17.04.2008 Feature Article

Noise reduction: Our collective responsibility

Noise reduction: Our collective responsibility
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Silence, we are told, is golden. A noise free environment is indeed ideal for the functioning of the mind…

As we begin the second quarter of 2008 we are still confronted with noise pollution from all endeavours of life. The first month of the second quarter marks Ghana's National Noise Awareness Day which is immediately followed by the ban on noise making by the Ga Traditional Council. These are periods when all and sundry are called upon through education and awareness creation to reduce noise as much as possible so we can all live in peace and quietness.

Noise free environments are becoming a scarce commodity these days as a result of increases in population, migration, affluence and advanced technology coupled with unsustainable land use planning schemes that place economic activities at the wrong places thus creating excessive noise, detrimental to human health. Social activities, especially in urban areas, on the other hand have been blended with loud music playing as to warrant the label of lawlessness.

Noise can be described as any unwanted and irregular sound, that is disturbing or harmful, having the potential to impair our hearing or interfere with work efficiency.

In the city of Accra and other urban areas, uncountable number of Ghanaians, are significantly exposed to noise pollution.

The sources are vehicular engines, construction equipment, sirens, and unwanted loud music from social activities. In recent years, most urban areas are encountering outdoor preachers who use sophisticated public address systems to belt out their sermons. It is also significant to note the presence of mobile CD and cassette vendors with mounted generators and loudspeakers roaming urban areas and marketing their music.

Millions of people who listen to loud music using home and car stereos or portable stereos popular called 'ghetto blasters' or 'boom boxes' held close to the ear and ear phones are also damaging their hearing.

A visit to the Agbogbloshie scrap yard in Accra reveals a rhythmic and persistent noise from jack hammers separating scrap metals from car engines, computer waste and other waste metals. The activities of these young men in their late teens and early twenties are serious occupational hazards. Many occupations in urban or metropolitan areas are in environments of significant noise in terms duration and intensity to cause some permanent or partial hearing loss.

Activities of religious organizations such as churches and mosques have become a permanent source of noise pollution in our communities since worship is always on daily basis. A significant number of people is exposed to noise pollution through social activities like child naming, funerals and parties at various places.

To determine harmful levels of noise, sound pressure is measured in decibels (db). Sounds have pitch also called frequency, and high pitch sounds seem louder and more irritating than low pitch sounds at the same intensity. Sound pressure becomes damaging at about 75(db) and painful around 120(db), it can kill at 180(db). Sounds above 120(db) can leave a person with a high pitch whine or ringing in the ears. Persistent ringing in the ears is called tinnitus, a distressing disorder for which there is no treatment.

In a situation where one needs to raise the voice to be heard above the sound of a racket or noise causes the ears to ring and when speech close to the ears seems muffled, is a sign of permanent hearing damage. Prolonged exposure to lower noise levels and occasional loud sounds may not only damage hearing but can greatly increase internal stress.

Youths in urban areas in Ghana are being exposed to significant noise levels as to lose some of their hearing sensitivity and cannot hear anything above 16,000 cycles per second (HZ). It is also assumed without medical proof that hearing ability decreases with aging, so we can also assume that some or most of the aged from 60-65 living in noisy urban areas would be experiencing reduction in hearing sensitivity.

It is on record that increasing exposure to noise over the past 40 years throughout the world has accelerated this normal pattern of hearing loss. It will be expedient for us to enumerate some of the effects of noise pollution on human health.

Annoyance is usually the first response when a person is exposed to sudden noise or persistent loud noise. This may result in the release of adrenaline causing the heart to beat faster, blood pressure rises and muscles tense. Harmful effects from prolonged noise exposure include permanent hearing loss, high blood pressure (hypertension) muscle tension, migraine headaches, high cholesterol levels, gastric ulcers, irritability, insomnia and psychological disorders including increased aggression.

As we mark this year's noise awareness day, we need to pursue noise reduction as a poverty reduction strategy to reduce our outpatient visits to ear clinics.

To pursue a better institutional collaboration, the police would have to be equipped to respond to persistent noise nuisances rapidly since most regulatory authorities do not work 24 hours and on weekends and holidays.

A national agenda to undertake massive noise education should be the priority of metropolitan, municipal and district assemblies with support from the Environmental Protection Agency. This will help citizens to know their rights and responsibilities to reduce noise when the peace is breached by the lawless few in our communities.

As a way of further enhancing our existing land-use schemes, there is a need for authorities to weed out or refuse permits to noisy development projects that find their way at the wrong places. Every community especially residential areas and other sensitive facilities should have permissible and prohibitive levels of noise scribbled on buildings. Slogans prohibiting noise making and others that encourage noise reduction should be mounted at entry points to various communities.

As we commemorate the 3rd National Noise Awareness Day, it is our fervent hope that noise reduction will be everybody's priority to reduce its stress related symptoms and save our hearing. We must call on all communities to desist from activities that expose the youth and aged to excessive noise. We want return to pristine times when pleasant and soothing sounds like birds singing and wind movements in trees are heard.

If we all do a little we can do a lot to reduce noise levels to ensure healthy lifestyles in our communities.

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