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Public Information on Noise Control

If enough people actively work to quiet a source of noise—either acting as individuals or as organized groups complaining to the noise producer—the noise will be quieted.

—Bugliarello et al., 1976

The Impact of Noise Pollution


There is no doubt that the public can be an effective force in promoting a quieter America. In the late 1950s, people noticed the difference between the noise generated by jet and propeller-driven airplanes, even though a standard sound-level meter indicated that the A-frequency weighted noise levels were the same for both. The public outcry forced authorities in New York to pressure both airplane manufacturers to reduce the noise of jet airplanes and the scientific community to find a better way of measuring human reaction to noise (Beranek, 2008).

As a result, the perceived noise level was developed, and in 1969 the Federal Aviation Administration issued regulations limiting noise emissions from airplanes. International regulations soon followed, and cooperation between manufacturers and the federal government has led to airplanes that are much quieter today than when they were first introduced.

Nevertheless, because of the enormous increase in air traffic, problems with noise around major airports continue, as does the dialogue between authorities and the public. In the area around O’Hare Airport near Chicago, for example, regular meetings are held to discuss measures to address airport noise issues (ONCC, 2009).

In the early 1970s, before noise walls became commonplace along American highways, two acoustical consultants visited Baltimore, Maryland, and recommended the construction of a noise barrier for a controversial highway construction project in anticipation of complaints from a nearby community.1 At the time the interaction between the road surface and tires, which is now known to be the major source of highway traffic noise, was not well understood. Thus, instead of considering the reduction of noise emissions at the source, noise barriers became the solution of choice for abating traffic noise.

A survey for the appliance industry in 1999 showed that 84 percent of respondents considered “ultra-quiet” operation of dishwashers a desirable feature (KBDN, 1999). Today, many quiet dishwashers are on the market, and, although there is no uniform system for labeling noise emissions from appliances in the United States, in some cases a noise emission label is placed on products.

Despite these and other examples of responses to public concerns about noise, success stories are exceptions rather than the rule, and there is plenty of room for improvement. In a line-by-line compilation by the U.S. Census Bureau (2005), 11,757,000 households in 2001 reported that street noise and/or traffic noise was “bothersome.” Of those, 4,457,000 said that noise was so bothersome they wanted to move. In another line of the report, noise was reported as a “problem” by 2,652,000 households. Other studies have shown that there is widespread dissatisfaction with noise levels and the lack of speech privacy in many offices (e.g., Center for the Built Environment, 2009; Jensen et al., 2005).

Noise from lawn care equipment is frequently the subject of citizen complaints. One approach to addressing these complaints is for citizens to pressure local authorities to enact noise control ordinances or to use another legal procedure. However, this approach immediately puts citizens groups in conflict with manufacturers or trade associations. An alternative is for the public to convince manufacturers that engineering controls for reducing noise are feasible and that there is a market for quiet outdoor equipment. In this way, public pressure could be a powerful force in driving innovation and noise reduction for consumer products.

Another source of widespread public complaints is noise from motorcycles. Although federal regulations to control noise emissions and muffler designs are in place, they are widely ignored. On September 11, 2009, the Portland (Maine) Press Herald reported that citizens had failed to persuade the city council to control motorcycle noise by

1

Miller, L. 2009. Acceptance speech on receiving the INCE/USA Outstanding Educator Award. Presented at INTER-NOISE 09, The 2009 International Congress on Noise Control Engineering, Ottawa, Canada, August 26.



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10 Public Information on Noise Control If enough people actiely work to quiet a source of noise—either acting as indiiduals or as organized groups complaining to the noise producer—the noise will be quieted. —Bugliarello et al., 76 The Impact of Noise Pollution There is no doubt that the public can be an effective at the source, noise barriers became the solution of choice force in promoting a quieter America. In the late 1950s, for abating traffic noise. people noticed the difference between the noise generated A survey for the appliance industry in 1999 showed that by jet and propeller-driven airplanes, even though a standard 84 percent of respondents considered “ultra-quiet” operation sound-level meter indicated that the A-frequency weighted of dishwashers a desirable feature (KBDN, 1999). Today, noise levels were the same for both. The public outcry forced many quiet dishwashers are on the market, and, although authorities in New York to pressure both airplane manufac- there is no uniform system for labeling noise emissions from turers to reduce the noise of jet airplanes and the scientific appliances in the United States, in some cases a noise emis- community to find a better way of measuring human reaction sion label is placed on products. to noise (Beranek, 2008). Despite these and other examples of responses to public As a result, the perceived noise level was developed, and concerns about noise, success stories are exceptions rather in 1969 the Federal Aviation Administration issued regula- than the rule, and there is plenty of room for improvement. In tions limiting noise emissions from airplanes. International a line-by-line compilation by the U.S. Census Bureau (2005), regulations soon followed, and cooperation between manu- 11,757,000 households in 2001 reported that street noise facturers and the federal government has led to airplanes and/or traffic noise was “bothersome.” Of those, 4,457,000 that are much quieter today than when they were first said that noise was so bothersome they wanted to move. In introduced. another line of the report, noise was reported as a “problem” Nevertheless, because of the enormous increase in air by 2,652,000 households. Other studies have shown that traffic, problems with noise around major airports continue, there is widespread dissatisfaction with noise levels and the as does the dialogue between authorities and the public. In lack of speech privacy in many offices (e.g., Center for the the area around O’Hare Airport near Chicago, for example, Built Environment, 2009; Jensen et al., 2005). regular meetings are held to discuss measures to address Noise from lawn care equipment is frequently the subject airport noise issues (ONCC, 2009). of citizen complaints. One approach to addressing these In the early 1970s, before noise walls became common- complaints is for citizens to pressure local authorities to enact place along American highways, two acoustical consul- noise control ordinances or to use another legal procedure. tants visited Baltimore, Maryland, and recommended the However, this approach immediately puts citizens groups construction of a noise barrier for a controversial highway in conflict with manufacturers or trade associations. An construction project in anticipation of complaints from a alternative is for the public to convince manufacturers that nearby community.1 At the time the interaction between the engineering controls for reducing noise are feasible and that road surface and tires, which is now known to be the major there is a market for quiet outdoor equipment. In this way, source of highway traffic noise, was not well understood. public pressure could be a powerful force in driving innova- Thus, instead of considering the reduction of noise emissions tion and noise reduction for consumer products. Another source of widespread public complaints is noise from motorcycles. Although federal regulations to control noise emissions and muffler designs are in place, they 1 M iller,L. 2009. Acceptance speech on receiving the INCE/USA are widely ignored. On September 11, 2009, the Portland Outstanding Educator Award. Presented at INTER-NOISE 09, The 2009 (Maine) Press Herald reported that citizens had failed to International Congress on Noise Control Engineering, Ottawa, Canada, persuade the city council to control motorcycle noise by August 26. 

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 TECHNOLOGY FOR A QUIETER AMERICA insisting on the installation of mufflers approved by the U.S. never pursued. With the authority given to EPA by Congress Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Would the outcome under the Noise Control Act of 1972 and later the Quiet Com- be different if citizens groups had better public information? munities Act of 1978, EPA had an active public information Time will tell, because this issue is sure to come up again. program. One element of the program was called ECHO (Each Community Helps Others), which gave communities with limited resources an opportunity to share ideas on what WORKINg TOWARD AN INFORMED PuBLIC works and what does not with respect to noise. As detailed As the examples above show, there are many obstacles below, EPA still has that authority, although its program was to achieving lower noise levels. Groups in favor of noisy curtailed by Congress in 1981. devices for financial and other reasons will rise in opposition Later, the American Speech-Language-Hearing Associa- to noise reductions, and governments will listen to persua- tion convened a group of experts to study noise issues and sive arguments on both sides of an issue and try to balance publish the results. The report, Combating Noise in the ’0s, the needs of opposing groups. Manufacturers have shown was published by the association (ASHA, 1991). Working that they will respond, sometimes slowly, once they are Group VII of the team that produced the report was charged convinced there is a market for quieter products. At times, with developing a strategy for educating the public and dis- citizens become convinced that nothing can be done about seminating information. Target groups included preschool noise, and they move on to other issues. children, school-age children and youth, college and profes- The study committee that prepared this report believes sional students, adult citizens and consumers, practitioners that a well-informed public has a better chance of success in influential professions, and specific groups at risk—in than a public that lodges complaints based only on subjec- short, most of the population. Key messages would address tive reactions to noise. To support that argument, the next quality-of-life issues, health effects, noise hazards to hear- sections review what has been done in the past and describe ing, and the prevention of noise-induced hearing loss. Un- the current situation. The purpose here is not to list all of the fortunately, none of these outreach or educational programs stakeholders but to give a brief snapshot of some past and was pursued, perhaps because there was little follow-up in present activities and to suggest actions that could be taken in making the recommendations known to the public or because the future to improve public access to authoritative, accurate, no organization stepped in to lead efforts to implement the and timely information that can support and inform a strong recommendations. public presence in future efforts to reduce noise. A report with a similar title, Fighting Noise in the 0s, was produced in Europe by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD, 1991). In this report Past Efforts the authors observed that “the experience of several coun- In 1970, Theodore Berland, a well-known writer of tries (Australia, Japan, The Netherlands, and Switzerland) popular science at the time, wrote The Fight for Quiet, an suggests that it is better to organize ongoing campaigns of influential book in which he presented information on the limited scope, giving regular backing to advances in noise health effects of noise, how noise is generated, and what the abatement (e.g., the introduction of new regulations or a new public can do about it. Much of the information was based policy), rather than major, short-lived national campaigns on interviews with prominent scientists and engineers with unrelated to progress achieved and with no lasting effect.” expertise in noise. Berland presented data on noise levels in a wide variety of common situations. The Fight for Quiet is Current Efforts believed to have greatly influenced public policy, especially the passage of the Noise Control Act of 1972 and a decade Although EPA currently has broad authority from Con- of EPA involvement in noise issues. Robert Alex Baron, a gress to develop and disseminate information on noise to the former theater manager and head of New York Citizens for public, the agency’s current program might be described as a Quieter City, wrote The Tyranny of Noise in 1970, a book “extremely modest.” However, a few others have taken up intended to inform the public about noise issues, including the task. Some examples are given below. many issues that had been raised by Berland. A children’s book, Listen to the Raindrops, is being Another influential book, The Impact of Noise Pollution, distributed by the New York City Department of Environ- by George Bugliarello et al. (1976), focused on technical mental Protection to children in the public schools; the issues but included a discussion of the dissemination of book is accompanied by a teacher’s guide to noise pollution information on noise through public service announcements (Bronzaft, 2008). The Acoustical Society of America has a by the Ad Council, an organization that produces highly publicly available guide on the acoustics of classrooms and effective public service announcements on a wide range of has developed an American National Standard on Classroom subjects (http://www.adcouncil.org/). At that time, however, Acoustics (ASA, 2009). The “Dangerous Decibels” cam- the EPA program had taken center stage regarding noise paign (http://www.dangerousdecibels.org/) is a collaborative issues, and the idea of a campaign by the Ad Council was effort by the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry and

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 PUBLIC INFORMATION ON NOISE CONTROL the Oregon Hearing Research Center to educate children fewer results, about 12,300. Thus, an enormous amount of in- about the dangers of hazardous noise and ultimately to formation on noise is available on the Internet. The problem reduce the prevalence of noise-induced hearing loss. The for the public is how to judge the relevance and reliability Noise Pollution Clearing House (http://www.nonoise.org/) of this information. maintains a repository of reports on noise and provides on- In 1945, Vannevar Bush, a professor and dean of engineer- line information about noise activities in several states; it also ing at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and director maintains a short list of citizens groups concerned with noise of the U.S. Office of Scientific Research and Development (http://nonoise.org/quietnet.htm). In addition, many other from 1941 to 1945, published “As We May Think,” an essay organizations publish online information on noise, including in Atlantic Monthly, in which he expressed concern about some government agencies, such as EPA, the several modal how engineers and scientists would find their way through agencies of the U.S. Department of Transportation, and the the mass of technical information generated during World Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Many profes- War II (Bush, 1945). The exponential increase in the amount sional organizations maintain websites (e.g., Institute of of information available today has complicated this problem Noise Control Engineering, Acoustical Society of America), by orders of magnitude, but Bush’s concept of “trails” can and many general information sites are available, such as still be helpful. He conceived of a machine, which he called Noise Free America, Citizens Against Noise of Hawaii, and the “memex,” which modern readers will recognize as a the Alaska Quiet Rights Coalition. desktop computer and monitor with extensive local storage The Center for Hearing and Communication (http://www. and a high-speed connection to the Internet. A knowledge- chchearing.org/) sponsors International Noise Awareness able user, Bush speculated, would be able to sort through Day to educate the public on the dangers of excessive noise. masses of information and create a “trail” that could be Several resources are available for download, such as a Noise turned over to others with an interest in the subject. Center, which contains useful facts on noise. In today’s terms, a “trail” would be a carefully annotated Recent efforts have been made in the technical community description of a subject together with hyperlinks to infor- to determine how its public information outreach can be im- mation resources. Even though “trails” through the mass of proved. The situation in the United States was discussed in a information on noise control do not exist, a group of persons workshop held in Dearborn, Michigan, in 2008 to investigate with knowledge of the subject and a bias toward providing messages that should be communicated, the role of engineer- accurate, relevant information to the public could create a ing societies, and current EPA activities (Bronzaft, 2008). A document that would inform and support the development 2007 workshop in Istanbul (Moss, 2008) covered European of persuasive arguments for noise reduction. campaigns (some of them successful) to raise public aware- ness. That workshop included anecdotal information about Dissemination of Information attempts by citizens to convince authorities that noise should be reduced. Although articles on noise occasionally appear in the Noise Action Week (http://www.enironmental-protection. mainstream media, they usually focus on a specific problem org.uk/noiseactionweek) is an annual initiative coordinated considered to be “news” at the moment. Currently, no con- by Environmental Protection UK to raise awareness of prob- certed, coordinated efforts are being made to disseminate lems caused by neighborhood noise and the solutions avail- basic, authoritative information in an effective way. Experi- able to address them. This initiative provides an opportunity ence has shown (e.g., OECD, 1991) that an effective noise for local authorities, housing providers, mediation services, information campaign will require a variety of messages for and all those involved in neighborhood noise management to specific target audiences and a continuous stream of mes- publicize information about services available and promote sages that highlight advances in noise reduction. practical solutions. EPA has a website and a modest program related to public information (http://www.epa.go/air/noise.html). However, several of the links on this site lead to sources of informa- Online Information tion that are badly outdated. EPA needs much more support The large number of references in this report to online and the cooperation of other agencies and organizations to sources attests to the importance of the Internet as a source provide accurate, authoritative, timely information to the of information on noise. Most government agencies that have public. missions connected to noise have websites on which they An alliance of stakeholders would be a major step toward regularly post noise-related information, as do professional the creation of a comprehensive plan to develop and dis- societies, trade associations, and citizens groups. An Internet seminate public information. One of the major stakeholders search for “noise” using a major search engine returned about in this alliance should be the engineering community, which 117 million results. A search for “noise pollution” returned has the capability of developing methods and technologies about 325,000 results, and “noise abatement” returned for reducing noise at the source. Specific interests of pro - 81,000. The term “noise control engineering” returned many fessional and other societies include air and surface trans-

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4 TECHNOLOGY FOR A QUIETER AMERICA portation noise, noise from air-conditioning systems, noise of 42 USC 65, Section 4913, to improve public information control in buildings, aeroacoustics, flow noise, and others. and education on the effects of noise and the most effective Specialists from a number of engineering disciplines could means of controlling noise: help craft messages intelligible to the public about successful efforts to reduce noise. People from other disciplines could • Conduct a survey of all activities by federal agencies contribute information on the effects of noise on hearing related to noise, and publish URLs that provide infor- and other health effects. The public should also be informed mation of interest to the public. about current activities of government agencies to reduce • Develop a categorized list of stakeholders with in- noise, and communities should help each other by making terests in noise (e.g., professional societies, scientific information available about successful efforts to reduce or societies, citizens groups). control noise. • Help organize a coalition of current stakeholders with the goal of improving the availability of information on noise to the public. SuMMARy FINDINgS AND RECOMMENDATIONS • Develop educational materials to inform the public of In the past the public has been a driving force behind the the health effects of noise, especially noise-induced establishment of noise control programs in the United States. hearing loss and cardiovascular effects. Armed with accurate, up-to-date information, public action • Develop information to help the public understand the and opinion could again become an effective force. Unfor- benefits of using personal hearing protection devices. tunately, information available to the public is currently • Provide information on the selection and use of hearing scattered among numerous federal agencies and numerous protection devices, making intelligent decisions about sites on the Internet, and most of the books written to in- frequenting high noise exposure events, the impor- form the public are relatively old and are based on outdated tance of reducing noise exposures by buying quieter information. products, and being vigilant and active in public policy EPA is the only federal agency with the authority to decision making about community noise zoning is- support public action and the capability of addressing all sues. aspects of the noise problem. The U.S. Code requires that Recommendation 10-2: Engineering professional societies EPA “develop and disseminate information and educational materials to all segments of the public on the public health such as the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronau- and other effects of noise and the most effective means for tics, the American Society of Mechanical Engineering, Amer- noise control, through the use of materials for school curri - ican Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning cula, volunteer organizations, radio and television programs, Engineers, Society of Automotive Engineers, and Institute publication, and other means.” At this time, however, EPA of Noise Control Engineering of the USA should develop does not have the internal resources to create a large public engineering information on noise control to help the public information program, and it is likely that much of the effort understand techniques for reducing noise emissions. will have to be done through contractors. The labeling of product noise emission levels should be REFERENCES a critical aspect of a program designed to benefit the public ASA (Acoustical Society of America). 2009. American National Standard and enable people to make informed purchasing decisions. Acoustical Performance Criteria, Design Requirements, and Guidelines Although EPA has labeling authority, it might be more prac- for Schools. Melville, NY: ASA. See also booklet on classroom acous- tical for professional organizations, trade associations, and tics. Available online at http://asa.aip.org/classroom/booklet.html. standards organizations to develop labeling methodology for ASHA (American Speech-Language-Hearing Association). 1991. Combat - specific products because of the wide variety of products and ing Noise in the ’90s: A National Strategy for the United States. Avail - able online at http://bit.ly/cLiIk. noise measurement methods. Baron, R.A. 1970. The Tyranny of Noise. New York: St. Martin’s Press. Professional organizations should take the lead in the Beranek, L.L. 2008. Riding the Waves: A Life in Sound, Science, and Indus- development and dissemination of information about noise try. Cambridge: Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press. to the public. Engineering societies (e.g., Institute of Noise Berland, T. 1970. The Fight for Quiet. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall. Control Engineering, American Society of Mechanical En- Bronzaft, A.L. 2008. How Do We Stimulate Collective Action to Motivate the Public to Demand Quiet? Presented at a workshop in conjunction gineers, SAE International) can deliver the message that, with NOISE-CON 08, The 2008 National Conference on Noise Control given demand by the public, engineering solutions to noise Engineering, Dearborn, Michigan. problems can be found. Other societies can deliver messages Bugliarello, G., A. Alexandre, J. Barnes, and C. Wakstein. 1976. The Impact related to the effects of noise on hearing and the effects of of Noise Pollution. New York: Pergamon Press. noise on health. Bush, V. 1945. As We May Think. Available online at http://www.the atlantic.com/doc/407/bush. Center for the Built Environment. 2009. Acoustical analysis in office Recommendation 10-1: The Environmental Protection environments using POE surveys. Available online at http://www.cbe. Agency should take the following actions under the authority berkeley.edu/research/acoustic_poe.htm.

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 PUBLIC INFORMATION ON NOISE CONTROL Jensen, K.L., E. Arebs, and L. Zagreus, L. 2005. Acoustical Quality in Of - International 16(2):10–25. Available online at http://www.noise/news fice Workstations, as Assessed by Occupant Surveys. Available online international.net/archies_idx.htm. at http://bit.ly/d0PPnG. OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development). 1991. KBDN (Kitchen and Bath Design News). 1999. New Survey Pinpoints Fighting Noise in the 1990s. Paris: OECD. Dishwasher Usage Trends. Available online at http://bit.ly/crxMW. ONCC (O’Hare Noise Compatibility Commission). 2009. Available online Moss, J. 2008. Public pressure—an effective force. Based on a workshop at http://www.oharenoise.org/. held in Istanbul, Turkey, as part of INTER-NOISE 07, The 2007 In- U.S. Census Bureau. 2005. Housing Summary for the United States, Sec- ternational Congress on Noise Control Engineering, August 29, 2007. tion 20, Construction and Housing, Table No. 944. Available online at Part I, Noise/News International, 16(1):18–29. Part II, Noise/News http://bit.ly/aRHWFF.

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