April 22 is Earth Day — a time to celebrate the beauty of nature and to protect Earth against pollution. One often-neglected form of environmental pollution is noise. Most Americans are constantly bombarded by excessive noise — from motorcycles, gas-powered leaf blowers and lawn mowers, loud car stereos, barking dogs, helicopters, airplanes, car traffic, noisy neighbors, raucous restaurants, back-up beepers, honking horns tied to keyless entry systems, train horns, car alarms and numerous other sources.

All this noise is very harmful. High noise levels are associated with elevated blood pressure, heart disease, hearing loss, sleep deprivation, ringing of the ears, headaches and chronic fatigue. Also, excessive noise is a cause of decreased job and academic performance, as well as reduced property values.

Noise is also a climate-change issue. Lawn and garden equipment create up to 5% of the nation’s air pollution. An EPA study indicates a gas-powered leaf blower creates as much nitrogen oxide emissions and volatile organic compounds in one hour as 11 cars being driven for one hour.

Further, noise is an ecosystem issue. Birds are having to chirp louder because of the constant din. High-intensity sound can induce fear, causing species to abandon their habitat. Since the 1960s, there has been a 16-fold increase in ocean noise — posing a threat to fish, dolphins and other marine life.

So what should be done? Municipalities should ban gas-powered leaf blowers. The police should vigorously enforce noise ordinances. Congress should reinstate the federal noise pollution control office. Individuals should join Noise Free America: A Coalition to Promote Quiet.

Susan Britto


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