Today’s world is full of noise – loud, chronic noise – around our homes, schools, workplaces, shopping areas, and parks. Indoors, it may be the blare of music in a restaurant, the constant dinging of alarms in a hospital, the pounding music in the spin class, or the sound of outdoor construction and grounds maintenance penetrating our walls and windows. Outdoors, there may be loud vibrating noise from jackhammers, leaf blowers, lawn mowers and other gas-powered equipment that goes on unabated for hours. We can’t work in the yard, we can’t stay in the house. The sirens of emergency vehicles and motorcycles with illegally modified exhausts make us stick our fingers into our ears. Then, there’s the constant beeping of the reversing truck and then the occasional screech of the car alarm. It drains our energy and reduces our ability to relax. We pay the cost of this out-of-control noise with hearing loss, sleep loss, health problems, diminished quality of life and concern for the future of our children and our environment. Unnecessary noise affects people at home and at work and alters marine life and wildlife habitats.

©️ The Quiet Coalition 2016

©️ The Quiet Coalition 2016

We are exposed to noise exceeding safe limits by orders of magnitude.  This danger is particularly great for children and can be painful for people with autism, tinnitus, and other sensory problems. According to Harvard Medical School, hearing loss results from “decades’ worth of exposure to the high-decibel accessories of daily life: leaf blowers, car horns, highway traffic, movie theater sounds, hair dryers, vacuum cleaners, loud music, and so on.” Starting with loud noise at age 21 is one thing; starting at age 1 is quite another. In two or three decades, chronic exposure to years of noise-producing toys, games, and personal listening devices may produce an entire generation of 30- or 40-year olds who are hard of hearing.

The Quiet Coalition (TQC) is focused on building consensus, and promoting cooperation and collaboration among scientific, health, and legal professionals concerned with the growing problem of environmental noise. More importantly, we are looking to legislators and policy makers to take action to protect our health and our environment.  TQC is building on the work of others. A wide range of government and professional organizations have published studies, reports, and in some cases, policy statements, on the problems of environmental noise. One example is the American Academy of Nursing’s position statement on environmental noise (July 2016):

Noise is more than an annoyance; it is a public health hazard, having a significant impact on the health of our nation and its economic well-being. It has been well documented that noise exposure contributes to hearing loss, tinnitus, heart disease, stroke, anxiety, stress, depression, learning difficulties, job performance, sleep disorders, and reduced cognitive abilities. This position is consistent with the Academy’s Strategic Goal…to “Lead efforts, in partnership with others, to address the broad range of factors that affect the health of populations.” Furthermore, reducing noise and the health problems it causes will result in a reduction in health care costs, one component of the…Academy’s Strategic Goal… for the health care system.

Another example is the American Public Health Association’s policy statement (November 2013):

The American Public Health Association has long been a proponent of research, education, and legislation to advance the fight against environmental noise pollution. The public health community’s understanding of the adverse health impacts of environmental noise pollution has grown rapidly in recent decades. As our understanding has grown, there has been a disconnection between research and noise policy because many communities and elected officials across the United States are only anecdotally aware of the link between the noise pollution in their communities and their health.

The International Commission on the Biological Effects of Noise, founded in the United States in 1972, holds Congresses every five years to disseminate research findings on the health effects of noise pollution. Its next congress will be held in 2017 in Zurich, Switzerland with the theme “Noise as a Public Health Problem.” Another scientific journal, Noise & Health, is dedicated to this topic.  These sources and others do a valuable job but have had little influence over US regulatory matters.

An organized, collaborative effort is needed to bring pressure on policy makers to prevent environmental noise from damaging our health and environment. Some solutions have been proposed but are not mandated and have no “teeth.” Nor have incentives been provided to encourage voluntary action. The National Academy of Engineering’s report, “Technology for a Quieter America,” advocates for product labeling and “Buy Quiet programs” to foster purchases of quieter, safer products. Some agencies, such as the National Institutes of Occupational Health and Safety, have adopted a Buy Quiet program. But more needs to be done.

Through a cooperative, collaborative approach, based on sound scientific evidence, we aim to make our world a quieter place, one decibel at a time.

By Jamie L. Banks, PhD, MSc, Program Director, and David M. Sykes, Vice-Chair

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