How much NOISE do we have to put up with?
Trucking companies, sports-car drivers and lazy suburban lawn-trimmers are raising a din that’s no mere nuisance but a menace to public health. Here’s a plea for stiffening the anti-noise laws we already have but aren’t using
FROM THE TORONTO STAR, July 20. 1960: ISLE OF CAPRI, ITALY — (UPI) — Traditional wooden sandals worn by natives of this Mediterranean pleasure island were banned yesterday because they are too noisy.
Mayor Carlo Federico said foreign tourists were complaining that the clippety-clop of the sandals on the cobblestoned streets was unbearable.
Mayor Carlo Federico of Capri — come to Canada! Come and ban power mowers, jet aircraft and groaning trucks. While you're here, ban raucous washing machines, children who turn up the television, and music piped into shopping plazas, bars and elevators. Don’t forget to ban everyone involved in building the extension of the Toronto subway before you return to Capri where, 1 hope, your lawabiding citizens will have switched from wooden
sandals to tennis shoes. Canada is noisy. Mayor Federico, and it is getting noisier by the hour. Every step toward progress is accompanied by new sounds, and any sound becomes noise when you don't want to hear it.
Last year, people who live in farm country north of Toronto were delighted when their rural road was finally paved. Now they wake at 4:30 in the morning to listen to a maddening procession of heavy trucks, each one of which can make as much noise as 90 to 100 cars.
New factories bring industrial noise into oncepeaceful residential neighborhoods; new homeowners rush to buy power mowers so that suburban weekends are filled with roar and rattle as neighbor after neighbor decides that his grass needs cutting; new sports cars by the thousands add their deliberately powerful growl to ordinary traffic noises; jet-aircraft service has arrived in Canada and people who live
near airports are exposed to a more penetrating and horrible noise than they’ve ever heard or imagined.
The human ear, that frequently unwilling receiver of all these sounds of economic progress, is a fantastic instrument with one drawback: it cannot be turned off. We can close our eyes for relaxation and rest, but we are always on the alert for sounds, even, to a degree, when we're asleep. If our hearing was only slightly more acute we could perceive the tiny murmur of the circulation of our own blood as well as the ultrasonic waves that research promises us will eventually be used for purposes as exotic as dispersing fog. Shut off as we are — happily for our sanity — from the lower and upper realms of the sound spectrum, we still hear within a vast range. The constant o:;an of noise surrounding us every day may have numbed and dulled us into taking it for granted, but it is a subject for serious concern. It most definitely harms us.
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A housewife subjected to a constant barrage is as worn out as someone who’s climbed Mont Blanc
Heinz Gartmann, a specialist in jet propulsion and aero engines, a fellow of the British Interplanetary Society and the Detroit Rocket Society (and therefore a noisemaker himself of no mean power), in his book Man Unlimited defines as "absolute noise" all sounds of more than 70 decibels, which is about the level of average street noise. All sounds over 70 decibels, he feels, should be eliminated, or at least reduced, since we cannot control our physical reactions to them.
Many organs, including the skin, the lining of the stomach and the brain, become congested with blood under the influence of noise. The quantity of blood pumped by the heart may double under the stimulus of a noise of 90 decibels, such as a baby crying or a car horn blowing. Dr. Gartmann adds that although we can work and perform our duties in noisy surroundings, it is only at the cost of more intense concentration. This involves constant tension, a speedup of body functions, as your pulse beats faster, your blood pressure rises and your breath comes more quickly. You may be unaware of all these physical reactions but nevertheless your increased oxygen consumption results in greater exhaustion than is necessary. In other words, a housewife subjected to the never-ending sound barrage from both inside and outside her home is. at the end of the day, in a physical condition roughly analogous to that of someone who has just climbed Mont Blanc.
Aside from creating intense weariness, exposure to constant noise can. by straining your nervous system, ruin your digestion and destroy your sleep. Its most common effect is to cause abnormal irritability; things get through to you that usually wouldn’t be upsetting. Most doctors agree that noise can contribute heavily to the development of certain forms of neurosis and any parent can testify to its effect on your feelings about
even your nearest and dearest—especially those nearest.
If too much noise is bad for people, someone is undoubtedly trying to do something about it. Here we arrive at last upon the field of battle — and battle it is and no mistake. First, the problem is how much noise is too much noise? A truck manufacturer says one thing and a homeowner another, a paper-mill operator has his own opinion and the mother of a napping baby (who lives near the paper mill) has hers. Even the scientists of the world haven't been able to agree. They don't even agree on the way to measure noise; there is no international standard or internationally used measuring instrument and one expert's word may well be as good as another’s.
Pitch plays a nasty part
However, the science of acoustics has progressed to the point where a broad picture of confusion begins to make sense. For instance, the acoustics experts at the National Research Council in Ottawa are in general agreement with the lop experts in the United States, although they differ on many details. The really important breakthrough in noise measurement came rather recently. Several years ago the Port of New York Authority (probably the leading group in municipal noise control), used the independent acoustical consulting firm of Bolt Beranek & Newman to create the concept of measuring noise in "perceived noise decibels." This takes into account the pitch of a noise as well as its loudness. Essentially it reflects, through a series of complicated tables and formidas, the way noise is measured by the human ear. and human reaction. As an example, the high-pitched and thoroughly nasty whine of a jet engine at a mere 100 decibels is far more unpleasant than a piston-engine noise of 100 decibels.
This explains why you can be enraptured by an orchestra playing at 120 decibels although the riveting of steel at the same decibel level will drive you close to madness or mayhem.
The scientists in Ottawa and elsewhere also take into account the distribution of a sound (if intermittent, how intermittent?), whether it carries a message or not. whether it is heard by night or day, and the ambient or background noise against which it is heard. This is a highly technical field: the reports that established the difference in noise char-
acteristics of the Boeing 707 and the Comet IV from those of a propellerdriven aircraft filled two books of 375 pages each.
Of course, most municipalities and townships in Canada have anti-noise bylaws that restrict “unreasonable” or "unwarranted” noise. But not a single one of these bylaws specifies at what decibel count noise becomes unreasonable—and therefore they are meaningless. Naturally you might expect to win a noise conviction if your neighbor held nightly motorcycle races in his back yard, but
trying to pin down any less obvious offense, without a practical yardstick, is difficult. Citizens will never be really protected against noise until they can pass anti-noise bylaws that are precise in their definitions.
It is possible that the first two effective anti-noise bylaws in all of Canada will be approved this fall — one in Nepean Township, the other in Metropolitan Toronto. If successful, they would set a pattern for the whole country to follow.
Nepean Township, on the outskirts of Ottawa, is a stalwart community of some
50,000 acres, ranging from city streets to farmland. Its population contains many civil servants and technical workers for the government. Several years ago, when a lumber firm wanted to build a planing mill in Nepean, an alert, scientifically informed — and alarmed — citizens’ group was formed to look into the matter. Ultimately they realized that what they needed was a bylaw written in such a clear-cut and workable way that they could easily judge what sorts of industry and commercial enterprises were acceptable, on a basis of noise, near residential neighborhoods.
They enlisted the aid of the acoustics branch of the National Research Council, which is delighted to give informal advice although it takes a hands-off stand about getting involved with the inner workings of a municipality. NRC provided the technical knowledge, suggesting acceptable noise levels for each of Nepean’s neighborhoods, and the bylaw was adopted by the township council. This autumn there will be a public hearing before the Ontario Municipal Board and, if the bylaw is approved, all the townships of Canada will have proof that industrial noise can be regulated if citizens take action.
Once in effect, this bylaw can be easily enforced. Whenever there is a complaint, the noise can be measured by a trained police officer, and appropriate action taken. The mere presence of the bylaw will dictate the location and construction methods of future factories in Nepean. Noisy machinery will be muffled in advance at the planning stage. Certain bangs, bumps and rattles that are unavoidable, such as construction noises, will be endured in patience — one assumes— by an informed and tranquil population.
The second noise bylaw would affect Metropolitan Toronto; it is as different from Nepean’s as a fist fight is from a revolution. It deals exclusively with motor-vehicle noise, and it was passed by both the Metropolitan council and Toronto city council on October 21, 1958. Since that date a struggle of broad, if not particularly heroic, proportions has been waged, and the bylaw has not yet been approved by the provincial minister of transport. The issues are so confused, contradictory and clouded that it is hard to know whether this bylaw will be an historic piece of legislation leading the way to a quieter Canada, or, in the words of the Automotive Transport Association, “impractical,' illogical, unworkable and unenforceable.”
This bylaw, proposed by Controller Donald Summerville, would limit any motor-vehicle noise to 94 decibels on the C scale of a sound-level meter, measured at 15 feet or more from its source. The transport companies, upon hearing of this, made tests that determined that if the bylaw went into effect 90 percent of their heavy-duty trucks would have to stay in the garage. Still another test indicated that 100 percent of their trucks would be outside the law, since the manufacturers of trucks could give them no guarantee that the standard mufflers used since 1956 would keep exhaust noise down to 94 decibels. To this Summerville replies, “Let them get better mufflers.”
In reply the Transport Association asserts that its members can buy only what is available. (The experts at the National Research Council feel that truck noise today is “unnecessary and reprehensible.” They feel that the reason a quiet standard diesel motor has not been built is purely an economic one; the truck manufacturers won’t spend the money unless they are forced to.)
The truckers and Summerville, a vigor-
With jets, it's a matter of controlling the noise so that it's merely terrible and not unbearable
ous anti-noise man from the beginning of his public career, remain locked in battle. They question the background and reliability of each other’s experts, they hurl charges, cast aspersions and present utterly opposed points of view. All that they do agree on is that it would be fine to get rid of the jazzed-up motorcycles and insolent, arrogant, exhaust-popping sports cars, which would also be regulated by the bylaw. Meanwhile the matter is being studied by yet another committee. Summerville predicts procrastination, followed by more procrastination, but eventual victory. Should the law ever be approved, policemen would have sound-level meters set up on the sidewalks and could issue immediate summonses to offenders. • Fines up to three hundred dollars could be imposed. Just how far-reaching this bylaw is can be appreciated only when you consider that vehicles from all over Canada and the U. S. that pass through Toronto would have to comply with the law.
Another source of harmful noise (and it's one about which the harassed citizen feels particularly helpless) is the jet aircraft. This year the big jets came to Canada, serving Toronto, Montreal, Winnipeg and Vancouver. All these cities have had serious jet noise problems. So far Edmonton is the only city to build an airport especially designed for jets. It is so far from town that the noise can’t bother anyone—yet. A spokesman for the Department of Transport expects that eventually all larger Canadian cities will have jet service, but, luckily for all of us, the sound of the jets is one noise that luis been attacked by a variety of well-organized groups.
They can always move
The United States had a head start in working out methods of reducing jet noise. However, as Canada grows, cities will spread out toward their airports and, as the jet service grows, much can be learned from the experiences of communities across the border.
First of all, it must be recognized that there are only degrees of success in abating aircraft noise. There will never be a noise-free airport area. The realistic way to eliminate the inhuman plight of people who live several thousand feet, or less, under arrival and departure airlanes is to rezone the land. Houses should never be built closer than a certain distance from airports. This is something individual municipalities must plan for themselves, looking ahead with imagination.
People who live too near an airport for their own comfort, as in Montreal for instance, can always move if the situation is serious enough. This is not an impractical suggestion since a major survey, made last year in six large U. S. cities by H. O. Walther, a past president of the American Institute of Real Estate Appraisers, showed that “without exception the airports have not influenced the values of the homes adversely.”
In spite of the racket, homes near the runways can be sold readily because airports are great sources of employment, and industry usually springs up around them—something that widens job opportunities and increases the demand for housing near the job.
Meanwhile, there are ways and ways to fly jets; they can make either a terrible noise or an impossible noise. Controlling the noise so that it’s merely ter-
rible depends upon not one but a group of people: the pilots, the manufacturer of the aircraft, the watchdogs of the Department of Transport, the men in the control towers and the airline officials themselves.
The manufacturers who, on the one hand, are developing supersonic commercial transports that will break the sound barrier and stay beyond it con-
tinuously during flight (you’ll hear them within ten years) on the other hand spend many millions trying to quiet their machines. They still have far to go in certain fields; for instance, in controlling those particularly hideous sounds known chillingly as compressor whine and fan whine.
Various airlines, including TCA, have instituted methods of training pilots to
land and take off while creating the least possible annoyance. If a plane gets off the runway soon enough and ascends quickly enough, using airlanes that do not pass over heavily populated areas, “people will hardly notice it,” the Airport Operators’ Council optimistically states.
The Department of Transport checks on noise levels at Canadian airports and
has the authority to impose regulations. So far there are no formal restrictions since department officials have had such excellent co-operation that they haven’t needed to impose them. Anyone who is bothered by an unnecessarily loud jet can complain, as loudly as he likes, to the Civil Aviation Branch of the department.
It is possible to soundproof a house situated near an airport successfully. There is only one drawback; few examples of this type of soundproofing exist and the people who are responsible aren't eager to say how it was done. For example, the International Hotel at New York’s International Airport is probably the quietest place to sleep in the city, yet planes constantly pass over it at low altitudes. However, the officials of the Knott Hotels Corporation, owners of this miracle, hate having it mentioned in print. Why? They have found that whenever news leaks out of their tranquil inn, homeowners near airports deluge the airport authorities with demands—not requests—to be supplied with similar soundproofing, to be paid for by the airports. This creates an embarrassing situation for Knott, proving the folly of setting too good an example, especially since the International Hotel was soundproofed in a way that would be prohibitively expensive for a private home.
But a great deal can be done, at a relatively low cost, to reduce noise inside the typical new Canadian house, which in many cases could serve as a shining example of bad acoustical engineering. Peter Caspari, a Toronto architect, has estimated the cost of soundproofing a two-bathroom, $15,000 house at $629. This includes silencing the plumbing and hot-air systems, using special insulation for the bathrooms and kitchen, blowing rockwool into every partition and floor in the house, and using solid instead of hollow doors between all rooms.
No builder is going to do all this for you unasked since it "wouldn’t show’’ and would make the house more expensive. Yet Jerry Maritzer of the Consoli-
dated Building Corporation, one of Canada’s largest housebuilders, says his company could install anything a customer asked for, although “we don’t get such requests from the average man.” He adds that Canadians are basically placid people who stay quietly at home with the TV set turned on low. Whether this opinion is valid or not (what about children. Mr. Maritzer?), anyone who’s sensitive to noise should know how comparatively inexpensive it is to add enormously to his comfort.
What’s more, for $99 he can buy a really silent power mower (made by the Outboard Marine Corporation of Canada), with its entire mechanism tightly shrouded in fibreglass. However, if his neighbors are less noise-conscious and prefer to buy cheaper mowers (the overwhelming majority of which have totally inadequate mufflers, or none at all), anyone who wants to enjoy his backyard undisturbed can slip a pair of plastic, fluid-filled earmuffs over his head. One such ingenious noise barrier can be found at branches of the Safety Supply Company throughout the country.
Of course, the total silence produced by the earmuffs might be unnerving to us; we're so accustomed to some sound that we miss it when it’s gone. The final and most thought-provoking word on that subject was reported recently in the New York Times. The Times printed an idea from a forward-thinking industrial design firm for improving your own cheerful, cosy air-raid shelter, in which, we may assume, we will be isolated from many of the noises currently annoying us:
For the survival shelter, a spokesman for Lippincott & Margulies suggested that the family might have a library of tapes to be played on a battery-driven machine. These tapes might play the ordinary sounds of a house — the refrigerator going on and off or the traffic outside.
Perhaps those jet planes, vacuum cleaners and boisterous children don't sound so loud after all?