Find­ing a solution to noise pol­lu­tion

The Peterborough Examiner - - Opinion -

Ah, the sounds of sum­mer: Wa­ter gen­tly lap­ping at the shore­line. Leaves rustling in the trees. The call of the loon. The seren­ity of the wilder­ness and the in­de­scrib­able sound of si­lence are among the many joys of life.

Such peace in a mod­ern world, how­ever, inevitably comes with noisy in­ter­rup­tions: Mo­tor­boats. Per­sonal wa­ter­craft. Pri­vate sea­planes. Wake boats.

Con­struc­tion noise. Power ham­mers. Chain­saws. Elec­tric drills. Weed whack­ers. Leaf blow­ers. Elec­tric hedge clip­pers. Gaso­line lawn mow­ers. Air-con­di­tion­ers. Mo­tor­cy­cles. Trucks. Traf­fic. Sirens. Fire­works. Out­door mu­sic con­certs. Car alarms.

This din can be harm­ful. Some sounds can cause hear­ing loss af­ter only a few min­utes. Oth­ers re­quire pro­longed exposure. Also worth con­sid­er­ing is what such noise does to gen­eral stress and anx­i­ety levels.

Most mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties have noise by­laws to com­bat some of them, but how of­ten are such laws en­forced? And who does it?

How loud is that mo­tor­cy­cle, for ex­am­ple? Is that a man­u­fac­turer’s muf­fler or a cus­tom ex­haust pipe? Calls for stricter reg­u­la­tions and enforcemen­t of such noise­mak­ers have con­tin­ued for decades, with lit­tle progress.

In Toronto, the noise by­law is be­ing re­viewed as a re­sult of a com­plaint last year from Mayor John Tory, who asked staff to con­sider best prac­tices from other mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties around the world, which use new tech­nol­ogy and higher fines to com­bat mo­tor­cy­cle noise, among other rack­ets that ex­ceed safe deci­bel levels.

But such efforts are only the be­gin­ning. Af­ter all, hu­man­ity is ever more ad­dicted to the “con­ve­niences” of mod­ern life, and most of them are not ex­actly serene.

You may have cho­sen a cot­tage for its tran­quil lake and ma­jes­tic pines, but va­ca­tion homes are par­tic­u­larly at­trac­tive to the rich, and the rich can af­ford the some­times noisy lux­u­ries as­so­ci­ated with them: Thun­der­ing wake-surf­ing boats have re­placed ca­noes; whin­ing per­sonal wa­ter­craft have edged out the row­boat; and the over­head buzzing of per­sonal float planes is ever more com­mon.

Mean­while, many well-to-do cot­tage own­ers of­ten seem less than con­tent with suc­cumb­ing to the nat­u­ral rhythms of life in the woods, and turn in­stead to end­less ren­o­va­tions to keep the wilder­ness at bay. The re­sult is a con­tin­u­ous sym­phony of ham­mer­ing, saw­ing and sand­ing in cot­tage coun­try that is be­com­ing more iconic than a loon’s cry.

Back in subur­bia, the weed whacker and leaf blower are now as ubiq­ui­tous as the lawn mower. In­side, we are as­sailed by a ca­coph­ony of wash­ing ma­chines, clothes dry­ers, dish­wash­ers, hair dry­ers, elec­tric shavers, hu­mid­i­fiers, de­hu­mid­i­fiers, smoothie makers, food pro­ces­sors, garbage dis­posers, mo­bile phones, tele­vi­sions, game con­soles and dozens of other mod­ern con­ve­niences, all of which con­trib­ute to the fact that hear­ing loss is on the rise world­wide.

It’s a com­plex ge­netic, de­mo­graphic and med­i­cal is­sue, but sim­ply put, many of us are ex­posed to too much noise.

Pro­longed exposure to some noise — a leaf blower, for ex­am­ple, or the con­tin­ued ham­mer­ing of nails — can do dam­age to un­pro­tected ears in a mat­ter of min­utes. A dishwasher, mean­while, may not be a threat on its own, but when joined by the rest of the mod­ern house­hold orches­tra, can start to take its toll.

What’s the solution? Bet­ter and more fre­quent ear pro­tec­tion is ad­vis­able. Newer tech­nol­ogy to quickly and eas­ily mea­sure deci­bel levels of of­fend­ers will help. Stricter enforcemen­t of noise by­laws by po­lice and mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties would help make things qui­eter.

But an aware­ness by ev­ery­one that we’re all mak­ing the world a nois­ier place with each pass­ing year would likely be the best start. Is a leaf blower re­ally more ef­fi­cient or even eas­ier than a rake? Is any­one re­act­ing any more to that car alarm? Is the food pro­ces­sor ac­tu­ally bet­ter than a good, sharp knife?

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