One of the biggest issues the world faces today is noise pollution. It is a plight that contributes to about a million deaths each year, and affects the lives of an even greater number of people1.
Despite this glaring problem, people continue to mindlessly honk the horns of their vehicles, and yell at increasingly high volumes, furthering the destructive power of noise pollution. On top of that, loud music pervades restaurants and bars2, while hospitals regularly suffer from noise levels above 100dB3, well above the recommended levels of less than 30dB.
So, what should governments do about this?
The truth is, steps have already been taken by governments around the world to control noise pollution.
One example revolves around planning policy and building regulations. In the UK, The National Planning Policy Framework incorporates provisions on noise, demanding that local planning policies should protect against noise giving rise to “significant adverse impacts on health and quality of life,” and recognising that planning policies should adequately identify and protect existing tranquil environments4.
Furthermore, the Building Regulations Approved Document E (Part E) requires all residential buildings (which encompass hotels, hostels, student accommodation, and nursing homes) to ensure a minimum level of sound reduction in specific aspects of a building. These aspects include sound mitigation of 43-45dB for airborne noise in walls, floors, and stairs (depending on building type); and 62-64dB for impact noise in floors and stairs. For reference, 50dB is the sound equivalent of a large office, while 60dB is comparable to a sewing machine.
Limiting excessive noise in public spaces
In addition to noise from internal spaces, a few more requirements are in place to limit noise entering buildings from the external environment. This is crucial in urban areas where residential buildings are frequently subject to a deluge of noise from the surroundings — whether it is traffic roaring through the neighbourhood, or the cacophony of human chatter on the streets.
Other parts of the world have adopted similar approaches to dealing with noise pollution. In the United States, research and noise control programs are conducted in order to tackle the impact and complexities of the noise problem. Furthermore, information and educational materials are distributed to the public regarding the adverse effects of noise on health, along with the benefits of low-noise products and the most effective means for noise control5.
Meanwhile, Guangzhou — the noisiest city in the world6 — also has significant laws and provisions in place to prevent and control noise pollution. These measures include the supervision and management of the prevention and control of environmental noise pollution throughout the country by local authorities.
Other actions outlined in the aforementioned Chinese laws include taking into consideration the impact of noise in construction projects, bestowing an obligation to the public to protect the acoustic environment, encouraging scientific research relating to the prevention and control of environmental noise pollution, and promoting the adoption of technology that can aid in curbing noise pollution7.
There is still room for improvement
Despite these efforts, schools and hospitals tend to be overlooked when it comes to minimising external noise intrusion. Lax regulation in schools result simply in upper limits being set for indoor ambient noise levels, and limits to the noise caused by rain on roofs. In hospitals, acoustic requirements are set for noise intrusion from external sources, yet the noise pollution stems mostly from medical equipment, alarms, phones, the opening and closing of doors, staff activities, and visitors3.
This sees a dire impact on two groups of people who are in desperate need of a more nurturing environment — children, who are in the growing stages of life; and patients, who are undergoing a recovery process in hospitals. More needs to be done to combat noise pollution so that people can enjoy safe and healthy environments.
An effective method of safeguarding buildings from the threat of external noise is to make use of stone wool products. After all, stone wool structure can be engineered to withstand and reduce the detrimental impact of noise on people and buildings. This means that stone wool products form excellent insulation and acoustics tiles, making them effective solutions to mitigating noise pollution in buildings.
At the end of the day, governments need to recognise noise pollution as a serious problem, and implement strict regulations and practices to ensure a quieter, more peaceful environment for everyone to live in.
As governments continue to develop and enforce noise standards and guidelines, we should not forget that we also need to do our part in abiding by these measures to limit noise.
1. World Health Organization, 2011, “Burden of Disease from Environmental Noise: Quantification of Healthy Life Years Lost in Europe”
2. Belluz, Julia, 2018, “Why restaurants became so loud — and how to fight back”
3. King's College London, 2018, “Noise pollution in hospitals – a rising problem”
4. Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government UK, 2019, “National Planning Policy Framework”
5. United States Environmental Protection Agency, 2017.
6. Gray, Alex, 2017, “These are the cities with the worst noise pollution”
7. Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, 1996.