Can we get some quiet around here?

Dec 8, 2013

Credit kakisky / MorgueFile

Here's something you can tell that neighbor whose power lawn mower shatters your Saturday morning quiet: You're making me sick!

Researchers at the University of Michigan School of Public Health and the Network for Public Health Law say Americans live in a dangerously noisy society.

U-M assistant professor of environmental science Rick Neitzel says noise does much more than cause hearing loss. He says  noise can contribute to heart disease, hypertension, sleep disturbances and learning problems in children.

"We're living near freeways, we're living under the flight path of airplanes, we're going to work at noisy jobs. We have other sources of noise we cannot avoid because they're structural parts of our society," Neitzel says. "It's certainly the case for workers who do manufacturing, work in the construction and services industry, agriculture, mining and the military.

He says noise damage can also come from everyday things, like riding a bus or operating a blender.

"So you don't have to be working with a jackhammer all day to be getting your health damaged by noise."

He cites a lack of effective federal controls on noise exposure.

"I would without hesitation say that the U.S. has been almost a complete failure in terms of controlling the environmental health risks posed by noise -- with one exception, and that's airplanes."

Neitzel says there's been about a 95% reduction in the number of people exposed to hazardous levels of noise from airplanes around airports since the early 1980s.

"The reason this happened is because government regulations kicked in that said jet engines can only make this much noise, and over several years those standards were tightened several times."

He says noise abatement discussions were quite active between 1972 and 1982.

"But then the office of the Environmental Protection Agency that was driving that discussion was removed by the Reagan administration," Neitzel says. "The laws they passed are still on the books, but there's basically no one at home to enforce them."

That leaves the matter of noise enforcement to states and local municipalities. Many have laws that forbid construction between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m.

"They say people need time to rest; we shouldn't be doing noisy things then," Neitzel says.

The U.S. needs to focus on creating quieter products, Neitzel says.

"Cars don't have to be so noisy. We could actually make huge reductions over time and improve our health as well."

Read the study: http://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/1307272/