- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 5, 2003

Welcome to bellowing, blaring, whining, shrill Planet Noise. Humans have gotten louder — and it’s taking its toll on health and happiness, according to advocates of quietude, who call for lower decibels and tougher laws.

A British study released Thursday finds that the local cacophony of stereo speakers, yelping dogs, loud parties and screaming children has become such a problem that it’s created a new trauma category:

Noise victims.

“The clear message from this research is that those who are creating this racket are unaware of the consequences of what they’re doing and that those who are experiencing noise feel powerless to stop it” said Alan Woods of Encams, a research group that studies the negative effects of noise and litter on polite society.

Researchers quizzed noise sufferers in several regions who agreed that the alarming thump of giant bass speakers was the most hated sound, followed by lawn mowers, power drills and “singing” drunks. Younger people abhorred noisy car engines, plus out-of-control dogs, parties and children. Fireworks were the particular bane of the older folks.

All felt, however, that the noise makers in question were “ignorant, thoughtless and lacked respect for other people,” and that exposure to them caused “distress, frustration and despair.”

And suspicion too: Many respondents said people were noisy on purpose.

Yet the majority were reluctant to do anything about noise, and considered themselves “resigned victims” and the police preoccupied with greater tasks.

Some noise, however, was acceptable, they said. Crying babies, morning alarm clocks and New Years Eve or Christmas celebrations were considered “understandable.”

The group proposes tougher fines, appointing mediators to solve disputes and public campaigns to encourage neighbors to “gang up” on noise makers.

The British, however, are not alone in the war on excessive noise.

In the past two years, physicians and other researchers have studied effects of noisy toys on children, screaming brakes on subway riders, construction traffic on blackbirds and underwater sonar on the whale population. They have found that women are more sensitive to noise than men and that children in noisy homes study less.

In late June, Singapore sent its first squad of “noise police” into city libraries to patrol the aisles for loud cell phones and garrulous patrons, silently handing tickets to offenders that read: “Spare a thought for others.”

Concerned for the health of Berlin residents, Germany’s state environmental agency used “noise maps” of the city to link loud traffic with increased high blood pressure this year.

The U.S. Census Bureau, meanwhile, reports that Americans cite noise above crime, litter and traffic as their biggest community woe. And 30 million people are regularly exposed to hazardous noise, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

The Noise Pollution Clearing House (www.nonoise.org), a Vermont-based advocacy group, has declared war on large powerboats and personal watercraft with a new Quiet Lakes Project, which proposes more noise ordinances and boat restrictions on the nation’s lakes by 2005.

“Many boats are so noisy that the captain would be required to wear earplugs or earmuffs if he or she were on a factory floor,” the group states.

According to the New York-based League for the Hard of Hearing, the “insidious stressor” of noise also disturbs sleep, digestion and the immune system, and contributes to aggressive behavior.

The group has sponsored an annual “International Noise Awareness Day” for the past eight years and has support from the governments of 43 countries.

Amy Boyle, director of the LHH Noise Center, recommends a “quiet diet” for the global population, which includes lowering volume on stereos and TVs, and a promise not to honk car horns except in emergencies.

“It is time that we take responsibility to quiet our surroundings,” she said during this year’s designated awareness day, which took place April 23 and included a voluntary minute of silence from 2:15 to 2:16 p.m.

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