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Noise pollution (or environmental noise in technical venues) is displeasing human or machine created sound that disrupts the environment. The dominant form of noise pollution is from transportation sources, principally motor vehicles[1] . The word "noise" comes from the Latin word nausea meaning "seasickness", or from a derivative (perhaps Latin noxia) of Latin noceō = "I do harm", referring originally to nuisance noise.[2]

Sources of noise

Main article: Roadway noise

The overarching source of most noise worldwide is generated by transportation systems, principally motor vehicle noise, but also including aircraft noise and rail noise.[3][1]. Hybrid vehicles are the first innovation within the last 100 years to achieve significant widespread noise source reduction.[How to reference and link to summary or text] Poor urban planning may also give rise to noise pollution, since juxtaposition of industrial to residential land uses, for example, often results in adverse consequences for the residential acoustic environment.

Besides transportation noise, other prominent sources are office equipment, factory machinery, appliances, power tools, lighting hum and audio entertainment systems. Furthermore, with the popularity of digital audio player devices, individuals in a noisy area might increase the volume in order to drown out ambient sounds. Construction equipment also produces noise pollution.

Noise from recreational vehicles has become a serious problem in rural areas. ATVs, also known as quads, have increased in popularity and are joining the traditional two wheeled dirt motorcycles for off-road riding.

The noise from ATV machines is quite different from of the traditional dirt bike. Some ATVs have large bore, four stroke engines that produce a loud throaty growl that will carry further due to the lower frequencies involved. The traditional two stroke engines on dirt bikes have gotten larger and, while they have higher frequencies, they still can propagate the sound for a mile or more. The noise produced by these vehicles is particularly disturbing due to the wide variations in frequency and volume.

Recreational vehicles are generally not required to be registered and control of the noise they emit is absent in most communities. However, there is a growing awareness that operation of these machines can seriously degrade the quality of life of those within earshot of the noise and some communities have enacted regulations, either by imposing limits on the sound or through land use laws. Rider organizations are also beginning to recognize the problem and are enlightening members as to future restrictions on riding if noise is not curtailed.

Human health

Main article: Noise health effects

Principal noise health effects are both health and behavioral in nature. The following discussion refers to sound levels that are present within 30 to 150 meters from a moderately busy highway. Sound is a particular auditory impression perceived by the sense of hearing. The presence of unwanted sound is a called noise pollution. This unwanted sound can seriously damage and effect physiological and psychological health. For instance, noise pollution can cause annoyance and aggression, hypertension, high stress levels, tinnitus, hearing loss, and other harmful effects depending on the level of sound, or how loud it is.[4][5] Furthermore, stress and hypertension are the leading causes to health problems, whereas tinnitus can lead to forgetfulness, severe depression and at times panic attacks.[6][7]


The mechanism for chronic exposure to noise leading to hearing loss is well established. The elevated sound levels cause trauma to the cochlear structure in the inner ear, which gives rise to irreversible hearing loss.[4]

The outer ear (visible portion of the human ear) combined with the middle ear amplifies sound levels by a factor of 20 when sound reaches the inner ear.[8]

In Rosen's seminal work on serious health effects regarding hearing loss and coronary artery disease, one of his findings derived from tracking Maaban tribesmen, who were insignificantly exposed to transportation or industrial noise. This population was systematically compared by cohort group to a typical U.S. population. The findings proved that aging is an almost insignificant cause of hearing loss, which instead is associated with chronic exposure to moderately high levels of environmental noise.[4]

Cardiovascular health

High noise levels can contribute to cardiovascular effects and exposure to moderately high (e.g. above 70 dBA) levels during a single eight hour period causes a statistical rise in blood pressure of five to ten mmHg; a clear and measurable increase in stress [9]; and vasoconstriction leading to the increased blood pressure noted above as well as to increased incidence of coronary artery disease.


Though it pales in comparison to the health effects noted above, noise pollution constitutes a significant factor of annoyance and distraction in modern artificial environments:

  1. The meaning listeners attribute to the sound influences annoyance, so that, if listeners dislike the noise content, they are annoyed. What is music to one is noise to another.
  2. If the sound causes activity interference, noise is more likely to annoy (for example, sleep disturbance)
  3. If listeners feel they can control the noise source, the less likely the noise will be annoying.
  4. If listeners believe that the noise is subject to third-party control, including police, but control has failed, they are more annoyed.
  5. The inherent unpleasantness of the sound causes annoyance.
  6. Contextual sound. If the sound is appropriate for the activity it is in context. If one is at a race track the noise is in context and the psychological effects are absent. If one is at an outdoor picnic the race track noise will produce adverse psychological and physical effects.

A 2005 study by Spanish researchers found that in urban areas households are willing to pay approximately four Euros per decibel per year for noise reduction[10].


Noise pollution can also be harmful to wildlife . High noise levels may interfere with the natural cycles of animals, including feeding behavior, breeding rituals and migration paths.[How to reference and link to summary or text] The most significant impact of noise to animal life is the systematic reduction of usable habitat, which in the case of endangered species may be an important part of the path to extinction. Perhaps the most sensational damage caused by noise pollution is the death of certain species of beached whales, brought on by the extremely loud (up to 200 decibels) sound of military sonar.[How to reference and link to summary or text]

Mitigation and control of noise

Main article: Noise mitigation

The sound tube in Melbourne, Australia, designed to reduce roadway noise without detracting from the area's aesthetics.

There is also technology that has been applied with the aim of mitigating or containing noise as much as possible, provided that it has a sufficiently localized source.

  • Roadway noise, is the most widespread environmental component of noise pollution worldwide. There are a variety of effective strategies for mitigating adverse sound levels including: use of noise barriers, limitation of vehicle speeds, alteration of roadway surface texture, limitation of heavy duty vehicles, use of traffic controls that smooth vehicle flow to reduce braking and acceleration, innovative tire design and other methods. Thousands of case studies in the U.S. alone have been documented starting in 1970, indicating substantial improvement in roadway planning and design. The most important factor in applying these strategies is a computer model for roadway noise, that is capable of addressing local topography, meteorology, traffic operations and hypothetical mitigation. Costs of building in mitigation is often quite modest, provided these solutions are sought in the planning stage of a roadway project.
  • Aircraft noise can be reduced to some extent by design of quieter jet engines, which was pursued vigorously in the 1970s and 1980s. This strategy has brought limited but noticeable reduction of urban sound levels. Reconsideration of operations, such as altering flight paths and time of day runway use, have demonstrated significant benefits for residential populations near airports. FAA sponsored residential retrofit (insulation) programs initiated in the 1970s has also enjoyed widespread success in reducing interior residential noise in thousands of affected residences across the United States.
  • Exposure of Industrial noise on workers has the longest history of scientific study, having been addressed since the 1930s. This scientific studies have emphasized redesign of industrial equipment, shock mounting assemblies and physical barriers in the workplace. Innovations have had considerable success; however, the costs of retrofitting existing systems is often rather high.

Legal status

Main article: Noise regulation

Governments up until the 1970s viewed noise as a "nuisance" rather than an environmental problem. In the United States there are federal standards for highway and aircraft noise; states and local governments typically have very specific statutes on building codes, urban planning and roadway development. In Canada and the EU there are few national, provincial, or state laws that protect against noise. As a result in Canada and the EU, most regulation has been left up to municipal authorities.

Noise laws and ordinances vary widely among municipalities and indeed do not even exist in some cities. An ordinance may contain a general prohibition against making noise that is a nuisance, or it 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 essential public services such as refuse collection and emergency vehicles.

Most city ordinances prohibit sound above a threshold intensity from trespassing over property line at night, typically between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m., and during the day restricts it to a higher decibel level; however, enforcement is uneven. Many municipalities do not follow up on complaints. Even where a municipality has an enforcement office, it may only be willing to issue warnings, since taking offenders to court is expensive. For persistent nuisances, individuals may have to seek damages through the civil courts. Many jurisdictions, such as New York City and Chicago authorize police to impound cars with loud stereos and to hold the cars as evidence until the citation has been adjudicated.

Many conflicts over noise pollution are handled by negotiation between the emitter and the receiver. Escalation procedures vary by country, and may include action in conjunction with local authorities, in particular the police. Clear documentation, repetitive complaints, getting neighbors involved, and forming a Neighborhood Watch can be effective at obtaining enforcement. Noise pollution often persists because only five to ten percent of people affected by noise will lodge a formal complaint[How to reference and link to summary or text]. Many people are not aware of their legal right to quiet and do not know how to register a complaint. Furthermore, mobile noise sources are transitory such that they may be difficult to pursue unless a noise measurement device is in place, so effectiveness tends to depend on whether a city has instituted proactive enforcement policies (e.g. muffler inspections).


  1. 1.0 1.1 >Senate Public Works Committee, Noise Pollution and Abatement Act of 1972, S. Rep. No. 1160, 92nd Cong. 2nd session Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "Senate" defined multiple times with different content
  2. Copia verborum: Latin translations
  3. [ C. Michael Hogan and Gary L. Latshaw,The relationship between highway planning and urban noise , :Proceedings of the ASCE, Urban Transportation Division specialty conference, May 21-23, 1973, Chicago, Illinois. by American Society of Civil Engineers. Urban Transportation Division
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 S. Rosen and P. Olin, Hearing Loss and Coronary Heart Disease, Archives of Otollaryngology, 82:236 (1965)
  5. J.M. Field, Effect of personal and situational variables upon noise annoyance in residential areas, Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 93: 2753-2763 (1993)
  6. J.M. Field, Effect of personal and situational variables upon noise annoyance in residential areas, Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 93: 2753-2763 (1993)
  7. Karl D. Kryter, The Effects of Noise on Man , Academic Press (1985)
  8. Noise: A Health Problem United States Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Noise Abatement and Control, Washington, DC 20460, August, 1978
  9. S. Rosen and P. Olin, Hearing Loss and Coronary Heart Disease, Archives of Otollaryngology, 82:236 (1965)
  10. Jesús Barreiro, Mercedes Sánchez, Montserrat Viladrich-Grau (2005), "How much are people willing to pay for silence? A contingent valuation study", Applied Economics, 37 (11)

See also

  • A-weighting
  • Aircraft noise
  • List of environmental health hazards
  • Noise barrier
  • Noise levels (work areas)
  • Noise measurement
  • Noise regulation
  • Selective Sound Sensitivity Syndrome
  • Sound dosimeters
  • The Hum
  • Timeline of environmental events
  • DB drag racing

External links

Geographical links

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