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Noise Pollution Effects

Updated on April 1, 2019
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Srikanth is passionate about helping people improve their quality of life.

What Is Noise?

The word "Noise" is derived from Latin word "Nauseas", which means sea sickness. Noise is any unwanted, irritating, distracting or unpleasant sound which causes disturbance.

Noise pollution is a growing hazard. It is second only to air pollution in its ill effects.

— World Health Organization

Common Sources of Leisure Noise

Live sporting events

Noise Pollution

Noise pollution is the result of this unwanted noise, which disturbs people and animals. There are various sources of noise pollution. Some of them are flying airplanes, moving trains, construction work, vacuum cleaners, machines in a factory, car alarms, shouting people, sirens, vehicular traffic, horns, fireworks, drilling, barking dogs and loud music.

Sound Levels Between 55 to 65 dB Are Acceptable

The US Environmental Protection Agency considers sound levels between 55 to 65 dB (decibel) to be acceptable. In India, noise pollution exceeds permissible limits in seven cities, including New Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai.

The scenario is not much different in other parts of the world. In 2017, a Worldwide Hearing Index ranked Delhi as the second-noisiest city in the world (the first being Guangzhou), followed by Cairo and Mumbai.

Noise pollution is a global issue.

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An Airplane Taking off Emits More Than 120 dB of Sound.

Noise pollution is a huge problem for all cities.

— Jessica Miley

Harmful Effects of Noise Pollution

People generally do not realize the dangerous effects of noise pollution. It has many disruptive effects. Here are some of them:

Noise Pollution Increases Stress Levels

It increases stress levels which is bound to affect execution of day to day activities. It causes annoyance. WHO (World Health Organization) has reported that 15 percent of Europeans suffer severe annoyance due to noise pollution.


Noise Pollution Increases Aggression

Increases aggression. This definitely impacts relationships. The affected person also feels tired easily. It may cause high blood pressure, which leads to further health complications. Hypertension due to noise pollution can cause ulcers.

There are plenty of studies that show that noise has a tremendous impact on health, both short-term and long-term.

— Juan Bello, head of the “Sounds of NYC” project and associate professor of music technology at NYU

Noise Pollution Is the Main Cause Of Tinnitus

It is proved that noise pollution is the main cause of tinnitus (perception of sound in the ear, even though there may be no sound outside). WHO studies indicate that 3 percent of all reported tinnitus cases in Europe were due to chronic exposure to noise pollution from loud traffic. Tinnitus may cause further complications like panic attacks, depression and forgetfulness.

Noise Pollution Causes Depression

Noise Pollution Causes Hearing Loss

Continuous exposure to noise is known to cause loss of hearing. It is estimated that more than 7 million people working in American factories have noise induced hearing loss. Another survey indicated that 80 percent of traffic police in Pune, India, were deaf.

Research has long shown that when noise levels in schools go up, learning goes down. Noise distracts and disrupts, making it harder to listen, focus, work, concentrate and yes, learn.

— Dr. C. Aiden Downey

Impact On Children

Many children worldwide complain about noise in classrooms. There are instances of things like HVAC systems in schools causing noise pollution. Noise has a corrosive impact on learning.

Learning in a Noisy Environment

It is difficult to learn in a noisy environment because noise does not allow children to listen, concentrate and learn. Children are more sensitive to noise than elders.

Children in noisy classrooms lag behind kids in classrooms with less noise in terms of speech perception, expressive word learning, and learning how to read. Kids with learning, behavioral, socio-emotional or linguistic challenges are particularly susceptible to the negative impacts of noise. Noise is negatively associated with achievement on standardized tests. Obvious, isn't it?

Teachers in loud classrooms are more likely to suffer from vocal strain associated with trying to talk over the noise.

The American National Standard on Classroom Acoustics recommends that the noise level in empty classrooms should not exceed 35 decibels­, or about the level of a whisper.

For context, normal human speech takes place at about 50-55 decibels, and experts recommend a 15 decibel difference between the sound of a teacher’s voice and background noise. Keep in mind that decibels are logarithmic, so 60 decibels sounds twice as loud to the human ear as 50. Given that normal conversations run around 55 decibels and permanent hearing damage begins at 80-85 decibels, one can see that small increases in decibel levels can have a major impact on children’s ability to hear, concentrate and learn.

School districts serious about the health and performance of students and teachers take the performance of their school buildings seriously. Good research and data drive school design and construction. They know that not paying attention to classroom acoustics can effectively saddle students with an environmental learning disability. They also know that learning-efficient and energy-efficient schools save not only learning but also money, costing taxpayers less in the long run.

Despite Decatur’s commitment to green and sustainable building practices, its education leaders have not committed to building schools that save energy and promote learning. Our children are paying a steep price. My daughter spent a year in a classroom with an air conditioning unit so loud (60 decibels) that the teacher and students named it ‘the Beast’ and held their class discussions before it powered on and drowned out their voices.

Harder still is that children are expected to learn to read in a classroom that is loud enough to impede their learning. As my daughter put it, “When I am supposed to be reading I cannot picture the scene because all I can hear is the “BRRRRR” of the beast.” Another of my children’s teachers resorted to wearing a microphone and portable speaker to talk over the 67 decibels of noise generated by a massive HVAC tower not 15 yards away from her outdoor classroom.

During an exercise to promote mindfulness, my daughter told me when the teacher asked the children what natural sounds they heard around them, the kids complained that all they could hear was the HVAC unit. And from my own sampling of sound levels at other schools in the district, my daughter’s school is by no means an exception. The failure to consider the impact of acoustics on learning has handicapped our children and teachers with low-performing learning environments.

The Decatur schools leadership has known for years about the noise levels in my daughter’s school as well as the deleterious effects of noise on learning. Rather than acknowledging the problem and working toward a solution, the district has instead put more effort into denying the noise is a problem. By hiding behind Occupational Safety and Health Administration acoustical standards created for adult workers in factories rather than the American National Standards Institute standards designed for children in schools, the school district has made the case that since the noise does not cause permanent hearing loss in adults, it is fine for our children in schools.

City Schools of Decatur recently secured an exemption from Decatur’s High Efficiency Building Standards for its massive expansion and renovation projects at the middle and high schools. Concretely, this means that for the foreseeable future students will be expected to learn in the buildings least suited for it in the entire city. The two buildings that have achieved LEED certification for energy efficiency and environmental quality — central administration and facilities management — are occupied by adults.

Concerned parents, teachers, administrators and students can combat noise pollution in schools by first getting the facts, getting organized, then getting loud.

Get the facts: The National Academies of Sciences 2006 report provides an excellent overview on the impact of noise on learning, and the Environmental Protection Agency has a wealth of information on constructing high performing schools.

Research the local noise ordinances that apply to your schools and neighborhood, as these often need to be updated to reflect what we now know about the negative impact of noise on humans. Collect hard data on the noise levels in your school by downloading an app that enables your smart phone to measure sound in decibels.

Get organized: Bring different stakeholders together and developing a long-term plan to bring about change.

Getting loud: Educate stakeholders — parents, teachers, students, administrators — about the negative impact of environmental factors like noise on learning as well as about feasible solutions.

Over the last 40 years we have come a long way in terms of getting most major pollutants — lead, asbestos, cigarette smoke — out of our schools. We have even declared war on soda and junk food in schools, and made school lunches more nutritious.

But for some reason we have not put the same effort or attention into combating a form of pollution that is a not so silent killer of learning – noise. I welcome the day when we treat a blaring HVAC unit with the same level of concern that we would a lit cigarette in schools. Until we do, our children will continue to learn far less than they should in schools.

Noise Pollution Causes Heart Disease

Noise pollution is known to cause heart related problems. A study conducted by WHO (World Health Organization) indicates that persistent exposure to noise is directly responsible for around three percent of all heart disease deaths in Europe. Noise pollution affects heart beat rate and pulse rate. It is also known to affect cholesterol levels in the body.

A paper published in February 2018 by German and Danish research scientists in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology examined noise (especially during sleep) as a risk factor for heart disease, including coronary artery disease, hypertension, and heart failure.

While noise is not a direct causation for these conditions, it may be a risk factor, the same way that obesity and high blood pressure increase risk, according to the study’s lead author, Dr. Thomas Münzel, from the University Medical Center Mainz Center of Cardiology in Germany.

"There’s consistent evidence that road traffic noise leads to heart attacks,” said Dr Yutong Samuel Cai, an epidemiologist at Imperial College London. He analysed health data of 356,000 people in Britain and Norway and discovered that long term exposure to traffic noise affects our blood biochemistry.

A comprehensive study conducted by the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute (Swiss TPH) indicates that air pollution, along with transportation noise, increase the risk for cardiovascular diseases and diabetes.

WHO estimates that around 1 million healthy life years are lost every year in western European nations due to noise pollution, with cardiovascular disease contributing to the vast majority of these deaths, especially high blood pressure, heart attack and coronary heart disease.

What we know is that if you already have pre-existing risk factors for heart disease, such as high blood pressure or diabetes, noise will amplify that risk.

— Dr. Thomas Münzel

Noise Pollution Causes Miscarriages

Research conducted on pregnant female mice revealed that sound of airplane taking off caused miscarriages in them. An airplane taking off emits more than 120 dB of sound.

It causes disturbance during sleep. WHO study indicates that at least 2 percent of Europeans experience severely disturbed sleep due to noise pollution. This results in the affected person not able to concentrate during the waking hours.

Noise Pollution Damages Hair Cells

Continuous exposure to high noise levels can damage hair cells, cause nausea, headaches and loss of appetite. It also affects animal life causing stress and ear related problems in them. Animals use sounds to communicate with each other. This gets affected due to noise pollution. It affects migratory pattern in birds.

Noise pollution affects migratory pattern in birds.


Continuous exposure to noise pollution is known to affect the quality of crops. Buildings and materials may be damaged due to continuous exposure to infrasonic or ultrasonic waves.

Impact of Noise Pollution on Insects

A study found that noise pollution from gas compressors is harming insects like spiders. Populations of grasshoppers, froghoppers, velvet ants, wolf spiders and cave, camel and spider crickets dropped significantly in locations near gas compressors, while leafhopper numbers rose.

These shifts in arthropod communities could lead to a cascade of larger-scale ecological consequences, as insects play fundamental roles in food webs, pollination, decomposition and overall ecological health, said study co-author Akito Kawahara, assistant professor and curator at the museum's McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity at the University of Florida.

"Noise pollution affects all kinds of animals, and insects are no exception," Kawahara said. "They might be small, but they're the dominant animals on the planet in terms of numbers. What happens to them affects whole ecosystems."

The study is one among a growing body of research on how artificial noise alters animal behavior and disrupts ecosystems. Itis the first to examine noise pollution's effects on arthropod distribution and community diversity.

Gas compressors can range from minivan- to warehouse-sized. They extract and move natural gas along a pipeline, emitting intense, low-frequency noise. Many studies have suggested that noise pollution from compressors changes the activity levels and distribution of bats and birds, key predators of insects and spiders.

Kawahara joined a multi-institutional research group, led by the study's first author Jessie Bunckley and principal investigator Jesse Barber of Boise State University, to test how the landscape-scale noise produced by gas compressors affects arthropod communities, many of which rely on sound and vibrations to find food, meet a mate, communicate and detect predators.

The research team used pitfall traps to take a census of spider and non-flying insect populations at San Juan Basin, New Mexico, the second largest natural gas field in the U.S. The team tested five sites with compressors and five ecologically-similar sites without compressors and compared the relative abundance of specimens.

Compressor sites had 95 percent fewer cave, camel and spider crickets, 52 percent lesser froghoppers and 24 percent fewer grasshoppers than sites without compressors.

For every 10-decibel increase in noise, velvet ant populations dropped 56 percent and wolf spiders decreased by 44 percent. Surprisingly, leafhopper numbers surged in response to noise, increasing 44 percent for each additional 10 decibels of sound. Some arthropods, such as jumping spiders, ground spiders, ants and leaf beetles, showed no significant differences in their numbers between sites.

All arthropod groups that responded to louder background sound levels or compressor noise make or sense sounds or vibrations, suggesting compressor noise could directly interfere with or mask important information they receive or exchange.

Compressor noise could negatively impact wolf spiders, for instance, because they are hunters that depend on vibrations to detect prey. Conversely, noise could act as a "predator shield" for leafhoppers, hiding their sounds and movements from their natural enemies.

"But parsing out why a particular group of arthropods increased or decreased in response to compressor noise is difficult," Kawahara said. While the number of crickets in the Rhaphidophoridae family decreased in response to compressor noise, crickets in the Gryllidae family were not affected.

"The range of changes in arthropod abundance sheds light on the fact that we're dealing with a very complicated network of animal interactions," Kawahara said. He pointed to the value of museum collections as archives of past biodiversity that can record changes to the environment over time.

"We are rapidly changing our environment in terms of sound, light, air and climate," he said. "Unless we have historical documentation of what was in an area at a particular time, it's hard to detect these changes at a fine scale. Museum specimens document biodiversity over hundreds of years, offering those snapshots of time."

Noise Pollution Has Not Spared Even Calm and Serene National Parks

During winter months, sounds of nature are so subtle that they are almost imperceptible. “It's a really quiet experience,” said Rachel Buxton. “You're almost hearing your own heartbeat.”

But every half an hour, a jet flys overhead, shattering the fragile calm. “It's shocking, right?” she said. “You’re in the middle of nowhere, yet you still can’t escape the sounds of humans.”

That is the problem with noise pollution, continued Buxton, an acoustic ecologist at Colorado State University: “It really doesn’t have any boundaries. There’s no way of holding it in.”

This problem pervades wilderness areas across the United States, Buxton and her colleagues reported in the journal Science. In fact, it is a global problem.

Making use of a model based on sound measurements obtained by the National Park Service, they discovered that human noises at least double the background sound levels at the majority of protected areas in the nation.

Noise pollution not only disrupts hikers; but also frightens, distracts or harms various life forms that inhabit the wilderness, leading to changes that cascade through the entire ecosystem.

“When we think about wilderness, we think about dark skies, going to see outstanding scenery,” said Megan McKenna, a scientist with the National Park Service's Natural Sounds and Night Skies division and a co-author on the report. “We really should think about soundscapes, too.”

It is not easy to measure noise pollution. Unlike smog or light, sound can not be picked up by satellites. Toreview the soundscape of a specific site, Park Service scientists have to hike into the wilderness and build a listening station by hand.

Each station has a sound level meter and a recorder that operates for around one month, picking up every birdsong, thunderclap and rumble of cars on the road.

The Park Service has taken these measurements at many national parks. The recordings were analyzed by acoustic experts, who pick out each sound in an audio clip and categorize its source.

Utilizing data from more than 400 sites across the nation, the research scientists identified which sounds are associated with a range of geographic features — elevation, annual rainfall, proximity to cities, highways and flight paths.

These associations were built into a model that can predict noise levels at any given spot in the nation. By deducting the natural sound sources at sites, they arrived at the expected amount of noise pollution for the wilderness areas they studied.

The results were mixed. Buxton said that protected areas had much lower levels of human-caused sound than the adjacent "buffer zones” of unprotected land. This indicates that these buffer zones insulate parks from sounds that are not natural.

Around 63 percent of protected areas experienced at least a 3-decibel rise in sound levels caused by noise pollution. More than one fifth of protected areas experienced 10 extra dB of human noise — a tenfold rise in the level of sound.

The majority of areas considered “critical habitat” for endangered species were among the regions that dealt with at least an extra three decibels of sound, and 14 percent of critical habitats were in the 10-dB category.

Noise can emanate from many sources — visitor center HVAC systems, jet engines overhead, car engines, children shouting nearby, mining and drilling activities taking place miles away.

Effects of this noise can be far reaching, Buxton said. Animals depend on their ability to hear minute natural noises — the movement of predators, the trickle of a stream.

Noise pollution covers up those sounds, putting wild creatures at risk. Noise from human activity is frightening and distracting; it can change animals' behavior with consequences for the whole ecosystem.

A recent paper in the Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B discovered that noise pollution makes it difficult for plants to reproduce because human sounds scares away the birds that help distribute seeds and enhance the activity of seed-eating rodents.

Many endangered species, particularly plants and invertebrates, experience high levels of noise pollution in their critical habitat – geographic areas that are essential for their survival. Examples include the Palos Verdes Blue butterfly, which is found only in Los Angeles County, California, and the Franciscan manzanita, a shrub that once was thought extinct, and is found only in the San Francisco Bay area.

— Rachel Buxton

Even life that do not have ears are affected. For instance spiders do not “hear” sound, but they feel its vibrations. Research suggests that they act differently when bombarded with human noise.

Likewise, plants are known to extend their roots in the direction of acoustic vibrations from running water. Though a research study found that garden peas can distinguish between natural sounds and recorded sounds, scientists do not know whether plants are confused by the rumble of a passing car.

“We're realizing more and more just how delicate sound is, and how essential it is to things you wouldn't expect,” Buxton said.

McKenna said that parks are taking adequate steps to reduce the impact of human sounds. Some have implemented shuttle systems to decrease the number of cars within their boundaries.

Muir Woods National Monument posted library-style “quiet” signs and reported a dramatic reduction in noise pollution. The most problematic type of noise pollution — traffic sounds from cars and planes — is not so easily reduced. But Buxton said that parks can look into “quiet pavement,” which muffles the sounds of tires rolling down a road, and establish “noise corridors” that align flight paths with highways on the ground.

These efforts are not just for the sake of animals, the researchers say. “We have all this research about how important it is to our human health and well-being,” Buxton said, referencing studies that link listening to nature sounds with reductions in stress, improvements in mood and other markers of good health.

“Also it enhances our experiences in protected areas,” Buxton continued. “Imagine walking in Yellowstone, seeing beautiful vistas. You’ve got bird songs filling the landscape. You might hear a pack of wolves howling on your way home at night. All these things are really magnificent. That's something that deserves protection.”

Yellowstone National Park


Impact of Noise Pollution on Songbirds

Breeding songbirds, such as the skylark, avoid wind turbines. A research study has found breeding bird populations such as the Dupont’s lark, a near-threatened species of songbird found in North Africa and Spain, declined in areas with wind turbines. The underlying reason may be, at least partially, that birds avoid noisy habitat that makes communication more difficult.

Are you a victim of noise pollution?

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Noise pollution affects normal human performance which can have a negative impact on the economy. Governments all over the world should plan the cities at least in the future in such a way that there are no residential areas near factories. Sound barriers may also be considered at industrial areas. People should use ear plugs, which are effective against noise pollution.

5 Diseases Caused by Noise Pollution

Sl No
Ischemic heart disease

Good News

Fortunately authorities in some nations are taking appropriate action against those causing noise pollution. They are also taking appropriate measures to prevent noise generation. For instance in Mumbai, authorities are taking action against people who are found in possession of DJ system without measuring the actual noise level, who are neither equipped nor trained to gauge the noise level.

Keep the noise down or the noise will keep you down.

© 2017 Srikanth R


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