The ear-splitting screech of city streets isn’t merely annoying – it actually promotes deafness, heart disease and hypertension. Strange that governments move on pesticides and communicable diseases but leave us at the mercy of aural discord. Let’s raise a decibel of protest.
Common misconceptions about noise pollution
That it's non-quantifiable and that people can adjust to noise by ignoring it or getting used to it.
The disturbing truth
Numerous studies have linked noise pollution to hypertension, stress, heart damage, depression, hormonal changes and other illnesses related to chronic sleep disturbances.
There is some evidence suggesting an increased risk of hypertension and heart disease for people living with above-normal road or air traffic noise.
How bad is it out there?
Noise is thought to be the cause of deafness or hearing loss in more than 30 per cent of all cases.
Noise is consistently the biggest cause of work-related disability claims settled by the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board.
Actual sound levels are doubling every 10 years.
What a federal/provincial working group on environmental noise has concluded: "Noise represents a real and present danger to people's health."
The facts on frequency
Level at which hearing damage begins: 85 decibels
Level at which no more than 15 minutes of unprotected exposure is recommended: 90 decibels
Level at which more than one minute of exposure risks permanent hearing loss: more than 100 decibels
The zinger: sound intensity doubles with every three-decibel increase; an increase of 10 decibels equals 10 times as much sound.
Boom car: 145 decibels
Ambulance siren: 120 decibels
Stereo (over 100 watts): 110 decibels
Power saw: 110 decibels
Jet flyover: 103 decibels
Garbage truck/cement mixer: 100 decibels
Subway/motorcycle: 90 decibels
Lawnmower: 85 decibels
Average city traffic: 80 decibels
The silent killer
Low-frequency sounds, the ones you can't always hear, travel through windows and walls.
What other countries are doing
In the U.S., several states are mixing rubber with asphalt to make roads quieter.
Cops in New York patrol so-called "high-volume" neighbourhoods with noise meters.
Class action suits are being filed against manufacturers of "boom" stereo equipment.
In the U.K., anti-noise bylaws come with extremely stiff penalties (up to $10,000 in some instances).
In Germany, bans on nighttime driving have been imposed, as have laws restricting when apartment dwellers can run water or flush toilets.
How T.O. stacks up
The good: The city passed a new noise bylaw in March 2003 requiring permission for the use of construction equipment, power tools and stereos and the unloading and loading of trucks in "quiet zones."
The bad: The bylaw does not contain a much sought-after ban on leaf blowers.
The ugly: The bylaw is virtually unenforceable. Noise complaints are only accepted during regular business hours.
A city program to monitor potential noise trouble spots was recently deep-sixed because of budget constraints.
Noise bylaws in other jurisdictions in Canada are far stricter, with bans on horns, loud engines and recreational vehicles within 300 metres of residential areas. In Edmonton, trucks are allowed only on fixed routes.
Why stricter noise controls aren't a priority
Governments have typically viewed noise as a "nuisance" rather than an environmental problem.
What the experts say
"There is far more we could be doing if we had sufficient resources. I would say right now that outdoor air quality and the initiative on pesticide use reduction seem uppermost in terms of environment and health issues, but we would really like to get back to the noise issue. Greater attention, for example, could be paid to traffic calming measures."
Monica Campbell, manager, health promotion and environment protection, Toronto public health
"Noise coming at you for a long period of time continually stresses the body. Toronto is doing very little, if anything, to address the issue. The sexiest and hottest topic last year was SARS. But everyone is affected by noise pollution. We need to raise the general public's awareness that we should be doing everything possible to minimize it."
Eric Greenspoon, president, NoiseWatch