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Quiet-List FAQ-sheet/November 1997
Quiet-List F.A.Q. (Frequently Asked Questions)
Send corrections and additions to "email@example.com"
1. How do I subscribe/unsubscribe/post messages?
2. What is noise pollution?
3. How does the Decibel scale work?
4. How many people are affected by noise pollution?
5. At what level does noise become dangerous?
6. How can the Law protect me from noise?
7. Where are the internet resources for noise pollution?
8. A selected bibliography of books and articles.
(1) HOW DO I SUBSCRIBE/UNSUBSCRIBE/POST MESSAGES?
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(2) WHAT IS NOISE POLLUTION?
Noise pollution is not easily defined. In the broadest sense, it
is any unwanted or unnecessary sound resulting from human action, and
need not be loud. Loudness is only one component of the effect noise
has on human beings. Other factors that have to be considered are the
time and place, the duration, the source of the sound, and whether the
listener has any control over it. Most people would not be bothered
by the sound of a 21-gun salute on a special occasion. On the other
hand, the thump-thump of a neighbour's music at 2 a.m., even if barely
audible, can be a major source of stress. Noise causes stress, and
stress is a leading cause of illness and suicide. Therefore any form
of noise can be considered pollution if it causes annoyance,
sleeplessness, fright, or any other stress reaction.
In the strictest sense, noise pollution is any sound known to be
harmful to health or welfare. Transportation vehicles are generally
the worst offenders, with aircraft, trains, trucks, buses, automobiles
and motorcycles all producing excessive noise. Construction equipment,
such as jackhammers, riveters, and bulldozers, are also prolific noise
(3) HOW DOES THE DECIBEL SCALE WORK?
The decibel (dB) is a measure of sound intensity; that is, the
magnitude of the fluctuations in air pressure caused by sound waves.
The decibel scale is logarithmic, not arithmetic. Each 10dB increase
represents 10 times as much noise. Thus, 30 dB is 10 times more
intense than 20 dB but sounds twice as loud. 40 dB is 100 times
more intense than 20 and sounds 4 times as loud. 80 dB is a million
times more intense than 20 and sounds 64 times as loud. A sound
pressure level of 0 dB represents the threshold of hearing in the most
sensitive frequency range of a young, healthy ear. Official measurments
are usually expressed in "dBA" units to indicate that "A-filtering",
which favors certain frequency ranges, is to be applied.
The logarithmic decibel system is used for measuring noise
because it approximates human perception, but according to Quiet-List
member Federico Miyara, "Human perception of loudness is a quite
complex phenomenon. First of all, it depends strongly on frequency.
At the same 'physical' intensity, sounds in the central frequency
range (500 Hz to 5.000 Hz) are perceived as louder than those outside
this range. Second, the perception of loudness differs substantially
for sounds below 40 dB and above that sound pressure level (SPL). The
loudness is better measured in a unit called *son*. In the central
frequency range described above, roughly 40 dB equals 1 son. Above 40
dB, an increase of 30 dB implies a factor of ten increase in loudness.
As 30 dB is the same as multiplying by 10 three times, that means that
a factor of 1,000 increase in intensity implies a factor of 10
increase in loudness. Thus, the relationship is of a cubic root
rather than a logarithm."
Distance diminishes the effective decibel level reaching the ear.
Thus, moderate auto traffic at a distance of 100 ft (30m) rates about
50 decibels. To the driver in the car with the window open, or a
pedestrian on the sidewalk, the same traffic rates about 70 decibels;
that is, it sounds 4 times louder. At a distance of 2,000 ft (800m),
the noise of a jet takeoff reaches about 110 decibels -- approximately
the same as a riveting machine or auto horn only 3 ft (1m) away.
(4) HOW MANY ARE AFFECTED BY NOISE POLLUTION?
In the United States alone, Federal estimates indicate that some
80 million (or more than one in three) people are continually harassed by
noise pollution, 40 million to a degree endangering health, with 18
million already suffering noise-induced hearing loss. A recent survey of
New York City residents rated noise as the second worst problem after
There is also evidence that among the young in the U.S. hearing
sensitivity is decreasing year by year because of exposure to excessive
(5) AT WHAT LEVEL DOES NOISE BECOME DANGEROUS?
Subjected to 45 decibels of noise, the average person cannot sleep.
At 120 decibels, the ear registers pain, but actual hearing damage begins
at a much lower level, about 85 decibels. Current U.S. EPA limits is
70 dBA [average] over a period of 40 years.
Current U.S. EPA regulations limit noise exposure to less than 75 dBA
[average] per 8 hour day and 70 dbA [average] over 40 years. Since sound
intensity doubles with every increase of 3 dB, the time of permitted exposure
must be cut in half with each such increase. Thus a worker would have to
wear ear protection if exposed to 78 dB for four hours, 81 dB for two hours,
and so on.
Using this measure of safety, the sound level in a typical night club,
100 dB, would pose a risk of permanent hearing damage after less than
two minutes of exposure.
Apart from hearing loss, noise can cause lack of sleep, irritability,
heartburn, indigestion, ulcers, high blood pressure, and heart disease,
One burst of noise, as from a passing truck, is known to alter
endocrine, neurological, and cardiovascular functions in many
individuals; prolonged or frequent exposure to such noise tends to
make the physiological disturbances chronic. In addition,
noise-induced stress creates severe tension in daily living and
contributes to mental illness.
(6) HOW CAN THE LAW PROTECT ME FROM NOISE?
In Canada and the United States there are no national, provincial,
or state laws that give blanket protection against noise, though there
are some specific regulations governing manufacturing standards, air
traffic, vehicle mufflers, and so on. Criminal laws may also cover
things like noisy parties.
Noise is now recognized as a controllable pollutant that can yield
to abatement technology. In the United States, the Noise Control Act
of 1972 empowers the Environmental Protection Agency to determine the
limits of noise required to protect public health and welfare; to set
noise emission standards for major sources of noise in the environment,
including transportation equipment and facilities, construction
equipment, and electrical machinery; and to recommend regulations for
controlling aircraft noise and sonic booms, statistically a nuisance
to some 40 million persons. The law further requires that consumer
goods be labeled with their noise-generating characteristics so that
buyers may select quieter equipment.
Local noise bylaws and ordinances vary widely from one municipality
to another and indeed do not even exist in some towns and cities.
Where they exist, they may contain a general prohibition against
making noise that is a nuisance to other people, or they may set out
specific guidelines for the level of noise allowable at certain times
of the day and for certain activities. Exceptions are generally made
for activities considered legitimate or necessary, such as lawn-mowing
or garbage collection.
Regardless of how lax or stringent a local law may be, enforcement
is difficult. Many municipalities do not have adequate resources to
follow upon complaints. Even where a municipality has an enforcement
office, it maybe unwilling to do more than issue warnings, since
taking offenders to court is expensive. The police may also act on
certain kinds of noise complaints, but generally do not assign them a
For persistent nuisances, the individual may have to seek damages
through the civil courts. This can be a long, costly procedure with no
certainty of success.
In short, legal protection against noise is very patchy and often
(portions copyright 1993, The Columbia Encyclopedia)
(7) WHERE ARE THE INTERNET RESOURCES FOR NOISE POLLUTION?
. Right to Quiet - "http://www.islandnet.com/~skookum/quiet"
. Noise Pollution Clearing House -
. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (E.P.A.) -
. Citizens' Coalition Against Noise (C.C.A.N.)/Toronto -
. The Noise Center - "http://www.lhh.org/noise"
. World Forum for Acoustic Ecology (WFAE) -
(WFAE supports a free mailing list similar to "quiet-list".
To subscribe, send an e-mail to "email@example.com" saying
. The Quiet Use Coalition - email "firstname.lastname@example.org"
. Adverse Health Impacts of Airport Expansion -
- - - - - - - - - - E N D O F F. A. Q. - - - - - - - -
QUIET-LIST: Internet Mail List and Forum for discussion of Noise Pollution,
Soundscape Awareness, and the Right to Quiet. Email: "email@example.com"
To subscribe, email "firstname.lastname@example.org" with message "subscribe quiet-list".
For info, send message "info quiet-list" to same.
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