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Technology for a Quieter America
insisting on the installation of mufflers approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Would the outcome be different if citizens groups had better public information? Time will tell, because this issue is sure to come up again.
WORKING TOWARD AN INFORMED PUBLIC
As the examples above show, there are many obstacles to achieving lower noise levels. Groups in favor of noisy devices for financial and other reasons will rise in opposition to noise reductions, and governments will listen to persuasive arguments on both sides of an issue and try to balance the needs of opposing groups. Manufacturers have shown that they will respond, sometimes slowly, once they are convinced there is a market for quieter products. At times, citizens become convinced that nothing can be done about noise, and they move on to other issues.
The study committee that prepared this report believes that a well-informed public has a better chance of success than a public that lodges complaints based only on subjective reactions to noise. To support that argument, the next sections review what has been done in the past and describe the current situation. The purpose here is not to list all of the stakeholders but to give a brief snapshot of some past and present activities and to suggest actions that could be taken in the future to improve public access to authoritative, accurate, and timely information that can support and inform a strong public presence in future efforts to reduce noise.
In 1970, Theodore Berland, a well-known writer of popular science at the time, wrote The Fight for Quiet, an influential book in which he presented information on the health effects of noise, how noise is generated, and what the public can do about it. Much of the information was based on interviews with prominent scientists and engineers with expertise in noise. Berland presented data on noise levels in a wide variety of common situations. TheFight for Quiet is believed to have greatly influenced public policy, especially the passage of the Noise Control Act of 1972 and a decade of EPA involvement in noise issues. Robert Alex Baron, a former theater manager and head of New York Citizens for a Quieter City, wrote The Tyranny of Noise in 1970, a book intended to inform the public about noise issues, including many issues that had been raised by Berland.
Another influential book, The Impact of Noise Pollution, by George Bugliarello et al. (1976), focused on technical issues but included a discussion of the dissemination of information on noise through public service announcements by the Ad Council, an organization that produces highly effective public service announcements on a wide range of subjects (http://www.adcouncil.org/). At that time, however, the EPA program had taken center stage regarding noise issues, and the idea of a campaign by the Ad Council was never pursued. With the authority given to EPA by Congress under the Noise Control Act of 1972 and later the Quiet Communities Act of 1978, EPA had an active public information 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 works and what does not with respect to noise. As detailed below, EPA still has that authority, although its program was curtailed by Congress in 1981.
Later, the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association convened a group of experts to study noise issues and publish the results. The report, Combating Noise in the’ 90s, was published by the association (ASHA, 1991). Working Group VII of the team that produced the report was charged with developing a strategy for educating the public and disseminating information. Target groups included preschool children, school-age children and youth, college and professional students, adult citizens and consumers, practitioners in influential professions, and specific groups at risk—in short, most of the population. Key messages would address quality-of-life issues, health effects, noise hazards to hearing, and the prevention of noise-induced hearing loss. Unfortunately, none of these outreach or educational programs was pursued, perhaps because there was little follow-up in making the recommendations known to the public or because no organization stepped in to lead efforts to implement the recommendations.
A report with a similar title, Fighting Noise in the 1990s, was produced in Europe by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD, 1991). In this report the authors observed that “the experience of several countries (Australia, Japan, The Netherlands, and Switzerland) suggests that it is better to organize ongoing campaigns of limited scope, giving regular backing to advances in noise abatement (e.g., the introduction of new regulations or a new policy), rather than major, short-lived national campaigns unrelated to progress achieved and with no lasting effect.”
Although EPA currently has broad authority from Congress to develop and disseminate information on noise to the public, the agency’s current program might be described as “extremely modest.” However, a few others have taken up the task. Some examples are given below.
A children’s book, Listen to the Raindrops, is being distributed by the New York City Department of Environmental Protection to children in the public schools; the book is accompanied by a teacher’s guide to noise pollution (Bronzaft, 2008). The Acoustical Society of America has a publicly available guide on the acoustics of classrooms and has developed an American National Standard on Classroom Acoustics (ASA, 2009). The “Dangerous Decibels” campaign (http://www.dangerousdecibels.org/) is a collaborative effort by the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry and