Quiet Please

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Overexposure to excessive noise is the major cause of hearing loss in America. Nearly everyone, in fact, has lost hearing ability without realising it. Power-driven appliances have made American homes the noisiest on earth, and “relaxing quietly at home” is fast becoming a thing of the past, for people never do get accustomed to noise. According to medical evidence, instinctive reaction to loud noise is fear and an impulse to escape. The heartbeat increases, arteries constrict, pufnis dilate. One prominent scientist asserts that violent noise may even harm unborn babies.

Out on the street things are worse still. Air compressors, pile drivers, jackhammers, sirens, traffic, all add up to a noise level known to destroy hearing cells at prolonged exposure. “The saving quality heretofore, ” says one report, “has been that community noise has been a short-term exposure … as the power use of both home and street increases, steps must be taken to limit the noise output. ”

Down on the farm there is again less and less quiet. A recent government study reported that 90 per cent of fifty-eight new farm tractors tested made enough noise to be considered unsafe when the operator was subjected to it for a normal working day. And 65 per cent of such farm equipment as corn pickers, combines, and beet pullers exceeded recommended noise levels.

The Selective Service says that loud music is apparently to blame for the partial deafness that causes many draftees to be rejected. But it took the outrage of jet engine noise and the promise of a supersonic transport plane (see page 114) to finally stir people to action. In Inglewood, California, near Los Angeles Airport, where the din of air traffic has been described by one victimas ” the equivalent of thirty Niagara Falls, ” two schools were closed because jets made teaching impossible. Near Kennedy Airport, on Long Island, one million people live within a zone of “unacceptable annoyance,” as the F.A.A. describes it. Recently such besieged communities from twenty-three states formed NOISE, a Washington-based lobby.

Only in December did the F.A.A. begin to quiet the airways by setting regulations for the newjumbojets. But the enormous new Boeing 747 is exempt, and not until 1971 are controls expected for jets now in operation. The only significant federal action has been in setting limits for industrial noise levels. Although authorization for such action has existed since 1935, nothing was done until 1Q&Q. Even then, the original proposal was compromised under pressure from such high-noise industries as textile manufacturing and set at ninety decibels, five more than experts consider safe (see chart).

Unlike most pollution problems, it is relatively easy to do something about noise levels. The technology is available and in many instances costs little. All the public has to do is … make some noise about it.