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November 30, 2000
by Stuart Lieberman
Noise does not get the same respect as other kinds of pollution. But, people really want, and need, some level of peace and quiet. Municipal lawmakers have realized this for quite sometime.
It was as long ago as 1929 that New York City formed the Noise Abatement Commission. That Commission was charged with evaluating city noise issues and determining what, if anything, should be done to address noise related issues.
The Commission determined that noise issues were not imaginary; that too much loud noise actually affected people's health and productivity. We take these conclusions for granted in the year 2000, but they were revolutionary concepts in 1929.
In 1930, the Commission concluded that constant exposure to loud noises can affect people's ability to hear, that noise negatively affects worker efficiency, interferes with sleep, and can affect the development of children. Many of these findings are still largely held today.
These important findings created an overall awareness that noise pollution can be just as harmful as other, more traditional kinds of pollution. Since for the most part society did not start addressing the other kinds of pollution until the late 1960s, noise pollution was the first kind of pollution that government started to address.
Too much noise, especially repetitive or loud noise, can drive people crazy. Today, many States have laws that regulate the levels of allowable noise from businesses and other stationery sources.
Many municipalities have their own noise ordinances. Several years ago, one municipality attempted to stop an ice cream truck vendor from ringing his bells and relied on a municipal noise ordinance. That was probably an example of too much noise regulation.
In the United States, over 17 million people reportedly have hearing problems and some people suggest that people are losing their hearing at younger ages. Repeated exposure to loud noises is considered to be one of the culprits responsible for this trend.
We all need to protect our ears from noise pollution. Whenever it is possible, you should avoid it. If you are going to visit loud places, ear plugs or similar protective devices can help. If repeated exposure seems likely, you should see your doctor.
People who live close to airports can realize significant noise headaches associated with takeoffs and landings. There are some published studies that suggest that this constant exposure to loud airplane noises can result in mental and even physical problems. While additional studies may be required, initial studies certainly suggest that airport noises can be problematic.
As a general rule, the law recognizes your right to peace and quiet. If a neighboring business or airport is keeping you up, or driving you crazy, courts may provide you with relief. But before you head to court, you might very well attempt to approach your noisy neighbor and determine whether some amicable solution might be reached.