Noise Pollution: A Modern Plague

Lisa Goines, RN; Louis Hagler, MD

Disclosures

South Med J. 2007;100(3):287-294. 

In This Article

Conclusions and Recommendations

As a society, our history is filled with failures to recognize the agents that cause disease; once the causes have been recognized, we have responded reluctantly, slowly, and often inadequately. The case with tobacco is an instructive one. It took many years of lobbying by dedicated individuals before legislators and the general public recognized the links between the hazards of tobacco smoke and disease; as a result, laws were finally enacted and behaviors changed accordingly.

Despite the evidence about the many medical, social, and economic effects of noise, as a society, we continue to suffer from the same inertia, the same reluctance to change, and the same denial of the obvious that the anti-tobacco lobby faced a couple of decades ago. This inertia and denial are similar to those that delayed appropriate action on lead, mercury, and asbestos. Now we seem unable to make the connection between noise and disease, despite the evidence, and despite the fact, which we all recognize, that our cities are becoming increasingly more polluted with noise.

Noise makers and the businesses that support them are as reluctant as smokers to give up their bad habits. Legislators at all levels should protect us from noise pollution the same way they protected us from tobacco smoke and other forms of pollution. It is clear that laws can change behaviors in ways that benefit society as a whole.

Noise represents an important public health problem that can lead to hearing loss, sleep disruption, cardiovascular disease, social handicaps, reduced productivity, impaired teaching and learning, absenteeism, increased drug use, and accidents. It can impair the ability to enjoy one's property and leisure time and increases the frequency of antisocial behavior. Noise adversely affects general health and well-being in the same way as does chronic stress. It adversely affects future generations by degrading residential, social, and learning environments with corresponding economic losses. Local control of noise has not been successful in most places. This points out the need for improved methods of local control that should include public education, enlightened legislation, and active enforcement of noise ordinances by local law enforcement officials. Part of the solution may require federal or state legislation aimed at supporting local efforts or the restoration of federal funding for the Office of Noise Abatement and Control.

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