another’s rights or interests by being offensive, annoying, dangerous, obstructive or unhealthful”.

The most simplistic subjective definition of noise is unwanted sound. I. Mladenov (2006) uses a tree analogy to argue that if a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it there is no noise, only intensified air waves. This position underscores the subjective nature of noise. However, other researchers have sought to develop an ‘objective’ understanding of noise based on the biology of the brain. Inigo Wilson (2013) sees the brain as having the unconscious capacity for completing patterns, as such it is positioned to detect anomalies and interruptions (noise) in patterns because it may signal danger or novelty.

In Adderley’s survey of nuisances in Nassau noise loomed prominently, second only to dogs. She concluded that there were very few cases brought forward on the basis of either common or tort law. Adderley speculated about why this is the case, identifying ignorance of the law or legal rights, doubts about enforcement possibilities or a desire not to alienate neighbors. I have no doubt that each of these factors play a role in the paucity of cases brought forward, but I think a better indicator of concern would be police complaints (presupposing fairly, accurate record keeping). It is reasonable to expect citizens to make noise complaints to the police to rectify noise problems.

Environmental noise is determined by measures of sound frequency, sound pressure (vibrations of air) and variation in sound levels, typically using an A weighting to give a lesser value to lower frequencies. This is captured in decibel units that register the complexity of human hearing. To give an indication of decibels: 60 dB(A) is normal conversation, freeway traffic is 70 dB(A), heavy traffic is 85 dB(A), a motor cycle is 95 dB(A), Mp3 maximum volume is 105 dB(A) and a chain saw is 120 dB(A). The Environmental Protection Agency (1970) and other such entities recommend a noise exposure limit of 55 dB (A).

Studies of the physiological, psycho-physiological and social effects of noise pollution identified Noise Induced Hearing Loss (NIHL), hypertension, cardiovascular disease (e.g. vasoconstriction), stroke, diabetes, cognitive impairment, stress, low testosterone, sleep disturbances, stress and annoyance as causing harm.

A study of traffic wardens in Pakistan (2015) exposed to 85 dB(A) to 106 dB(A) of noise on a regular basis found aggravated depression (58%), stress, public conflict (71%), irritation (54%), speech interference (56%), hypertension (89%), muscle tension (64%), exhaustion (48%), low performance (55%), loss of concentration (93%), headaches (74%) and cardiovascular disease (71%).

NIHL is characterized by an inability to hear a range of frequencies, impaired perception and sensitivity to sound (e.g. tinnitus, a ringing, buzzing and roaring that has no external source). The main sources of NIHL in Europe and North America is social/leisure noise (MP3 players, music concerts, sporting events, firecrackers). There is an association between hypertension and ischaemic heart disease and noise from traffic and aircrafts. The risk of cognitive impairment for children increased with noise exposure between 50 dB (A) and 95 dB (A). 35 dB (A) or lower was a good learning context. A significant amount of sleep disturbances was identified in towns (≥ 50,000) and cities. A maximum of 30 dB (A) in the bedroom at night and 40 dB (A) outside the bedroom at night is recommended for good sleep. Noise associated annoyance undermines the well-being of communities. Everyone has the right to enjoy life free of noise pollution.

Some groups of people are particularly vulnerable to noise pollution. Persons with existing illnesses such as hypertension, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cognitive and hearing impairment, sleep disturbances, depression and anxiety are in this group. Other vulnerable groups are children, babies, fetuses, the elderly, the blind and individuals in hospitals and rehabilitation centers. Persons working in noisy environment (e.g. night clubs, machine operators) ought to be required to wear noise lowering ear plugs.

I know that the residential areas of Mt. Moriah, Tall Pines and Killarney constituencies are regularly bombarded with extremely loud concert noise coming from either Mario Bowling (proprietor, Leslie Miller, MP for Tall Pines) or Butler and Sands (700 Wines & Spirits) most weekends. There is occasional concert noise coming as far as T. A. Robinson Sports Center. Political elites (and their relatives) own these establishments, and they’re allowed to perpetrate loud concert level noise in residential areas with impunity. They’ve been given special permission to have such concerts for over a decade. The complaints of constituents to police fall on deaf ears. In fact, police act as security at these concerts. MPs from both major parties (Leslie Miller, Tall Pines, Arnold Forbes, Mt Moriah and Hubert Minnis, Killarney) in these constituencies greet complaints with indifference. There is a need to update legislation on the nuisance of noise pollution that takes account of the detrimental health effect and reduced quality of life this pollution has on the Bahamian populations, particularly people living in cities. This requires that ordinances specify the recommended decibel exposure limit of 55 dB(A) generally, and 40 dB(A) in the bedroom at night to guide regulation. This also requires that all citizens be treated equally under the law without special favors to political elites. Police officers should be trained and required to address violation of noise ordinances with impartiality.

Kreimild Saunders PhD

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are solely those of the author in his/her private capacity and do not in any way represent the views of TheBahamasWeekly.com



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