Noise News for Week of August 26, 1990

The Elimination of Government Agencies to Regulate Noise Pollution Leaves Citizens Unprotected

DATE: September/October 1990
SECTION: In Brief/ Environment; pp. 22-23
BYLINE: Mary Morse
DATELINE: United States
ACTIVISTS, INDIVIDUALS, AND GROUPS MENTIONED: Alice H. Suter, noise consultant; HEAR (Hearing Education and Awareness for Rockers)

"Proper functioning of the ear is vital to our well-being," according to an article in Utne Reader by Mary Morse. This article questions the wisdom of the elimination of noise regulations in a time of increasing health and environmental consciousness. After reaching its peak in the 1970s, the "hot new topic of noise pollution" fell to the Reagan administration's funding cuts for watchdog programs deemed "over-regulatory and anti-business." Citing statistics about the large group of Americans bombarded by dangerous noise levels at work and at home, this article promotes self-protection and makes a call for the resurrection of funding for watchdog agencies to regulate safe noise levels.

Citing an article written by noise expert Alice H. Suter that appeared in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's magazine, Technology Review (Nov./Dec. 1989), Utne Reader says more than nine million Americans are confronted by dangerous levels of noise at work. When these workers leave for home, noise pollution follows them into their communities and homes. Noise sources vary from traffic, construction and airplanes to television sets, household tools, and kitchen appliances.

Noise regulation was popular in the 1970s. In 1972 the Noise Control Act was passed, giving authority to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to regulate noise sources. With that authority, came funding and staff. At the same time, the Occupational Safety and Health Administrations (OSHA) created programs to ensure safe noise levels in the workplace.

But the eighties and a new Presidential administration brought a new mood to Washington. The EPA shut down its noise office in 1982. The article reports that of an estimated 1,100 state and local noise pollution programs, just 15 remained without assistance from the EPA. It seems OSHA reacted to the changed mood in Washington, according to this article, by relaxing enforcement. OSHA gave 2,292 citations to employers who violated noise rules in 1981. In 1987, OSHA issued 191 citations for violations.

According to noise expert Suter, one solution to noise problems is to make machinery run more quietly. Experts agree that industry could easily design and produce quieter products. Simple modifications such as installing rubber bumpers or tightening loose bolts significantly decrease noise. But Suter says industry needs "the proper economic incentives" from government regulatory agencies,

Until such incentives are provided and changes enacted, the article cites ways for citizens to protect themselves. Wearing ear protectors or earplugs minimize hearing damage. Hearing Education and Awareness for Rockers (HEAR) encourage musicians and concertgoers to protect their ears by offering fashionable and colorful earplugs. Suter suggests that employees use state-administered worker compensation laws to attack noise pollution by making claims against the manufacturers of "overly loud" equipment. But the best safeguard against noise pollution, this article claims, would be to once again fund the watchdog agencies who could regulate safe noise levels, levy fines to violators, and promote research.

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