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 Enda Murphy
School of Architecture, Planning and Environmental Policy Planning Building, Richview University College Dublin Dublin 4 Ireland
What To Do About
Environmental Noise?
The evidence linking environmental noise to negative human health out- comes is increasing. As a pollution problem, is it taken seriously?
Environmental noise is a difficult concept to define. This is due to noise being somewhat subjective to humans depending on their perceptions of specific sounds. We know, for example, that trains, automobiles, and aircraft producing sounds at the same decibel level are all perceived differently when self-reported scores are utilized to assess annoyance for each mode (Lam et al., 2009). There is also evi- dence that noise from trains is less annoying than noise from aircraft or automo- biles. So although definitions can be slippery, they are important nevertheless for placing boundaries around individual concepts, particularly if scholars, acousti- cians, and policymakers are to understand the nature of environmental noise and its impact on human beings. At a very basic level, definitions determine how noise is assessed, regulated, and mitigated as an environmental problem. Moreover, defi- nitions are crucial if governments, national, and supranational organizations are to work together in a holistic manner to reduce environmental noise in the future.
Environmental noise is any unwanted sound created by human activities that is considered harmful or detrimental to human health and quality of life (Murphy et al., 2009); it results from human interaction with the natural environment. It refers only to noise affecting humans and is typically (but not exclusively) asso- ciated with outdoor sound produced by transport, industry, and/or recreational activities. From this definition, it logically follows that environmental noise can be considered a form of pollution. Indeed, its classification as a pollutant is useful be- cause it creates the possibility of confronting noise more intuitively. By definition, pollution is something that is to be avoided, controlled, regulated, or eliminat- ed due to its negative impact on humans and human-environment relationships (Murphy and King, 2014). It is worth noting that although this paper is focused specifically on the impact of environmental noise on humans, many of the issues emerging are relevant and, indeed, instructive for other species (see Hawkins and Popper, 2014). In this regard, there is little doubt that research in human studies may provide guidance for new avenues of research in animals and vice versa.
The relationship between environmental noise and negative human health out- comes is the primary reason that noise is now widely recognized as an environ- mental pollutant. However, contrary to other pollutants (such as air, odor, and water), environmental noise pollution is, from what we know, not witnessing improvement. Much of this increase in recognition relates to the volume of re- search that has been undertaken over the last several decades that has improved our understanding of dose-effect relationships for environmental noise and hu- man health. This enhanced understanding between noise and human health has placed noise pollution in the policy limelight, most notably in the European Union (EU). In the United States, there has been much less of a focus, in policy terms, on attempting to assuage the impact of environmental noise on human populations.
32 | Acoustics Today | Spring 2020, Special Issue
©2020 Acoustical Society of America. All rights reserved. ©2017 Acoustical Society of America. All rights reserved.
18 | Acoustics Today | Summer 2017 | volume 13, issue 2 Reprinted from volume 13, issue 2
©2017 Acoustical Society of America. All rights reserved.
| volume 13, issue 2

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