With environmental protection being all the rage today, other forms of pollution appear to be neglected. One thing being ignored is noise pollution.
For those of you who think that it doesn’t exist, I dare you to stand at the bus stops on Commonwealth Avenue or Guadalupe for just one hour. If the loud and constant blaring of air horns don’t damage your ears, then you probably have undiagnosed hearing problems already.
I only came across this problem while on my way home from a meeting a few weeks ago. Since my car was banned for that day, I decided to take the public transportation passing through these stations. While taking public transportation can be a challenge, it was nothing to the onslaught my ears underwent while waiting for my rides. The situation was so bad that my ears were already ringing, putting me in a state of physical pain, in just the five minutes.
[Covering my ears helped, but having to wait for a couple of hours with fingers stuck in your ears isn’t exactly convenient.]
The problem stems from one of the most senseless habits of public transportation drivers, which is that they keep blaring their horns just to attract passengers. Why someone needs to hammer on their vehicular horns to get passengers, who are already actively looking for a ride in the first place, just boggles the mind.
Then there are the private vehicle and motorcycle drivers who are equally horn-crazy. Often times, they lean on their horns at the slightest provocation. They even use it before the traffic lights turn green.
Unfortunately, problem of noise pollution isn’t limited only to vehicles as it can be found in places where sound systems are often used. These include restaurants, gaming arcades, and karaoke bars. Then there are events like weddings, store openings, election events, and even fund raisers. Even private areas like homes and cars have blaring televisions and stereo systems.
After going through the data provided on several websites, including the World Health Organization and the Center for Disease and Control, the following noise chart was consolidated:
|Level (dBA)||Source||Maximum exposure time per
24 hours without protection
|191||Sound waves become shock waves||No Exposure|
|175||Train air horn||No Exposure|
|150||Truck air horn
Boom boxes inside cars
Jet take-off (at 15 meters)
|140||Aircraft carrier deck||No Exposure|
Standing beside or near sirens
Motorcycle without a muffler (at 15.2 meters)
|109||Teenage rock band
Shouting or barking in the ear
|100||Jet take-off (at 305 meters)
Car horn (at 5 meters)
|97||Newspaper press||30 minutes|
|88||Food blender||4 hours|
|85||City traffic (inside the car)||8 hours|
|75||Diesel Truck running 70 km/hr. (at 15 meters)||24 hours|
|70||Vacuum cleaner||24 hours|
|60||Passenger car running 80 km/hr. (at 15 meters)
Conversation (at 1 meter)
Air conditioning (window unit)
|20||Ticking watch||24 hours|
|10||Normal breathing||24 hours|
|0||Minimum sound those with normal hearing can detect||24 hours|
|-10||Minimum sound those with very good hearing can detect|
Sound levels of 80 decibels and lower are fine, which is why people are allowed to listed to them all 24 hours in a day. Anything above that, and the amount of time people are exposed to the sound decreases. The upper limit is placed at 140 decibels, wherein people should not be exposed to it under any circumstances without the use of protective gear.
Going over this chart, I can say that one of the high-risk people are traffic aides, who are exposed to air horns during a typical nine-hour shift. While work is only limited to eight hours, they can be expected to linger near their assigned traffic area during their lunchbreak.
Other surprising results include motorcycles, wherein exposure should only be limited to one hour. My understanding about this limit is that it covers the driver, passenger, and people around it, such as the pedestrians. When the muffler is removed, it jumps into a level wherein even one second of exposure should not be allowed.
Boomboxes, typically found in enthusiast’s vehicles and some public jeepneys, can be expected to cause hearing damage, even within a few seconds’ worth of exposure. In private vehicles, anywhere between five to eight passengers can sustain damage during a typical trip. In public vehicles like jeepneys, which can seat as many as twenty passengers, more will actually sustain hearing damage as they pick up and drop off passengers through daily routes.
Finally, those living near airports may be expected to sustain hearing damage after a short period of time. Injury may have been limited years ago, with less busy airports. But with the increase of flights, the sound of jet engines are present twenty-four hours a day.
Perhaps the biggest issue of noise pollution is that it doesn’t just cause hearing loss; it can affect the health of people in other matters as well. These include Tinnitus, Cardiovascular disease, lower cognitive performance, sleep disturbance, stress, and annoyance. A study conducted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency went as far as to indicate that certain birth defects may be attributed to the exposure of pregnant mothers to noise.
The Actions Taken
In the Philippines, several laws related to noise pollution have been enacted. These include:
Presidential Decree No. 1152
Section 5 - Community Noise Standards
Appropriate standards for community noise levels shall be established considering, among others, location, zoning and land use classification.
Section 6 - Standards for Noise-Producing Equipment
There shall be established a standard for noise-producing equipment such as construction equipment, transportation equipment, stationary engines, and electrical or electronic equipment and such similar equipment or contrivances. The standard shall set a limit on the acceptable level of noise emitted from a given equipment for the protection of public health and welfare, considering among others, the magnitude and condition of use, the degree of noise reduction achievable through the application of best available technology and the cost of compliance. The installation of any noise-producing equipment shall conform with the requirements of Presidential Decree No. 1096 and other applicable laws as well as their implementing rules and regulations.
Presidential Decree No. 1096
Section 906. Noise Pollution Control.
Industrial establishments shall be provided with positive noise abatement devices to tone down the noise level of equipment and machineries to acceptable limits set down by the Department of Labor and the National Pollution Control Commission.
Presidential Decree No. 1195 (Pending as of 18th Congress)
Muffler act of 2016
An act prohibiting the use of motor vehicles without mufflers of those that are defective or have been modified which increase the sound emitted by motor vehicles, penalizing owners and drivers that contribute to noise pollution in the environment.
However, even with these laws having been put into place as far back as 1977 it seems that hardly any progress has been made to minimize noise pollution. On the contrary, the rapid increase in the number of trucks, buses, and motorcycles coupled with worsening traffic appear to have pushed it into more areas than ever.
Probably the only sound source that is being controlled, though sporadically, is the karaoke machine. Many barangays limit their use to either 10 o’clock in the evening or at midnight as most. However, when it is used during the day time and early evening, it is loud enough to be heard several streets away.
Of all the types of pollution, noise pollution may be the easiest to arrest. This is because majority of the sources tend to be due to the operation of man-made objects, such as vehicles, karaoke machines, stereo systems, machinery, and the like.
By comparison, environmental pollution is more difficult to control because each of the 7.8 billion people on earth contributes to it, whether directly or indirectly.
Having said this, the government and its citizens have their own roles in its control. However, as one may deduce, the role of government will be bigger as relying on citizens to do their part is, for a better word, unrealistic.
Expecting the owners of vehicles, restaurants, karaoke machines, and even planners cannot be expected to control noise pollution at their end. This is because when people possess something, such as loud equipment, they use it.
Clear legislation and consistent implementation are the only government solutions to noise pollution. And anything short of these, such as pleading with the public will, pardon the pun, fall on deaf ears.
For vehicles, the control of noise pollution can be done during their annual registration. Air horns can be found and confiscated while vehicles with open mufflers should be impounded immediately. However, if the muffler is damaged then the owner should be given a maximum of two months to fix it.
Construction equipment will be a bit more challenging because while workers can be made to wear protective gear, people around the site will not. Erecting walls to contain and deflect the noise is one option to protect these people.
Finally, the government needs to be proactive. This means instead of waiting for someone to complain about the noise before acting, it should start thing regulating noise on their own.
As mentioned earlier, asking citizens to tone down the noise is like asking the sun to stop rising. Unlike before, people aren’t mindful of others anymore, especially when it concerns sound. However, I will still try – please stop polluting the environment with noise. Think of the welfare of friends, young children, and unborn children.
One another note, if you happen to enter a place, such as a restaurant or store, with extremely loud music, consider asking the manager to tone it down. If enough of us do it, the manager may just get the hint and keep the volume at safe levels.
If the place still plays loud music, then consider reporting them to the appropriate government unit. Sure, this society frown upon tattletales, but if your kids go deaf before even graduating from grade school because the fast food joint your family frequents sets the volume at the maximum level, then you have a choice to make – family or culture.
Finally, people need to limit the sound levels of their audio players. I remember entering an elevator a few weeks ago and was surprised that the loud sound actually came from the headphones of a fellow passenger. It was so loud that I couldn’t hear what my co-worker was saying to me.
Unfortunately, getting noise pollution under control will take time. During this period, it may be helpful to get some protection. I suggest consulting your Ear, Nose, Throat doctor on how to protect your ears. He or she may suggest a change in habit or to purchase some form of protection.
It has been 43 years since the law regulating noise pollution has been passed and four years since a bill about mufflers has been filed. Given all that time, perhaps government needs to start addressing the problem of noise pollution.
The thing is, the loud volumes in restaurants, gaming arcades, and even weddings may already be symptoms of hearing damage for the people who control the speaker systems. And just like a virus, they spread their affliction to others by playing everything loudly.
Unfortunately, the damage already done to the hearing of people cannot be corrected anymore. But taking action now can prevent it from getting worse. It can even save the next generation from having to suffer the same fate as the current generation face.