Progress can be noisy. The roads and expressways, and the train tracks, construction sites and shopping malls which have become synonymous with Singapore's economic development are also the source of uncomfortable levels of noise pollution. A new study reveals that the average outdoor sound level throughout the day is 69.4 decibels. This figure exceeds the official recommendation of no more than 67 decibels averaged over an hour. It falls just short of the World Health Organisation's (WHO's) threshold of 70 decibels a day. Sustained exposure to that level can hurt hearing.
Indeed, the WHO warns that excessive noise harms overall well-being seriously. It interferes with activities at school, at work, at home and during leisure periods. It can disturb sleep, impair performance, and provoke responses of annoyance and changes in social behaviour. The organisation notes that one in five Europeans is exposed regularly to traffic noise levels at night that could damage health significantly. Those living near airports are more vulnerable. According to a study, high levels of aircraft noise were associated with increased risks of hospital admission and death from stroke and cardiovascular disease in the area near London's Heathrow airport. Clearly, noise pollution must be treated as a part of larger environmental dangers over which the individual can exercise little or no personal control.
This is why an integrated approach is required to achieve collectively what individuals cannot do singly. Noise barriers put up at locations around train tracks and expressway viaducts mitigate the effects of proximity on humans. Trains themselves are equipped with wheels that dampen noise. Yet another initiative is the use of a material on roads that can reduce the noise generated by friction between surfaces and vehicle tyres.
In an indication of the seriousness with which unwanted noise is taken, the authorities clamp down on vehicles with illegal modifications, which include modified exhausts. Building contractors are required to install real-time noise-monitoring meters. They also have to follow a no-work rule on Sundays and public holidays for construction sites located within a certain distance from homes and premises such as hospitals.
However, the public, which rightly is vocal about noise nuisance emanating from geography and machines, needs to observe certain social protocols itself. Loud conversations held along common housing corridors late into the night, to say nothing of music blaring from speakers with doors kept wide open, are examples of the everyday infringements into neighbouring aural spaces. Such inconsiderate acts make lives lividly intolerable for the unfortunates nearby. Ear plugs that filter out loud noises but not conversation could help. However, noise-abatement measures and the rules of decorum would work even better.