A lot, apparently. Research on "noise pollution" and excessive noise conditions shows continued exposure to loud noise will cause hearing loss. That's not just research blather, but accepted fact (Your mother was right - all that loud rock and roll was bad for your ears.).
The nicely named League for the
Hard of Hearing says studies have correlated noise with physiological changes in sleep, blood pressure and digestion, negative impacts on developing fetuses, and is one of the most common forms of sleep disturbance.
When sleep disruption becomes chronic, adverse health effects are great (See my previous column on our sleep-deprived nation).
Noise is associated with elevations in blood pressure, adverse cardiovascular effects, increased anxiety, and increased aggression.
Had enough yet?
Studies in India have found that excess noise in the workplace is counterproductive: exposure of workers to high noise levels resulted in sleep disorders, mental fatigue, annoyance, reduced alertness, and slowed their performance.
People experiencing high noise levels (especially around airports or roads) suffer more headaches, greater susceptibility to minor accidents, increased reliance on sedatives and sleeping pills, and increased mental hospital admission rates than those in quieter areas.
And we are one noisy nation. Israelis are constantly bombarded with noise: the din in the country's cafes is unbelievable, with ringing cell phones, loud talk, booming music, grating loudspeakers and whining espresso machines.
Far more seriously, factory workers, construction workers, bus drivers and others are constantly bombarded by noise. According to a 1998 report, approximately 400,000 Israeli workers (33 percent of the industrial work force) are exposed to excessive noise. Hearing impairment is the second most common occupational disease.
I stood on a downtown street of Jerusalem at midday yesterday, and could not hear myself think: auto traffic, music blaring from stalled cars, honking horns, rumbling diesel trucks, bouncy buses, cell phones ringing. Oh, yes, people were also yelling at each other. I wonder: Do we yell at each other because we can't hear, or are we going deaf because we are always yelling at each other.
'Do something about it'
Make no mistake, it is bad. Noise is supposedly taken into account when planning new roads, but noise reduction is virtually impossible on older roads. Only a few communities have noise barriers between residential neighborhoods and highways (in some places the security fence may work well for noise reduction, too).
New cars must meet noise regulations; but they are not subject to any noise requirements after they leave the showroom. A government expert once said the problem is made worse because there are so many old cars on the roads, and spare parts are expensive, causing people to delay or ignore necessary maintenance.
Few are doing anything about it. A study in Tel Aviv found that half of the community considered noise to be their community's biggest disadvantage - but only 20 percent said they would try to relieve the problem, either in their own lives or through taking action.
The Transportation Ministry's regulations limiting vehicle noise are not specific enough to be effectively enforced, one expert says. I have never seen anyone get a noise ticket.
A 1998 report optimistically said plans had been drawn up to move Eilat's noisy airport from the center of town - but it is still there.
Even environmentalists have placed noise pollution far down on their agenda. I couldn't find anything on noise pollution on the excellent website of the Jewish Global Environmental Network.
There are laws limiting noise pollution, and calling for "quiet hours" in certain neighborhoods. But the pile drivers are still running in my community even during afternoon siesta time.
The Israel Police even say they do not enforce offenses referring to unreasonable noise, because they lack noise measurement equipment.
Here a few things we in Israel can do to raise awareness of the problem:
1. Stop honking our car horns (I'm guilty of it, too.
It's something of a national sport.)
2. Buck up the courage to complain about noisy cars, construction equipment and cell phones. If local police won't help you, contact Superintendent Yoav Medina at 03-691-3934.
3. Complain to the Environment Ministry at its "Green Police" phone number (08-978-8888) when you hear something too noisy.
4. Get the Israel Union for Environmental Defense (Adam Teva V'Din in Hebrew) to push the question higher on its agenda.
Just do it quietly. Please don't shout.
Alan D. Abbey is Founding Editor of Ynetnews. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org