What’s That Sound?

Posted in: Dear Mabel, ELNews | 3

Dear Mabel,

I actually found the Environment Lethbridge website while researching air quality for Lethbridge. Being a green queen from way back, I think it’s great to have a public organization that dedicates itself to sustainability.

However, I was wondering where does noise pollution fit into this vision? I came from a big city where it was so noisy, it had a very negative affect on my quality of life and peaceful enjoyment and became so intolerable, it contributed to me moving away from it.

Noise from constant construction, patrolling helicopters, sirens, traffic and one of the worst offenders: people locking their cars using the beep mechanism of the car horn!! (Deactivate it and just listen for the little click or go old school and use the key.)

I think that before Lethbridge gets too big, there should be a policy in place recognizing noise pollution as having an impact on air quality and also as a hazard to human health (and ban the locking of vehicles in this manner.) It may seem like a little thing but little things as we know can add up to become a bigger thing!

What do you think about noise pollution?


A. Noise is often overlooked as an environmental problem and yet it is increasingly rare to find a time or space that is completely free of human-caused sound, particularly in an urban environment.

Despite being overlooked, evidence shows that noise can cause significant environmental and health issues. From a health perspective, noise has been linked to conditions such heart disease, sleep disruption and hearing loss.

Hearing loss is an obvious impact of exposure to noise, but sleep disruption has also been shown to be significant. Even when nighttime noise fails to wake us up, it can still provoke our internal warning response, creating hidden stress and potentially leading to cardio-vascular disease. These impacts on human health have led the World Health Organization to classify noise pollution as a serious environmental threat to human health, second only to air pollution.

Noise pollution can also have a negative impact on wildlife. Human-caused noise has been shown to disrupt everything from pollination to nesting in bird species. On a larger scale, the noise from ships is well-known to negatively impact whales and the noise from roads negatively impacts animals such as grizzly bears, causing them to change their behaviour.

The City of Lethbridge does have a Noise Bylaw, however, it primarily applies to specific activities such as loud vehicles, barking dogs etc and not to cumulative noise levels. While some jurisdictions have noise bylaws that are more restrictive than others, we weren’t able to find any examples that restricted activities beyond excessively loud or disruptive sounds. In addition, data on cumulative noise pollution levels in Canada does not appear to be available.

Regulating noise is challenging. Using your example of the beeping of remote car locks, a jurisdiction such as the City of Lethbridge has no control over the installation of these devices into vehicles and enforcing a restriction would be very resource intensive and probably not effective. This one activity is just a small part of the overall noise that exists in Lethbridge. Regulating them all would be a monumental task.

A potential solution may be to design buildings and neighbourhoods in ways that are more sound absorbent. Planting trees in specific areas can help to absorb and muffle sound. Installing absorbent materials both indoors and outdoors can also reduce noise levels.

Noise pollution is definitely an area where more local research is needed so that we can all better understand the impacts on our health and our environment.


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3 Responses

  1. Li Son

    Thank you Mabel for your quick reply to my inquiry regarding noise pollution: the second most serious environmental threat after air pollution according to the World Health Organization! Wow! Who knew?

    Regarding my mention of the beep function on a car being used to signal it being locked: I think it goes without saying that the city “has no control over the installation of these devices” and of course “regulating them all” makes no sense. I think this one could fall under a ‘community courtesy kindness’ such as shoveling a neighbour’s sidewalk in winter for example.

    Also, if I may add, please accept the fact that you would not be buckling your seat belt every morning without the advocacy of a single citizen – Ralph Nader -who was responsible for bringing car manufacturers to task concerning lack of safety. I do believe individuals can have tremendous influence on big companies – we are their customers after all. We also all have a choice (and I might add a civic responsibility) to make our cities more hospitable places to live. If deactivating my alarm when I lock my car is going to add to the overall peaceful enjoyment of my community then I for one, will be thrilled to do so. I can take pride that that one small action puts me in the ‘driver’s seat’ of making my city a more beautiful and comfortable place to live and doesn’t everyone want that?

    And lastly, I am all for cities everywhere to be more planting more trees to offset carbon emissions and to add beauty and shade with the added benefit of sound absorption. However, to me it makes far more sense to be proactive in preventing needless noise rather than trying to reduce it after the fact particularly as the city grows. Maybe cities don’t necessarily have to pass bylaws or ban things, maybe they can just encourage people with a “Community Courtesy Kindness” program that allows people to set themselves up to be successful and happier citizens as they take individual and collective responsibility for protecting the quality of life Lethbridge is is so lucky to enjoy.

    Thank you for inspiring me to write on this topic! I wonder if others share my concern about noise pollution?

  2. Christine M.

    Thank you so much for talking about this! I definitely share your concerns about noise pollution. I lived in high rise apartment buildings in Toronto for 13 years and it had a serious impact on my mental and physical health. There were no steps taken by the building complex to reduce noise. We had constant construction/repairs outside and almost constant renovations inside, hardwood floors, doors that slammed etc. I would have loved for the landlords to promote consideration amongst tenants and their own staff but they did not. I know not everyone would have changed their behavior but if more people were made aware of the effects of noise pollution they might try to be considerate and encourage others to do the same. I think there needs to be public education and laws (the car horn lock could be regulated federally) regarding the effects of noise pollution.

  3. Raphael Abiagom

    Thank you Li Son for your perspective on noise pollution and how it can be addressed. Many thanks to Mabel also for responding to Li.
    Frankly, I can’t agree less with Li on the issue of getting issues resolved through enlightenment and having members of the community jump into action by playing their individual roles to profer solution to environmental problems.
    I’m only 3 months in Canada and I landed in a major city where the orientation and behaviour of the residents towards waste disposal inspires me as compared to my home country. This huge difference can be trace to the level of individual participation (awareness and attitude). I mean if personality A properly disposes his can or bottle into a waste trash after use, trust me, he sort of will influence personality B in someway to do say and it goes in that manner until the burden of waste sorting/recycling is alleviated. It follows the adage that says little drops of water make a mighty ocean.
    So, bylaws or not, some of these issues may be personified such that they don’t appear like a crime to the people. More so, through persistent sensitization and education on what the populace stand to benefit by not degrading the community, we can get members of the community to play their role in reducing the impacts of activities that could constitute a nuisance to the environment.

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