Expert Advice

What can I do to protect myself from noise pollution?

The word <em>NOISE</em> is derived from the Latin word <em>nausea</em>, and as its derivation suggests, noise can cause a number of health problems.

What can I do to protect myself from noise pollution?
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Exposure to the noise of city traffic, jet planes, and construction equipment can lead to stress, high blood pressure, sleep loss, low productivity, and poor performance. What's more, too much noise lowers our quality of life and robs us of opportunities for tranquility.


Decibels are one common measure of noise—a soft whisper is 30 decibels, normal conversation about 60. (Note: This doesn't mean a conversation is twice as loud as a whisper. In fact, every 10-decibel increase is perceived as a doubling of loudness.) Constant or repeated exposure to any noise that is 80 decibels or higher—about the equivalent of a gas-powered lawn mower, in close range—can lead to hearing loss over time. Many sources of noise exceed this recommended limit: A chain saw is 110 decibels, and noise from a nightclub can be that loud, too.


There are few places you can go to escape noise, but there are ways to protect your hearing and your sanity. First, always wear earplugs or earmuffs when you're engaged in any activity as loud as or louder than mowing a lawn. Limit your exposure to raucous events like rock concerts to four or fewer times a year. And never shoot firearms without protecting your ears.


While most of our daily din is the result of technology (think how quiet it becomes during a power outage), technology can also be the solution. Opt for electric lawn equipment, which is typically half as loud as the gas-powered type. Invest in quiet air conditioners, washers, dryers, and dishwashers. Hybrid and electric cars also significantly quiet the soundscape.


Before you buy or rent a home in a loud, urban environment, find out what kind of noiseproofing work has been done. A number of companies can soundproof your windows, walls, and ceilings with laminated glass for windows or special Sheetrock or insulation for walls. (See for a list of resources.) Also, get in touch with your city council and find out what rules about noise and excessive clamor are on the books in your community.


—Les Blomberg, executive director of the Noise Pollution Clearinghouse in Montpelier, Vt.

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