For something we can’t see, noise pollution does a staggering and irreparable amount of damage to both our physical and mental health. In fact, the World Health Organization has dubbed environmental noise pollution an “underestimated threat”1.
Research has shown that exposure to high levels of noise can result in physical complications such as debilitating heart attacks, stroke2, and diabetes3. At the same time, noise pollution also puts a strain on our mental state, which can lead to headaches, depression4, and accidents from weariness5.
And yet, this invisible threat shows no signs of slowing down. Noise from urbanisation and population are growing. New vehicles are coming up with louder and louder horns. Meanwhile, research has shown that both people and birds are louder when they live in the city, as compared to their country counterparts, in order to stand out from the din of urban life6.
Therefore, we need to be more aware about noisy environments, and be smarter about the ways that we deal with noise. This will help us implement more effective sound control solutions and avoid the harmful effects of noise.
Strategies to reduce noise pollution
One of the key strategies to reducing the adverse effects of noise pollution is to plan and design buildings around the objective of effective noise control. For instance in the UK, this is reinforced by a number of initiatives, including the guidance on noise from the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG)7, the Ambient Noise Strategy titled “Sounder City” from the Mayor of London8, the Mayor’s Sustainable Design and Construction Supplementary Planning Guidance9, and the Mayor’s Housing Supplementary Planning Guidance10.
These plans detail the mitigation of noise pollution’s negative effects by designing buildings in a manner that minimises exposure to noise, and making use of acoustic insulation.
Stone wool products can play an important role in supporting these efforts. This is because high-density stone wool has proven acoustic capabilities that allow it to isolate and control vibrations, thus efficiently absorbing sound and reducing noise. Such insulation can provide invaluable solutions at transport sites and entertainment venues, both of which are significant sources of noise.
Common noise barriers come in the form of weather stripping (which stone wool can be used for) and double-paned windows, especially if you live in a noisy city or near an airport. As an added bonus, applying these changes to a building can also reduce heating and cooling bills, and help protect the environment from harmful carbon emissions.
For example, the Transport Strategy published in 2010 notes that a fifth of Londoners are annoyed or disturbed by noise in their homes and that the most disturbing noise is created by buses and lorries. The Transport Strategy suggests that putting noise barriers in place in some areas, along with reviewing sound insulation regulations, may be a solution. What’s more, it adds that all new projects will consider noise mitigation measures11.
If you are unable to eliminate unpleasant noise from your surroundings, you can actually create a healthier environment by replacing stress-inducing environmental sounds with more pleasing ones.
For example, you can make use of a white noise machine or a sound spa — which play sounds ranging from waterfalls to rain, babbling brooks, and even basic static. These sounds can help to drown out jarring environmental noises that can distract you or disturb your sleep, in turn achieving a soothing effect. Playing music that you enjoy can also accomplish a similar result, while improving your mood.
Doing this may feel like you are simply trading in some sounds for others, but the sounds of nature and music can feel more relaxing, and therefore better for your health. After all, sounds become noise depending on what you actually want to hear.
Environmental noise control
There are also other strategies in place to deal with noise. Noise maps are created every five years (2007 and 2012) to align action plans with the Environmental Noise Directive12. Simultaneously, good environmental noise quality is preserved by identifying Quiet Areas, while the public is educated on environmental noise and its effects in order to promote more considerate behaviour in relation to noise13.
Hence, another way of reducing the impact of noise if you are unable to eliminate it, is to create distance between yourself and the source of the noise. At the same time, if you are the source of the noise, it is common courtesy to avoid doing it close to other people. For example, you can step outside to take a phone call during work, instead of broadcasting it to the entire office.
There are even existing mobile applications (such as SoundPrint, iHEARu, and Hush City) that give you the ability to rate the sound levels of different venues, as well as discover quiet places in a neighbourhood. This provides better assistance for people who are struggling to find a tranquil place to spend their time.
Ultimately, we need to continue discovering and implementing new and innovative ways to limit the negative impact of noise pollution, so that we can raise our efforts in the war on noise and safeguard our health and happiness.
1. World Health Organization, 2018
2. European Union, 2015, “THEMATIC ISSUE: Noise impacts on health Environment Science for Environment Policy”
3. Tasali et al, 2007.
4. Niemann and Maschke, 2004.
5. Australian Academy of Science, 2017.
12. Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs UK, 2014, “Noise action plans: large urban areas, roads and railways”