What do city buses and your air conditioner have in common?
Noise pollution! It can take on many forms and affect our health in just as many different ways. Even the sounds you’ve become numb to, like the loud hum of your air conditioner, can cause problems over the long-term! Learning difficulties, hypertension, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and even reduced birth weight – these are just a few issues that are linked to constant exposure to noise.
The challenge of addressing noise pollution:
Noise pollution can be tackled in several directions! In fact, some laws already control the material used in roads’ surfaces and in your car’s tires. Some newer research has found that city governments can even plant conifer trees to actively absorb sound.
But regardless of what efforts we make, they ought to benefit those who are most affected by noise. Namely, research shows that higher levels of noise are experienced by people in low-income communities that have higher proportions of minority residents.
This disproportionate effect of noise on minority communities highlights the fact that noise pollution is a social justice issue. And so our response should honor the intersectionality of the issue – that is, the ways that people’s identities factor into who is most negatively affected, who receives the greatest levels of support and education related to noise, and who has (or doesn’t have) the power and capacity to reduce noise pollution in their communities.
Why the Noise Project?
The Noise Project is unique because it tackles noise pollution while also addressing systemic issues of power and privilege. Putting that mission into practice, the NOISE community is made up of 15 community-based organizations from across North America that represent diverse communities. Each organization engages with the public in ways that uniquely represent the priorities, identities, and values of their community members.
For Camp Compass, this looks like teaching elementary students about the benefits of quietude through outdoor education. And for the multicultural WorldBeat Center in San Diego, this takes form in demonstrating the healing benefits of sound. Health practices and interpretations of self-care vary across cultures, these partners are demonstrating just two important ways that community engagement can be culturally relevant.
Noise mapping and the NOISE app
Another goal of the Noise Project is to create noise maps, which the World Health Organization claims are a “crucial component” of any effort against noise pollution.
Cecilia Álvarez and Juan Flores, from Green Jay Mayan Birding, are two partners actively taking on this effort by designing a citizen science project that can be replicated by all. Monitoring birds and sound levels around Cancún, Cecilia and Juan strive to identify Cancún’s main noise polluters, and they hope that this citizen science project can impact their city in several ways. Cecilia hopes that they can “generate change in public politics”, and she says that “with all this information, the goal is to know which places are good for noise refuges.” Juan emphasizes the importance of having information in being able to create any change, and says “we hope we can do [this citizen science research] with the NOISE app so anyone who can put the app on their phone can do it.”
The NOISE app that Juan mentions is meant to, among other things, engage the public in noise pollution mapping. People could measure the sound levels around them using their phones, and a sound map could be generated automatically by combining the measurements from everyone participating. Using these sound maps, public policy changes could be tailored to benefit those most affected by exceptional noise pollution, or it could provide users with sound refuge suggestions! No matter the outcome, the NOISE app has the potential to significantly affect how people live with noise pollution. It could especially help users find ways to lessen their exposure to noise pollution in their home environments and to even use sound for healing – whether that be in the form of bird song, meditative music, etc.
The Road Ahead
Together, Noise Project partners are addressing the complex issue of noise pollution with a multifaceted and multicultural approach. They’re doing their best to make this work accessible and valuable to communities, and some – if not all – hope that the forms of engagement found in this project can be replicated by other community researchers down the road.
The road ahead is complex since it must continue to tackle the systemic issues that underly noise pollution. Fortunately, the Noise Project is a team of extraordinarily committed, creative, and caring leaders ready to make a difference!
Casey JA, Morello-Frosch R, Mennitt DJ, Fristrup K, Ogburn EL, and James P. 2017. Race/Ethnicity, Socioeconomic Status, Residential Segregation, and Spatial Variation in Noise Exposure in the Contiguous United States. Environmental Health Perspectives. 125 (7): UNSP 077017
Stansfeld SA, et al. Aircraft and road traffic noise and children’s cognition and health: a crossnational study. The Lancet.2005; 365(9475): 1942-1949