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Scientists sound alarm bells about noise pollution

Scientists sound alarm bells about noise pollution

Construction work in Hong Kong

Some people can turn night into morning with the hum of a party’s early-morning music, while others sleep soundly in bed listening to it.

However, the noise can be unbearable for anyone above a certain threshold. The sounds of road traffic, the whizzing of passing trains, the hustle of customers downstairs, or the roaring of a plane taking flight can all stress the body. 

The world is becoming more louder and noise pollution is a growing problem for people, animals, plants and even the environment. It is a trend that can easily be heard from large cities to remote parts of nature.

More than 1 in 5 Europeans are exposed to enough road noise that it can harm their health. Too much noise can cause metabolic diseases, high blood pressure, diabetes, and even heart attacks. Constant exposure to high levels can lead to heart disease in 48,000 people and premature death in 12,000 people each year. 

Extreme noise is common in major cities, including London, Dhaka, Algiers and Barcelona. For example, New York’s public transport users are exposed at 90% to noise levels that significantly exceed safety limits. This can cause irreversible hearing loss.  

Construction work in Hong Kong

Highest levels of noise pollution are experienced in poorer and industrial areas.

Living with low incomes means you have to live louder

Poorer people around the globe are more likely than others to live near major traffic arteries, landfills, or industrial plants. This exposes them to greater noise levels than the richer residents of similar cities.

Thomas Myck (German Federal Environment Agency, UBA), a noise expert, said that renting a flat or house on a main street will result in lower rent. “This means that people with less income are more likely live on noisy roads.

According to a report from the United Nations Development Program, this injustice often runs alongside ethnic groups.

Construction worker in Istanbul, Turkey

Construction workers are often exposed more to noise pollution

Confused food chains

Noise can also be harmful to humans. Research has shown that noise can cause behavior changes in all animals. 

City birds often sing louder. Great tits that live in cities across Europe, Japan, and the UK sing louder than their forest counterparts. Vocal changes were also observed in insects, grasshoppers or frogs living near motorways. 

As a result, misunderstandings are more common. Potential sexual partners don’t always get the new songs correctly and this can have a negative impact on mating success. Bogota, Colombia’s frogs now have to croak during quiet periods in order to be heard above the noise. 

A mangrove forest in Guadeloupe

Even wildlife in remote ecosystems is being increasingly disturbed by noise

Myck said that noise pollution affects mating, reproduction, and the location for prey. “Their entire habitat is severely affected by noise.” 

In the USA, noise pollution has increased by more than 50% in all national parks in the past few years. Noise from mining, oil and gas extraction, and the timber industry are the main reasons for the increased hubbub in natural reserves. This can also cause damage to plant life, as it encourages birds to migrate and prevents them from distributing seeds in the same areas where they used to live.

A noise speed camera in France

France’s authorities are testing a speed camera to measure noise


How to calm the world down

According to the United Nations Development Program, more trees, bushes, and shrubs could be used in cities to curb the problem. They disperse noise and help improve the cityscape and climate.

Some experts are skeptical. Myck stated that “the noise practically passes through them.” “Soundproofing” is the only way to solve this problem. He said that it would be more effective to reduce traffic in cities. To do this, he suggested, you could set a speed limit for 30 kilometers per hour on more streets, encourage public transport, traffic-calming zones and build more electric cars and bicycle paths. 

Authorities in France are testing a “noise speed camera”. The device is intended to detect illegally loud cars. The device will not only detect loud vehicles in tumultuous urban areas, but also motorcyclists who visit rural destinations. Violations will result in fines.  

The space created by climate-friendly urban planning could be transformed into cycle paths and parks with fewer cars and less traffic in cities. This could improve the quality of life, wildlife, and urban climate. Scientists have shown that natural sounds, such as birds singing and water splashing or leaves rustling in trees, can reduce stress.

This article was originally published as a German translation.


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