What is noise?

Noise is unwanted sound. The word "noise" is derived from the Latin word "nausea," meaning seasickness.

Noise that is experienced by people who did not produce it is called second hand-noise. Like second-hand smoke, second-hand noise can have negative impacts on people without their consent.

Noise is unwanted sound and is among the most pervasive pollutants today. Noise from road traffic, jet planes, jet skis, garbage trucks, construction equipment, manufacturing processes, lawn mowers, leaf blowers, and boom boxes, to name a few, are among the unwanted sounds that are routinely broadcast into the air.

The problem with noise is not only that it is unwanted, but also that it negatively affects human health and well-being. Problems related to noise include hearing loss, stress, high blood pressure, sleep loss, distraction and lost productivity, and a general reduction in the quality of life and opportunities for tranquillity.

We experience noise in a number of ways. On some occasions, we can be both the cause and the victim of noise, such as when we are operating noisy appliances or equipment. There are also instances when we experience noise generated by others just as people experience second-hand smoke. While in both instances, noises are equally damaging, second-hand noise is more troubling because it has negative impacts on us but is put into the environment by others, without our consent.

The air into which second-hand noise is emitted and on which it travels is a "commons," a public good. It belongs to no one person or group, but to everyone. People, businesses, and organizations, therefore, do not have unlimited rights to broadcast noise as they please, as if the effects of noise were limited only to their private property. On the contrary, they have an obligation to use the commons in ways that are compatible with or do not detract from other uses.

People, businesses, and organizations that disregard the obligation to not interfere with others' use and enjoyment of the commons by producing noise pollution are, in many ways, acting like a bully in a school yard. Although perhaps unknowingly, they nevertheless disregard the rights of others and claim for themselves rights that are not theirs.

We have organized to raise awareness of noise pollution and help communities take back the commons from those acting like bullies. Our efforts include building a library of resources and tools concerning noise pollution, establishing links to other groups that have similar collections, establishing networks among local noise activists, assisting communities and activists who are working to reduce noise pollution, and monitoring and advocating for stronger noise controls.


Note: Courtesy of the Noise Pollution Clearinghouse to allow the reproduction of this text is acknowledged.


En Español