Noise Control

February 22, 1980

Report Outline
Omnipresence in Modern Life
Regulations to Control Noise
Airport and Airline Sounds
Special Focus

Omnipresence in Modern Life

Assaults on the Ear in Cities, Suburbs

The U.S. department of Housing and Urban Development conducts a survey every year to find out what city residents dislike about their living environment. Each year since 1973 the same condition has been named most undesirable. It is not crime, air pollution or traffic congestion. It is noise — an undesirable ingredient not only of city life but also of life in the suburbs and even rural areas. A trip to the suburbs may leave behind the city's jackhammers, pile drivers and traffic noises, but other assaults on the ear lie waiting outside city limits. “The kid next door is engaged in an exotic activity called motorcycle ‘scrambling,’ the neighbor across the street is shaving half an inch off his golf course greens with a power lawn mower,” wrote Deborah Baldwin, an editor of Environmental Action magazine, “the washing machine is rattling into the spin cycle, and an 80-pound German shepherd out back is trying to get a bark in sideways lest anyone forget his supper.”

Noise is everywhere today, but noise control is but a minor element of the nation's anti-pollution efforts at the federal, state and local levels. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is currently spending $14 million a year — about 1 percent of its total budget — to try to reduce noise. It can be argued that noise control should be only a small part of the government's anti-pollution programs. After all, noise is a relatively mild form of pollution when compared to the well-known dangers of air and water pollution. Moreover, citizens' outcries against excessive noise tend to be localized and rarely develop political clout.

Nonetheless, noise problems have commanded enough attention in recent years to impel Congress to act. It has provided money and technical assistance to communities for noise control programs, and federal agencies established by Congress have sought to regulate noise levels in the workplace and to set noise standards for aircraft, trucks, motorcycles, some construction equipment and even power lawn mowers. Since noise regulation usually means added expenses for the affected industries, they frequently come to Congress seeking relief. To cite a recent example, Congress on Feb. 5 cleared a compromise bill to delay some of the noise-control rules for commercial airlines. Despite the difficulty in mandating noise control, the thrust for doing so lies in the growing public awareness that excessive noise may be harmful to health.

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