Sound in the City - Noise contamination

Updated: Jul 15, 2019

I live in pretty area of Brooklyn, New York, surrounded by brownstones and parks. Families flourish here, the schools are good and organic food stores prevail. My place snuggles between cafes and boutiques on a main avenue with Starbucks on the corner next to the subway and the BOA ATM across the street. It's almost perfect.

But the noise! You would think there were laws to protect our peace of mind. Sirens race through the air at all hours of the day and night, music booms from cars at the stop-light and generally, we are victims of constant auditory violation. Have you visited a public school lately? Next time you do, get ready for the bell. It goes off every 45 minutes when the kids change classes, and it's deafening. Can you imagine the effect this has on the nervous system 6 times a day?

If a skunk sprayed your door-step, you would clean the stench as soon as possible. When gas is leaking from the stove you turn the main gas line off. If lights are bothering your eyes, you flip the switch or close the curtains. How is it that we have no control over the myriad sounds around us? No one teaches us about the impact of these sounds.

From Health-link: Harmful Noise Levels

The effects of noise on hearing vary among people. Some people's ears are more sensitive to loud sounds, especially at certain frequencies. (Frequency means how low or high a tone is.) But any sound that is loud enough and lasts long enough can damage hearing and lead to hearing loss.

A sound's loudness is measured in decibels (dB). Normal conversation is about 60 dB, a lawn mower is about 90 dB, and a loud rock concert is about 120 dB. In general, sounds above 85 are harmful, depending on how long and how often you are exposed to them and whether you wear hearing protection, such as earplugs or earmuffs.


Average decibels (dB)

Leaves rustling, soft music, whisper 30

Average home noise 40

Normal conversation, background music 60

Office noise, inside car at 60 mph 70

Vacuum cleaner, average radio 75

Heavy traffic, window air conditioner, noisy restaurant, power lawn mower80–89 (sounds above 85 dB are harmful)

Subway, shouted conversation 90–95

Boom box, ATV, motorcycle 96–100

School dance 101–105

Chainsaw, leaf blower, snowmobile 106–115

Sports crowd, rock concert, loud symphony 120–129

Stock car races 130

Gun shot, siren at 100 feet 140

Sound Pollution is just as dangerous as any other kind of contamination. Sounds can alter our consciousness, rob us of our concentration and slowly break down the neurons connecting the brain to the ear. We have the famous example of the plants that flourish with Mozart, or wither with heavy rock music. Are we not just as vulnerable?

While we clean the oceans and reforest the jungles, we should also restore the planet's sonorous atmosphere. Imagine living in a city where cars honk musical chords, or sirens are trumpets and choirs. Perhaps one day when the world becomes aware, we'll create a planet of harmony.

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