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Can you hear the noise?

| by Victor Cherubim

( June 27, 2914, London, Sri Lanka Guardian)
Ask anyone other than a Sri Lankan, who has just landed at Colombo’s Bandaranaike International Airport, what strikes them. They may invariably say, other than the picture of our President Mahinda Rajapaksa, the incessant noise pollution, the tooting of car horns on our streets, everywhere. We have always had a liking for the loudest and bizarre, if not spectacular sound of our motor vehicle horns. It is perhaps, a penchant, a status symbol, a display of the model of our vehicle, as it were to draw public attention.

Quite naturally, in the good old days of bullock carts and belching lorries, buses and “tuk tuk’s,” the normal way to overtake, was to “blow the horn” not once but continuously, to overtake at speeds. Today thanks to the Urban Development Ministry and our wide macadamised motorways, much has been done to stop this unnecessary practice of noise pollution, other than for a stay animal crossing.

It was only recently that I noticed in the media that our Police HQ has directed island wide stations to implement the laws against the vehicles emanating excessive sounds from vehicles stereos, with a fine ranging from Rs.3000/- to Rs.5000, as the sound from stereos, must be only audible only to the passengers.

Contrast this with the fact in UK that the horn is an accessory hardly used, other than in an absolute emergency. Does it mean that the British driver is a more tolerant driver or are we Sri Lankans perfunctory?

What is wrong with noise pollution?

Noise pollution is not necessarily in our vehicles and on our roads. Noise in the house, at work, at school, we are told often disrupts our concentration. “Background noise also affects people’s health by increasing general stress levels and aggravating stress related conditions such as high blood pressure, coronary disease, peptic ulcers and of course, well known migraine headaches”.

University of California researchers now maintain that stress resulting from background noise may decrease higher brain functioning, impairing hearing and perhaps causing Alzheimer’s memory loss.

We also are made aware that the kinds of noise and even the expectation of noise are critical, in all cases of distraction and behaviour patterns. Noise is disturbing, whilst excessive noise may harm the balance of human or animal life and activity.

Is Noise is an environmental problem?

There are various sources of noise. Most sources of outdoor noise is often caused by machines, transport, trains, motor vehicles and aircraft. In fact, even the noise of firecrackers, loudspeakers and outside broadcasts of events are often tolerated and relished in many parts of Asia and Africa, as part of the scene. While in the West, noise from industrial, commercial, neighbour and neighbourhood sources are prevalent. Indoor noise may be caused by loud music, people talking on their phones or mobiles, whilst noise levels in South Asia outdoor marches and processions is tolerated and most often lax in enforcement by authorities.

Until 1970, governments around the world, viewed noise more as a nuisance rather than as an environmental problem. Unreasonable noise, indoors or outdoors, at any time, day or night, is now considered as an environmental hazard. In Europe and the West local Councils have power to deal with excessive noise level, over a certain “sound level” measured in decibels, as affecting the quality of life and heavy penalties are being now enforced.

Noise mitigation

Roadway noise can be reduced by use of noise barriers, acoustics, water features and plants installed on sides of highways and motorways. Aircraft noise can be reduced by using quieter jet engines, altering flight paths, limiting night flights to a minimum. Timing of flights has benefitted residents near airports. It was only the other day that someone pulled up a fellow passenger on a train using a mobile in a noise free train carriage/compartment, “stationary at a station” with the offender claiming immunity as
“it is noise free only in motion”.

What does noise sound ?

How many of us have heard of “white noise”? The sound of noise whose amplification is constant throughout the audible frequency is referred to as “White Noise”. In simple words, “it is a specific type of sound which is used to mask background sounds when used to promote healthy sleep, while noise helps to drown out sounds which might otherwise prevent either falling asleep or waking up whilst asleep.”

“Another type of noise is the incessant hum – a mysterious droning noise which science reveals only 2% of people can hear, has been described as bizarrely irritating. This low rumbling noise has been blamed on everything from electricity pylons to military aircraft.” We note that “military aircraft using VLF radio waves send instructions to submarines”. Could this perhaps, be the reason why people in Plymouth, in South East England are reported to have heard this sound?

Besides, “Cognitive neuroscience reveals, in the process of mapping electrical activity of the brain using electroencephalography,(EEG), the behaviour of brain patterns before making a decision, UCLA Scientists have found the brain too has a natural background noise that is produced as electrical activity pattern fluctuating across the brain.is measured in the form of brain noise.”

Why go that far?

As humans, we expect others to tolerate our noise discretion, when even animals are said to understand the sensitivities of life.