An end to noise pollution imperative, say experts

Non-stop work at construction sites, AC chillers, automobile roaring and other day-to-day noise pollution factors are making life miserable for residents and putting their health at high risk.

By Focus On Health By Nada S. Mussallam

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Published: Sat 30 Aug 2003, 12:00 PM

Last updated: Thu 17 Nov 2022, 9:23 AM

As many people are already suffering from varied health problems, mainly caused by noise pollution, medical experts have stressed that effective measures be put into place to lessen the impact of this constantly aggravating environmental problem.

In addition to measures initiated by the authorities at the official level, experts advise that precautionary measures be taken at individual level. They advise that if a person notices any symptoms of hearing damage after exposure to intense noise, like buzzing sound, difficulty in understanding or a feeling that people mumble when they speak, he/she should immediately visit an ENT specialist.

Experts have stressed that it has become imperative for everyone of us to actively cooperate in combating noise pollution. People should adopt an attitude that is both civic and ecological in their day-to-day activities. People should use hearing barriers that prevent noise perception. Ear plugs enable personal insulation by reducing environmental noise. Protective ear muffs and helmets are absorbing materials that could provide noise reduction of between 40 and 50 decibels.

At the official level, environmental agencies concerned are putting in efforts to solve the problem. Noise pollution monitoring stations are being set up at different locations in several cities. However, a lot more requires to be done. Experts have recommended the selection of optimal noise reduction methods, noise barriers, enclosures and silencers and redesign for the silencing of noisy machinery and processes.

In Abu Dhabi, the authorities have stated that such measures were being taken on scientific bases using state-of-the-art technology. The Public Health and Environment Department at Abu Dhabi Municipality is studying the setting up of five noise pollution monitoring stations in the capital at a cost of Dh1.5million.

According to a source at the department, a noise pollution monitoring station based at the department is now under construction to prevent and control health risks from exposure to excessive noise. The source said that the department at present uses portable monitoring devices to inspect the exposure level at industrial areas in the capital.

"It has been proposed that 55 decibels could be considered as permissible level for residential areas. However, this level should not be taken as a criteria... rather it should be further improved," said the source. The experts also urged private sector companies to play their role in solving the problem. Companies should maintain records of noise exposure measurements of all employees working in noisy areas to protect them against hearing impairment.

Experts have also encouraged modifications of industrial buildings accommodating noisy equipment and residential buildings exposed to excessive noise. The World Health Organisation's guidelines recommend a night-time average noise level for undisturbed sleep from 35 to 30 decibels and include a peak night-time maximum of 45 decibels.

According to an expert, it is a well-documented fact that noise-induced hearing impairment is the most prevalent irreversible occupational hazard. "All workers who are exposed to excessive noises must have an annual ear check-up," said Dr Zia Mahmood, Senior Audiologist at Al Mafraq Hospital.

He said in an interview to Khaleej Times that there are two types of health effects due to exposure to noise, auditory and non-auditory effects. The main auditory effects are auditory trauma, tinnitus, temporary and permanent hearing loss, he said, adding that acoustic trauma is the cause of immediate organic damage to the ear from excessive sound energy while temporary hearing loss or Temporary Threshold Shift (TTS) occurs immediately after exposure to high level of noise. Permanent hearing loss may occur due to sudden loud exposure to sound or due to prolonged exposure to excessive noise, he said.

Non-auditory effects include decreased communication in excessive noise, distraction and interference with job, which might lead to increased annoyance at workplaces, Dr Mahmood said, adding: "It has been observed that absenteeism has been found to be higher among workers in noise industries."

Prolonged exposure to noise may result in sleep disturbance, including difficulty in falling asleep, awakening and alteration in sleep stages. It might also cause both temporary and permanent effects on cardiovascular system like hypertension and changes to blood pressure and/or heart rate, said Dr Mahmood.

He said noise exposure might also have adverse effects on mental health causing symptoms of anxiety, insomnia, stress, instability, social damage and mood swings. In the developing countries, along with occupational noise, environmental noise is also an increasing risk factor for hearing impairment, said Dr Mahmood.

There were 120 million people with disabling hearing difficulties throughout the world, he said. It has been reported that men and women are equally at risk of noise-induced hearing impairment, he said, adding that men are more exposed to excessive noise because of the nature of their work, mainly at factories and industries.

On the preventive measures that should be adopted at workplace, Dr Mahmood said engineering reduction of the noise, limiting exposure time and use of personal hearing protective devices should be followed to guarantee workers' safety from hazardous noise exposure. He said using sound level monitors in areas of excessive noise, short-term personal monitoring and noise dosimeter can help in monitoring the sound levels.

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