Adoption of International Standards

When a standard relates to international commerce (e.g., standards for product noise emissions), international standards may be adopted. In these instances it is important that the American standard be identical (or nearly identical) to the international standard for a given product. If there is an ISO or IEC standard suitable for use in the United States and recommended by a U.S. technical advisory group (see Appendix C, p. 150), the ASA standards committees may adopt the standard as written (or with minor changes) as an American National Standard (ASA, 2009a). American standards can also be used as the basis for international standards (i.e., early versions of the sound power standards).

U.S. Regulation of Product Noise Emissions

U.S. regulation of product noise emissions is relatively limited and outdated. Following enactment of the Noise Control Act (NCA) of 1972 (codifed in 49 U.S. 4901-4918), EPA’s newly established Office of Noise Abatement and Control (ONAC) was given the authority to undertake a range of activities to reduce noise pollution. These included “identifying sources of noise for regulation, promulgating noise emission standards, coordinating federal noise research and noise abatement, working with industry and international, state and local regulators to develop consensus standards, disseminating information and educational materials,… [and] sponsoring research concerning the effects of noise and the methods by which it can be abated.” With the passage of the Quiet Communities Act of 1978, ONAC’s mandate was expanded to include provision of grants to state and local governments for noise abatement. During ONAC’s brief existence, from 1972 to 1982, when it was defunded by Congress at the request of the Reagan administration, the office promulgated only four product and six transportation noise standards and was unable to implement product labeling or the Low-Noise Emission Product Program (Shapiro, 1991).

While Congress has repeatedly refused to restore funding to EPA for its noise abatement activities, the NCA and the authority it gives to EPA to regulate noise remain in effect. Without resources to implement its mandate, however, EPA has been unable to promulgate any further product noise emission standards; and the four product noise standards it promulgated during the 1970s have not been subjected to critical evaluation since, despite advances in relevant science and technology and improved understanding of the effects of noise on people. Since 1982, EPA has also lacked the resources to participate in private standards-setting efforts or to provide technical assistance to state and local governments. (An exception is the efforts to improve the standard on the performance of hearing protective devices described in Chapter 4.) By retaining its authority under the NCA without the funding to execute it, EPA has effectively preempted state and local governments from adopting updated noise emission and labeling standards of their own for the sources and products that EPA has already regulated (Shapiro, 1991).

Product Noise Emission Standards and Regulations in the European Union

European Standards Organizations

There are several important differences between the organizations and structures of standards-setting processes in Europe and the United States. In contrast to the decentralized nature of standards bodies in the United States, European standards bodies at the national and regional (EU) levels are centralized in structure. European standards activities are organized by nation and region, whereas in the United States they are organized by sector. Standards-setting organizations are largely publicly funded in Europe, whereas they are mostly privately funded in the United States. Finally, membership in national and regional standards organizations in Europe is restricted to European entities or those that have a business interest or manufacturing presence in Europe (with the exception of the European Telecommunications Standards Institute, where participation is open to other nationals). In the United States, membership in most full-consensus standards-developing bodies is unrestricted, and in many instances membership on U.S. technical committees can be international in composition.

Similar to ANSI standards, standards of European regional and national standards bodies reflect a general consensus and are not mandatory, and the procedures or criteria in European standards may be required by European and/or national law, by regulation, by building code, or by contract in specific situations. Unlike in the United States, however, European regulation of product noise emissions based on standards developed by regional and international standards bodies has been very active and expansive in recent decades.

European Regulation of Product Noise Emissions

The 1996 Green Paper (EC, 1996), which stated the intent to extend the existing six directives on noise source emissions to cover more than 60 types of equipment and to require the reporting of guaranteed noise emission levels of machinery and equipment, signaled a significant change in EU noise policy (EC, 1996). One direct result of the Green Paper was the publication in 2000 of the outdoor equipment directive, 2000/14/EC (EC, 2000), and its amendment, 2005/88/EC (EC, 2005). These directives set noise emission limits on a wide variety of equipment used outdoors, such as compaction machines, tracked vehicles, wheeled vehicles, concrete breakers, cranes, welding and power generators, compressors, lawn mowers (Figure 6-1), and lawn trimmers/lawn edge trimmers. Noise emission is expressed as an A-weighted sound power level, and limits guarantee the noise emission levels of these products.

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