Sound controls

Noise pollution remains an unchecked health hazard

Noise pollution in large cities has long been a major public health problem and has continued to be largely ignored. A recent study from the Center for Air Pollution Studies at Stamford University in Bangladesh reveals that Dhanmondi hospitals in Dhaka face acute noise pollution and exposure to such noise pollution can seriously affect patients and other people in the area. The study reveals that the noise level on the roads in front of 17 hospitals in Dhanmondi averages 81.7 decibels, a worryingly higher level than the accepted level. According to the study, such a noise level indicates intense noise pollution, as the standard noise level in quiet areas including hospital areas should be around 50 decibels. According to the World Health Organization and the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, sound levels of 71 to 90 decibels are considered loud noise pollution. The situation is no different in other districts of the capital and other large cities. An earlier study by Stamford University in Bangladesh and Bangladeshi Paribesh Andolan shows that sound levels in different areas of Dhaka remain at around 90 to 120 decibels, while the tolerable sound level is 55 decibels.

Worryingly, while noise pollution has persisted as a major public health problem for more than a decade now, authorities seem to have paid little attention to the issue. A survey by the Department of the Environment in 2018, for example, showed that motorbikes and cars, after public buses, were the main source of noise pollution in cities. The survey, conducted in eight cities, showed that motorbikes and cars generate an average noise of 95 dB in Dhaka, while buses generate about 44 dB. In Chittagong, motorbikes and cars each generate 100 dB while public buses generate around 82 dB. In Sylhet, motorcycles and cars produce nearly 84dB and buses 40dB. Other major cities follow the same pattern. In 2016, another survey by Work for Better Bangladesh highlighted that 86% of Dhaka residents recognize the effects of noise pollution in their daily lives and see it as a threat to their well-being. The Noise Pollution (Control) Rules 2006 were made under Section 20 of the Environment Conservation Act 1995 to lay down specific guidelines on noise pollution and the level of noise allowed in different areas. Its application, however, remains largely elusive. Studies have identified major contributors to noise pollution, but no action has been taken to end indiscriminate noise.

Uncontrolled noise pollution will have serious long-term consequences on public health if not effectively controlled. According to WHO guidelines, exposure to sound above 60 dB can cause temporary deafness and prolonged exposure to sound above 100 dB can lead to hearing impairment, hypertension, etc. The government must therefore develop a multi-pronged approach to reduce noise pollution and strictly enforce relevant regulations and conduct awareness campaigns. The government must also put in place a mechanism to limit noise pollution in quiet areas.