Noise Pollution- Sources, Effects and Control

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© Kamla-Raj 2004
J. Hum. Ecol., 16(3): 181-187 (2004)
Noise Pollution- Sources, Effects and Control
Narendra Singh and S. C. Davar
Department of Commerce, Kurukshetra University, Kurukshetra 136119, Haryana, India
KEYWORDS Pollution. Human Health. Noise Standards. Social and Religious Ceremonies. Noise Effects Noise Reduction.
Public Eduducation.
ABSTRACT The study examines the problem of noise pollution in the wake of its ill effect on the life of the people. A cross-
section survey of the population in Delhi State points out that main sources of noise pollution are loudspeakers and automobiles.
However, female population is affected by religious noise a little more than male population. Major effects of noise pollution
include interference with communication, sleeplessness, and reduced efficiency. The extreme effects e.g. deafness and mental
breakdown neither is ruled out. Generally, a request to reduce or stop the noise is made out by the aggrieved party. However,
complaints to the administration and police have also been accepted as a way of solving this menace. Public education appears to
be the best method as suggested by the respondents. However, government and NGOs can play a significant role in this process.
Noise is derived from the Latin word “nau-
standard limits. It is responsible for rising inci-
sea” implying ‘unwanted sound’ or ‘sound that
dence of deafness among the inhabitants (Bhar-
is loud, unpleasant or unexpected’. The noise
gawa, 2001). A study by Singh and Mahajan
originates from human activities, especially the
(1990) conducted in Delhi and Calcutta, found
urbanization and the development of transport
that the noise level is 95dB as against the
and industry. Though, the urban population is
ambient limit of 45dB. Even at the “calm” places,
much more affected by such pollution, however,
it does not fall below 60dB. Murli and Murthy
small town/villages along side roads or industries
(1983) also found that traffic noise in Vishakha-
are also victim of this problem. Noise is becom-
patanam exceeds 90dB even in morning hours
ing an increasingly omnipresent, yet unnoticed
that acts as a source of nuisance.
form of pollution even in developed countries.
The noise pollution is not a unique problem
According to Birgitta and Lindvall (1995), road
for developing countries like India only. In
traffic, jet planes, garbage trucks, construction
China, till third century B.C., instead of hanging
equip-ment, manufacturing processes, and lawn
men for dangerous crimes, noise was used for
mowers are some of the major sources of this
their torturing. The worrisome effects of noise
unwanted sounds that are routinely broadcasted
are dangerous enough that noise problem is
into the air.
consi-dered next to crime by certain countries
Though noise pollution is a slow and subtle
(Kapoor and Singh, 1995). Bond, (1996) reports
killer, yet very little efforts have been made to
that 16% of people in Europe are exposed to 40
ameliorate the same. It is, along with other types
dB or more of traffic noise in their bedrooms at
of pollution has become a hazard to quality of
night compare it with W.H.O.’s average esti-
life. Kiernan (1997) finds that even relatively
mates of 30 to 35 dB for undisrupted sleep.
low levels of noise affects human health adver-
Several initiatives have been taken by various
sely. It may cause hypertension, disrupt sleep
countries to check the noise level. For example,
and/or hinder cognitive development in children.
USA has taken initiative to create sites where
The effects of excessive noise could be so severe
human-caused noise pollution will not be
that either there is a permanent loss of memory
tolerated (Geary, 1996). Similarly, the European
or a psychiatric disorder (Bond, 1996). Thus,
Union (with more than 250,000 inhabitants)
there are many an adverse effects of excessive
requires that ‘noise maps’ of big cities are drawn
noise or sudden exposure to noise.
up by 2002 (New Scientist, 1998). To safeguard
In India, the problem of noise pollution is
against ill effects of noise, the laws of Nether-
wide spread. Several studies report that noise
lands do not permit building of houses in areas
level in metropolitan cities exceeds specified
where 24-hour average noise levels exceed 50dB.
And in Great Britain, the Noise Act empowers
Address for correspondence: Dr. Narendra Singh, 643 / 12,
the local authorities to confiscate the noisy
Darra Khera, adj. tel. exchange, Thanesar City, Kurukshetra
equipment and fine people who create excess
136 118, Haryana, India
Phone: 091 (01744) 234529, E-mail: [email protected]
noise at night. Recently, several countries are

also investing in ‘porous asphalt’ technology,
There are several methods that can be utilized
which can curtail traffic noise by up to 5dB.
for controlling the level of noise. First of all, the
The movement against noise pollution is
design and technology of machines/equipments
weak in India. Most of the people do not consider
could be altered resulting in low noise emission.
it a pollutant, and take it as a part of routine life.
Secondly, noise barriers may help us control
Of late, it has been recognized as a pollutant
noise. A third method is to protect receptors of
(Negi et al., 1999). In India, the Noise Pollution
sound by a shield e.g. building may be insulated
(Regulation and Control) Rules, 2000 have been
against noise. Similarly, body and window planes
framed under the Environment (Protection) Act,
may be made sound proof. Apart from techno-
1986. These are a set of guidelines for regulation
logy, we may undertake various steps to modify
and control of noise. The ambient levels of noise
or regulate the behaviour of users of machines
for different areas/zones specified in the rules
and equipment. Though a legal framework could
are indicated in chart 1.
be enforced to regulate users of vehicles/equip-
ment, but it requires huge resources and good
Chart 1: Ambient noise standards
governance. The public education appears to be
Category of Area/ Zone
Limits in dB*
a good option because it is a social problem.
Day Time
Night Time
Sheer ignorance about the adverse effects of noise
pollution appear to be a key factor in laying
Industrial Area
Commercial Area
inadequate stress on controlling or reducing its
Residential Area
levels. To make India a world-class destination
Silence Zone
for tourism, industry, and a place for healthy
*The limit in dB denotes the time-weighted average of the level
living, the development and implementation of
of sound in decibels on Scale A which is relatable to human
a comprehensive noise control programme is a
dire need of hour.
Source: Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 as amended in
This study identifies the sources of noise that
create noise pollution. Moreover, the study
A survey by Central Pollution Control Board
explores the effects of noise on publics and their
(CPCB) survey shows that in Delhi, the noise
reactions. Finally, various measures to control
level in most places exceeds the permissible
the pollution are contemplated. The empirical
limit. (The Times of India, New Delhi). Simi-
evidence gathered through this study can be
larly, a study by NEERI has revealed that noise
employed for developing appropriate legal and
levels in residential, commercial and industrial
public action programme.
areas and silent zones of Delhi and towns of
National Capital Region (NCR) far exceed the
prescribed standards. The average noise level in
Delhi is 80 dB while the ambient limit is 55dB
This empirical study is based on a sample
(The Business Line, New Delhi). Bombay too
survey of the State of Delhi. 150 respondents
suffers from high levels of noise pollution. For
was interviewed personally. The sample
example, Shetye et al. (1980) had estimated that
represents a cross-section of different age groups,
noise level in crowded locations in Bombay was
sex, geography, educational levels; income levels
almost double that of residential standards
of respondents and therefore it could be treated
adopted by most countries (45dB during day and
as a representative sample for such an explora-
35dB at night). Evidently, noise pollution has
tory study. Delhi was chosen for the study
assumed alarming proportions affecting adver-
because it is one of the most populous cities in
sely the efficiency of various populations, mental
India and reflects both the modern and tradi-
health and general quality of life. Moreover, it
tional, infrastructure (roads, localities, buildings
is becoming a problem of law and order with
etc.) Moreover, its inhabitants represent a cross-
the growing number of complaints to police and
section of Indian culture. The data was collected
administration. Unless and until, measures are
by using a structured questionnaire blended with
taken to control the level of noise, the ongoing
suitable open-ended questions. The analysis has
urbanization and industrialization may compli-
been carried out with the help of percentages
cate the problem so much that it becomes
and cross-classifications on sources of noise,
effects of noise, reactions to noise, and

suggestions to control noise in terms of age as
the noise released by road traffic. The contact
well as sex.
between tyres and the road surface is dominant
source of noise at speeds above 60km/h for light
vehicles. In future, tyre to surface noise is likely
to become an important issue to be addressed in
Sources of Noise: Sources of noise pollution
noise abatement strategies. In urban areas, fast
include inter alia, vehicular traffic, neighbour-
acceleration and re-starting the engine in traffic
hood, electrical appliances, TV and music
could result in emissions up to 15dB higher than
system, public address systems, railway and air
the normal levels of emission resulting from
traffic, and generating sets. Even we fall prey to
smooth driving. Another major source of noise
the noise generated by household equipments
is public address system used by temples,
used by us. Most of the people inhabiting metro-
mosques etc. Indian Constitution under Article
politan cities or big towns and those working in
25-28 guarantees freedom of religion to all
factories are susceptible to the adverse effects of
persons. But, this freedom of religion is not an
noise. Characteristically, it affects the rich and
absolute one. Freedom of religion is subject to
the poor alike. The problem of noise pollution is
public order, health and morality. In a recent
less in small towns and villages. But, those
decision, Supreme Court held that no religion
residing in villages/ towns along the national/
prescribes that the prayers should be performed
state highways or close to railway tracks do bear
by using loudspeaker or by beating drums.
the burnt of excessive noise.
Further, it was held that if religious people make
Indiscriminate use of horn by the vehicles
use of such equipment, it should not affect the
and widespread use of loud speakers in Indian
right of other people. The High Court of Tamil
social and religious ceremonies cause several
Nadu allowed a petition filed by the Welfare
health hazards to the urban inhabitants. It may
Association of KKR Nagar (Chennai) against
cause deafness, nervous breakdown, mental
Church, and directed the respondent that the
disorder, heart troubles and high blood pressure,
noise level should not exceed the permissible
head-aches, dizziness, inefficiency and insomnia
decibels. Thus, the State can put a restriction on
(Bhargawa, 2001). The noise level and exposure
an institution for maintaining public health.
area depends on its source and its strength.
Since the noise disturbs the living and leaves
Road noise, especially at some distance from
the bad impact on the health of the people, restri-
the road can be described as a steady state noise
ction imposed by a state on the noise level does
that does not fluctuate much. But, rail and air-
not amount to violation of fundamental right.
craft noise are acoustically characterized by high
The analysis (Table 1) indicates that a very
noise levels of relative short duration. Noise from
large proportion of respondents in each age
industrial installations, construction sites and
group is being affected by noise emanating from
fixed recreation facilities radiates from a point
the loudspeakers. The range is 71% to 86% with
source and the shape of the exposure area is
overall %age of 83%. However, % of such people
generally a circle. The noise from various sources
in age group of 20-40 years is marginally lower.
may either be steady for a long period or fluctuate
Similar is the situation with automobiles.
over a specified period considerably.
Majority of respondents across different age
Road traffic is a key source of noise in big
groups feel that automobile noise affects their
cities. The speed and exhaust system determines
activities. A relatively small proportion of res-
Table 1: Sources of noise in terms of age groups
Source of Noise
Age groups
Upto 20
Above 60
Loud speaker
29 (85)
35 (71)
37 (86)
20 (83)
121 (83)
23 (67)
31 (63)
32 (74)
18 (75)
104 (75)
23 (47)
20 (46)
13 (54)
73 (54)
Religious functions
21 (62)
29 (59)
25 (58)
14 (58)
89 (58)
Total respondents
34 (100)
49 (100)
43 (100)
24 (100)
150 (100)
Figure in parenthesis are percentages

pondents (54% across various age groups)
insomnia (Bhargawa, 2001).
acknowledge adverse effect of noise generated
Exposure to noise pollution exceeding 75
by neighborhoods. An almost equal proportion
decibels for more than eight hours daily for a
of respondents (58%) across different age-groups
long period of time can cause loss of hearing.
claim that noise originating from religious
The hazards increase with the intensity of the
functions affects them.
noise and the period of exposure. The sound
In general, apart from the loudspeakers and
produced by a bursting cracker, exceeding
automobiles, religious functions, as well neigh-
150dB, can cause a ringing sensation called
borhood act as significant sources of noise pollu-
‘tinnitus’ and can impair hearing permanently.
tion. Thus, metropolitan cities are becoming a
In general about 1 percent of the population
victim of new class of pollution i.e. noise. Fur-
suffers from noise-induced pollution.
ther, we examine whether sources of noise pollu-
Nagi et al. (1993) found that the noise level
tion act upon male population and female popu-
produced by household equipment and
lation differently.
appliances sometimes reaches up to 97 dB which
Table 2 presents figures and % age of male
is more than double the acceptable (45dB) noise
and female respondents affected by different
level. This excessive noise could carry several
sources of noise. There is marked differences in
ill-effects viz. annoyance, speech interference,
population affected by noise from religious func-
sleep disturbance, mental stress, headache, and
lack of concentration. Similarly Singh (1984)
Table 2: Sources of noise affecting male and female
noted that the workers exposed to high noise
levels have a higher incidence of circulatory
Noise Sources
problems, cardiac diseases, hypertension, peptic
ulcers, and neurosensory and motor impairment.
64 (82)
57 (79)
The adverse effects of noise have not even spare
52 (67)
52 (67)
38 (49)
35 (49)
the birds (Robins, sparrows, wrens and black-
Religious functions
42 (54)
47 (65)
birds). Those living near busy roads could not
Total respondents
78 (100)
72 (100)
hear each other and thus unable to contact for
propagation (Deutche Presse-Agentur, 2003).
Figure in parenthesis are percentages
We can visualize (Table 3) that noise
tion and surprisingly, women are more affected
interferes with communication, disturbs the sleep
by it over the men population. In terms of remai-
and reduces the efficiency of individuals under
ning sources, there is no marked difference in
its umbrella. Majority of sample respondents
% of male population and female population. It
exposed to noise pollution report occurrence of
means that other sources of noise (Loudspeaker,
annoyance and hearing problem. As many as
automobiles, neighborhoods) affect equal propor-
35% reported the deafness and almost equal
tion of male population as well as female popu-
number reported mental breakdown. The survey
data shows that the effect of noise is not similar
Effects of Noise: There is no doubt that the noise
among various age groups. Generally, growing
affects human health adversely. The noise may
age bears the burnt of excessive noise pollution.
result in loss of hearing, stress, high-blood pre-
For example, the rising proportion of sample
ssure, loss of sleep, distraction affecting produc-
respondents in higher age groups acknowledges
tivity, and a general reduction in the quality of
depression, sleeplessness and deafening effect.
life. The effects of noise are difficult to quantify
A very large proportion of respondents feel that
because tolerance levels among different popu-
noise interferes with inter-personal communi-
lace and types of noise vary considerably. There
cation and causes annoyance. Extreme effects
is a large amount of scientific literature assessing
(i.e. mental breakdown and deafness) are
the effects of noise on human beings. Indis-
acknowledged by one third of survey population.
criminate use of horn by the vehicles and wide
However, there is a much higher incidence of
spread use of loudspeakers in Indian social and
deafness effects on old people (above 60 years of
religious ceremonies caused several health
age). Further, a general perusal of table shows
hazards to the urban inhabitants. It may cause
that psychosomatic (e.g. depression, sleep) and
deafness, nervous breakdown, mental disorder,
physiological (deafness) disorders are acknow-
heart troubles, high blood pressure, dizziness and
ledged by a smaller proportion of respondents

Table 3: Effect of noise on different age groups
Effect of noise
Age Groups
Above 60
Effect on hearing
23 (68)
28 (57)
34 (79)
22 (92)
107 (71)
Interfere with communication
33 (97)
47 (96)
41 (95)
20 (83)
141 (94)
Cause annoyance
25 (73)
38 (78)
35 (81)
18 (75)
116 (77)
Disturb sleep
33 (68)
46 (94)
41 (95)
22 (92)
132 (88)
Result in deafness
9 (26)
15 (31)
15 (35)
13 (54)
52 (35)
Mental breakdown
8 (23)
17 (35)
17 (40)
8 (32)
50 (32)
34 (100)
49 (100)
43 (100)
24 (100)
150 (100)
Figures in parentheses are percentages to the total of the respective columns.
in young age groups vis-à-vis older populations.
We have analyzed the data on reactions of
Table 4 shows that perception of male and
age-groups (Table 5) with a view to ascertain
female populations about the effect of noise
the differences in groups, if any. Popular
varies. A significantly higher proportion of male
reactions across various age-groups include
population feels the adverse effects of noise on
‘request the perpetrator to stop/reduce the noise’.
hearing, efficiency, and breeding of annoyance.
A significant proportion of people affected by
Differences in terms of physiological (depre-
noise seek redressal through administrative pro-
ssion, sleep, mental breakdown) and interference
cedure or quarrel-the latter is popular with
with communication are not marked i.e. almost
youngsters (up to 20 years) as well as with
equal proportion of male and female population
“mature people” (40-60 years). People falling
is susceptible to such effects of noise.
in 20-40 years do not indulge in administrative,
Table 4: Sex-based differences in perception of effects
legal remedies and/or quarreling. Even in terms
of noise
of requesting the source, they lag other age
groups. Though a small percentage, the recourse
Effect of noise
to legal remedy (police) probably indicates
serious violations of noise-controlling laws or
Effect on hearing
60 (77)
47 (65)
107 (71)
community ethics.
Interfere with
72 (92)
69 (96)
141 (94)
Table 6 shows that there is no major
difference in proportions of male and female
Cause annoyance
62 (81)
54 (75)
116 (77)
populations with regard to the set of probable
Reduce efficiency
71 (91)
61 (84)
132 (88)
Cause depression
48 (62)
47 (65)
95 (63)
reactions toward excessive noise. Major reactions
Disturb sleep
70 (90)
62 (86)
132 (88)
to excess noise are similar to what we have seen
Result in deafness
27 (35)
25 (35)
52 (35)
in case of different age groups i.e. request and
Mental breakdown
28 (36)
22 (31)
50 (32)
seek administrative remedy. It is heartening to
78 (100)
72 (100)
150 (100)
note that the fair sex is found to indulge in an
Figure in parentheses are percentages to the total of the
aggressive reaction (quarrelling) even more than
respective columns.
their masculine counterpart. It may be a result
Table 5: Reactions to noise by different age groups
Age groups
Above 60
Request the source
26 (77)
24 (49)
28 (65)
19 (79)
97 (65)
Complain to the authorities
10 (29)
09 (18)
13 (30)
11 (46)
43 (29)
Complain police
4 (12)
5 (12)
Quarrel with people
11 (32)
11 (26)
4 (17)
30 (20)
34 (100)
49 (100)
43 (100)
24 (100)
150 (100)
Figure in parentheses are percentages to the total of the respective columns.

of modern education, nurturing, and a changing
female respondents advocate public education.
concept of womanhood.
Empowering the police is rated as a tool for
control of noise by smaller proportion of people
Table 6: Reactions to noise among sex groups
in total sample. Thus, change in public attitude
Mode of Reaction
by programmes of government/NGO’s and civil
measures (fines etc.) could help us reduce or
Request the source
50 (64)
97 (65)
prevent the noise pollution ab initio.
Complain to the
22 (28)
Table 8: Suggestions by different sex groups to control
Complain to police
Quarrel with people
14 (18)
Sex groups
78 (100)
72 (100)
150 (100)
Figure in parentheses are percentages to the total of the
28 (36)
22 (31)
50 (33)
respective columns.
Government efforts
17 (22)
16 (22)
33 (22)
Involving NGO’s
14 (18)
12 (17)
26 (17)
Suggestions for Controlling Noise: The figures
Empowering police
8 (10)
10 (14)
18 (12)
in Table 7 indicate responses of individuals to a
Empowering Civil
11 (14)
12 (17)
23 (15)
set of probable solutions. In general, a set of a
significant proportion of respondents feel that
78 (100)
72 (100)
150 (100)
public education programmes and government
can help us control the noise-level. The police
Figure in parentheses are percentages to the total of the
respective columns.
and civil administration, if empowered, could
also facilitate checking of noise-levels. However,
the data suggests need for a multi-dimensional
approach i.e. a single measure cannot achieve
the goal of noise-reduction. In terms of age, a
This research paper explores the sources,
significant proportion persons between 20-40
effects, reactions and suggestions for controlling
years and 40-60 years feel that civil authorities
the excessive noise. Automobiles and public
should be empowered along with other measures.
address system (loudspeakers) turns out to be
It strengthens the belief that public education is
major sources of noise pollution. It appears that
needed direly because people are not aware of
loudspeakers are frequently used for religious
legislation/rules of environment ministry of
functions (and temple prayers). Disturbance by
Delhi. The younger (< 20 years) and older
loudspeakers and automobiles is felt by age
generation (above 60 years) appears to emphasize
groups of 20-40 years somewhat lesser than other
inter alia, need for empowering the police. Each
groups. Across various age groups, there is
of age groups feels that a combination model
almost an equal proportions of respondent
could work better for a public cause.
reporting neighborhood, music and religions
Male and female groups do not seem to differ
functions as sources of noise. There are no
regarding alternative methods of controlling the
variations among male and female population.
noise-level. Predominantly, male as well as
Proportion of female population vis-à-vis
Table 7: Suggestions by different age groups to control noise
Age groups
Upto 20
Above 60
7 (21)
18 (37)
14 (33)
11 (46)
50 (33)
Government efforts
8 (23)
11 (22)
12 (28)
33 (22)
Involving NGO’s
8 (23)
26 (17)
Empowering police
8 (23)
18 (12)
Empowering Civil authorities
3 (09)
10 (20)
23 (15)
34 (100)
49 (100)
43 (100)
24 (100)
150 (100)
Figure in parentheses are percentages to the total of the respective columns.

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