What is Noise Pollution?

The concept of noise pollution is central to the NOISE project. A primary goal of our work is to counter the adverse effects of noise pollution, particularly in communities most vulnerable to this pollution. As such, it is important to define noise pollution, as we cannot adequately address issues of noise pollution until we know what it is and how it affects individuals.

Our technical definition of noise pollution is provided by one of our project members, Dr. Mathias Basner, who defines noise pollution as: 

“Excessive emission of sounds that adversely affects the community, interferes with processes essential for recuperation, and may cause negative health consequences.”

There are a few important components of this definition. The first is the term “excessive,” which indicates that the magnitude or decibel level of emitted noise is an important factor when determining noise pollution. That is, some amount of noise is inevitable, yet when there exists an “excessive” emission of noise, this may qualify as pollution. 

The second important component to consider is that noise pollution has an “adverse” effect on a community, or on the individuals within a given community. In response to a 2019 survey that our project created and distributed, when asked to “describe the way noise influences your mood,” the three most common words that respondents used were “irritated,” “anxious,” and “annoyed.” These responses indicate that noise pollution can have a negative effect on the emotional wellbeing of community members. 

Another important aspect to consider is that unlike other forms of pollution such as air of water pollution, noise pollution is often undecided.  In our 2019 National Science Foundation report, members of our project stated that “people in our community have become desensitized to the noise around them… Many of us are not aware of the fact that noise can have a negative effect.” This means that individuals may be subject to noise pollution without even realizing it. These communities may then have a hard time protecting themselves from the negative impacts of noise pollution