Acoustic contaminants

I read with interest your Aug. 18 column about the need to phase out blueberry propane cannons. While I agree totally with your viewpoint, I feel that you were not nearly emphatic enough about the harmful effects of noise on human health.

I read with interest your Aug. 18 column about the need to phase out blueberry propane cannons. While I agree totally with your viewpoint, I feel that you were not nearly emphatic enough about the harmful effects of noise on human health.

The issue of propane cannon noise is only one aspect of the serious problem of noise pollution that permeates every part of our lives. There exists a vast amount of information, both scientific and general interest, confirming that unwanted noise is not simply a nuisance, but an acoustic contaminant with profound implications for human health.

The physiological and psychological harm caused by noise has long been established by the World Health Organization and other medical and environmental groups. In addition to the hearing loss caused by loud noise, unwanted sound at any level can interfere with sleep (and still affect you even when it doesn’t actually wake you), raise blood pressure, increase heart rate, increase the risk of heart disease, impair concentration and productivity, increase stress, affect mental health, and overall reduce your quality of life. At its extreme, unwanted noise can result in violence and murder.

Anti-noise pollution groups exist all over the world, including here in Vancouver. The mainstream media is full of articles and investigative reports observing the relentless increase in noise pollution in our society and the harm it causes, and asking what can be done about it.

Given the compelling evidence that unwanted noise is harmful to human health, and the huge amount of readily accessible information on the subject, the question is how and why Surrey council and its bylaw enforcement department, which has a duty to protect its citizens and enforce the city’s noise bylaw, can remain so abysmally ignorant of, or resistant to, this fact.

Apart from issues of economics or votes related to the blueberry industry in particular, my own observations are that the continued tolerance of noise pollution is also generally linked to the increasing trend in our (un)civil society towards selfish and inconsiderate behaviour, a perverse sense of entitlement, and an obsessive focus on the perceived rights of the individual over the common good.

Witness the utter disregard that many individuals and businesses show for their neighbours and visitors when they choose to pollute our common soundscape and impose their noise on others. This attitude feeds on the overwhelming messages our society projects by tolerating and encouraging the kinds of aural assaults created by propane cannons and other unnecessary noise sources:  noise is essential (and silence is to be avoided at all costs), the louder the better, and go elsewhere if you don’t like it.

It is only a matter of time until noise pollution, and its profound impairment of human health and quality of life, captures the serious attention it deserves in the wider public consciousness and on the political agenda.

Acoustic responsibility is a concept whose time not only has come, but is long overdue.


J. White