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Saturday, April 19, 2008

A little less noise, please

In all likelihood Songkran revelry will hit its peak on this last day of the festival, with people out in the streets throwing water at one another, screaming with delight and probably dancing to upbeat tunes blaring from loudspeakers.

It is altogether possible that the whole of Thailand may be so engrossed in the water festival that few or none will realise that today is International Noise Awareness Day.

The campaign is aimed at making people aware of the harmful effects on people's health from exposure to excessive noise over a prolonged period of time. Of course, it is understandable if the event has hardly been heard of here in Thailand. Our country is known for being a land of sanuk where the fun-loving attitude is helped along with happy noise, be it music or just din. Especially in Bangkok, noise seems to be everywhere, in department stores and even at temples during fairs. Public parks are no exception. Instead of serving as oases of tranquility in this restless urbanity, many parks allow raucous activities to be held, most of which rely on the use of loudspeakers as if in competition with one another.

While a survey by the World Health Organisation some 10 years ago found that 21.4% of Bangkok's population who lived alongside roads suffered from "sensory neural hearing loss", there has been no comprehensive study on the extent of noise-related health problems in Thailand. A number of studies suggest that up to 70% of people may be suffering from some form of hearing disorder, oftentimes without them knowing it.

The undeniable truth, however, is that noise pollution, dubbed a modern plague, is a health hazard. According to WHO, excessive noise not only causes hearing loss but can also lead to such serious illnesses as high blood pressure or cardiovascular disease.

It is estimated that safe noise levels for households should not exceed 50 to 55 decibel outdoors and 35dB indoors. This can be gauged against the mark that a normal conversation should register at about 60dB. Sounds louder than 85dB may damage your ears.

An exposure to noise levels of 100dB for longer than 15 minutes, and 103dB for more than seven minutes can trigger hearing loss.

The obvious problem, however, is how to know what level of noise you are hearing, or suffering from? While the police have a law against the use of loudspeakers in public places without prior approval from concerned agencies - which they can use against noise polluters - it is often only cited against protesters in the streets. Since there is no official rule that lets people know how much noise is acceptable or allowable at which time of day and in which particular area, people usually have to take the matter into their own hands. This irritation has led to a great many unnecessary disputes between neighbours, even murder.

The continuing dispute between inhabitants around Suvarnabhumi Airport and the authorities over aircraft noise is one example that this relatively new form of pollution has yet to be taken seriously. One argument against compensation for the affected groups is they will get used to it!

Studies, however, have shown that we actually don't. Our health suffers quietly. And it will decline gradually.

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