• Ageliki Petridi

Noise Pollution: The invisible enemy

Impacts on humans and animals


Have you ever tried to complete a task with the background noise of an electric drill? Have you ever tried to study while someone was cleaning the room with an electric vacuum? If you answered yes, then you probably know that most of the time it’s impossible and you end up with a headache.

But why is it so hard?

Noise affects us in three ways: Physically, Physiologically, Psychologically


The main Physical consequence is hearing defects. Hearing loss due to noise pollution is one of the most common occupational diseases especially in industries, but not it does not end there (Loukzadeh et al., 2014; Zamanian et al., 2013). It is very difficult to diagnose such occupational health illnesses as they have a long latency period (Ashrafi, 2005), so earplugs are obligatory in most high-noise areas.


The relative unit of measurement of the sound volume is decibels. Here are some typical examples:


Source: American Academy of Audiology (2001), WHO (2001)

And the permissible noise exposure depending the volume:


Source: World Health Organization (1985)

If limits are exceeded for a long period of time, there is a high risk of hearing defects.


So, after 1.5min or less in a rock concert you actually damage your hearing!

High volumes also affect your body physiology because instinctively it increases the blood pressure, as a method of self-defense. Such permanent high blood pressure can cause sleep disturbances, tinnitus, headaches and heart diseases.


Of course, psychological effects are always on the line. All the above impact the body physiology due to higher stress and irritability. People tend to be more aggressive, exhausted and they suffer from low productivity. Studies have revealed that many children who live near noisy airports or streets have been found to suffer from stress and other problems, such as impairments in memory, in attention level, and in reading skills.


What about animals?

Although, noise pollution can cause very negative effects on humans, we should make note that animals also suffer from this. In general, a growing number of studies indicate that animals, like humans, are stressed by noisy environments (Shannon et al. 2015).

Did you know that some birds in noisy environments have taken to singing at night in order to be heard over the din of the city? (Fuller et al. 2007).

Studies have shown that loud noise can cause caterpillars’ hearts to beat faster. Activities such as finding desirable habitat and mates, avoiding predators, protecting young, and establishing territories are all dependent on the acoustical environment. Oceans are also affected since countless human activities such as oil drills, seismic survey devices, water sports are now populating our waters, and that is a serious cause of noise pollution for marine life. In order to continue with these activities, animals are being forced to adapt to increasing noise levels.

Dr Kunc from Queen’s University Belfast said,

We always talk about climate change, chemical pollution, plastic pollution and habitat destruction…but noise, especially in urban areas, can really have a negative impact on animals.”

So, what are the main activities of animals that are affected?


Communication

Noise pollution generated by humans through airplanes, trains, and engines can overlap the calls of the animals that are mostly used for warning others of danger and attracting mates. Recent studies have found that more than 60% of protected areas are exposed to noise that masks more than half of the natural sounds that would otherwise be heard. Noise - Natural Sounds (U.S. National Park Service) (nps.gov)


Mating


Mating is the key for the continuation of the species. Most animals, especially frogs and birds use calls for attracting a mate. Females frogs find low-pitched voices more tempting, which indicate larger and more experienced males (Barber et al. 2009). However, males have to raise their voices to overcome the traffic noise. These less attractive vocalizations can cause a drop in breeding rates. Another characteristic example are bluebirds who tend to breed fewer chicks.

Navigation


Many nocturnal and aquatic species use echoes to identify whether there are obstacles and prey in the horizon. Noises can, therefore, disrupt these echoes and confuse the animal. At the end, the animal’s orientation is lost and it is harder to detect its feed.


Foraging


Some animals, mostly nocturnal and felines have a highly developed auditory system which helps them to detect the exact location of the prey. Their sensitive ears are easily disrupted by the human generated noises especially in big cities. Studies discovered that for every 1dB increase in noise, owls in the area were 8% less efficient at catching prey. Moreover, tests resulted that a 5dB elevation of the sound levels causes 70% reduction in the size of an area in which predators can hear their prey (Barber et al. 2009)

Solutions to reduce noise pollution


Thankfully there are many ways to decrease noise volume, so as to diminish the negative effects of it.

The first step on this attempt is by raising awareness. We are all informed about air, water and land pollution but most people underestimate the issue of noise pollution because they are unaware of the dangerous impacts that it causes on humans and animals. So, it is extremely significant to inform people through the educational system and social media and to begin to make changes. There are some simple changes, such as avoiding noisy leisure activities, quieter means of transport, choosing buildings with installed noise insulation etc., are key to beginning the journey to reducing noise pollution.

The government should also act and ensure that people respect the noise restrictions and don’t disturb their neighbors. In addition, there should be stricter control for the compliance with the use of individual protective equipment, such as earplugs in high-noise workplaces.

Furthermore, a way to protect wildlife is to set measures for protection of certain areas, such as parks. This could be accomplished if they set some limits to the traffic, for example maybe a road near a park closes after 10 pm so as nocturnal animals can communicate and catch their prey.

Finally, I conclude that noise pollution, although inconspicuous, is a very harmful type of pollution which triggers many complications to humans and creates confusion to the daily life of wildlife.

Thought:

If each of us do our part we can create a less noisy community but more respectful! `

Bibliography:

  1. Nadir Buksh, Yasmeen Nargis, Chen Yun, Dongsheng He, Muhammad Ghufran, 2018| Occupational Noise Exposure and Its Impact on Worker’s Health and Activities.

  2. World Health Organization|Hearing loss due to recreational exposure to loud sounds.

  3. Health and safety executive| ‘How do I reduce noise?’

  4. U.S. National Park Service, 2018| ‘Effects of Noise on Wildlife’

  5. National Geographic Society 2022| Noise Pollution

  6. Noise News, 2021|Noise pollution and its effect on wildlife.

  7. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/328576550_OCCUPATIONAL_NOISE_EXPOSURE_AND_ITS_IMPACT_ON_WORKER'S_HEALTH_AND_ACTIVITIES

  8. https://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/154589/9789241508513_eng.pdf

  9. https://www.hse.gov.uk/noise/reducenoise.htm

  10. https://www.nps.gov/subjects/sound/effects_wildlife.htm

  11. https://education.nationalgeographic.org/resource/noise-pollution

  12. https://www.cirrusresearch.co.uk/blog/2021/07/noise-pollution-wildlife/