By Arline Bronzaft — Guest Blogger
Clearly, noise has become a major environmental irritant. That fact is underscored by the interest in research examining the impact noise has on mental and physical health. In the book Why Noise Matters, my British co-authors and I argue that noise is a pollutant that is extremely disturbing to people worldwide.
In the United States, there has been heavy lobbying from industry, especially the airlines, to allow them to reduce noise at their own pace, without government intrusion. Recreational vehicles, construction equipment, motorcycles and some children’s toys are still too loud.
Pressure from anti-noise advocates has resulted in some efforts to lessen the din. While the federal government in the U.S. has largely stepped away from noise control, local ordinances, such the recent updating of the New York City Noise Code, aim to reduce community noise. However, even these ordinances are limited in their capacity because towns and cities lack the “people power” needed to enforce the legislation.
Where does that leave the ordinary citizen, who is subjected to noisy overhead airplanes and helicopters, to neighbors who play their music into the early hours, and to construction sounds that rattle not only their windows but their nerve? People are often left to their own devices when it comes to protecting themselves from the noises that intrude on their daily activities, their sleep and their relaxation. With so many people now working out of their homes, noise also intrudes on their livelihood.
In New York City, I chair the GrowNYC Noise committee. As a result, many people contact me to assist with their personal noise problems – usually after unsuccessfully seeking help from officials. People around the country have also sought my assistance.
In working with men and women all these years, I have found that women, more than men, ask for my help. While there is some literature to support the notion that women tend to be bothered more by external intrusive sounds, the larger body of literature finds that both men and women are disturbed by noise.
Seeking to understand why I hear from more women than men, I came up with the following observations: When women complain to landlords or managing agents about noise, their complaints are frequently dismissed. This is probably less true for men who complain. Also, women who turn to me for assistance are generally too timid to lodge complaints with those in authority. They feel more comfortable talking to me, another woman whom they believe will be more sympathetic to their plight from the start. The men who contact me are generally asking me to add my voice to the legislators and agencies they have already contacted. Many of the women with whom I speak are older, and they are definitely more fearful of complaining.
Thus, I not only attempt to work on the noise situation on behalf of the person contacting me, but I also encourage the women who call to stand up for their rights. I tend to be successful because they know they now have someone supporting them in their efforts to bring some “quiet” into their lives.
When I do intervene on behalf of the women who call me, the people I contact frequently label the women as being “sensitive” to sound. While people can be more or less sensitive to sound, the majority fall in the middle. Thus, the majority of people who call for my help are “reasonable people.” If someone else were living in their apartments or homes, they also would find the noise intrusive. That is true both for the men and women I am helping.
For women who are reading this essay and have been disturbed my noise, let me assure you that noise is an irritant that can cause stress, loss of sleep, physical and mental discomfort and a diminished quality of life. I urge you to speak up to lessen the noises in your life — whether at home or at the office.
Ask others in your neighborhood or at your office to join you in your efforts. There is greater strength in numbers. Let environmental agencies, police authorities and public officials know about the noises in your environment. If you have children attending schools that are noisy from within or from without, e.g. passing trains or overhead aircraft, please read the research on the adverse effects of noise on children’s learning. Then work toward achieving a quieter learning environment for your children. “Speak up” for less din in all of our lives.
Arline Bronzaft is an environmental psychologist, a noise expert, author of Top of the Class: Guiding Children Along the Smart Path of Happiness and co-author of Why Noise Matters: A Worldwide Perspective on the Problems, Policies and Solutions.
Photo: Flickr – Trent Rock’s Visual Vices