Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

9 Tammuz 5762 - June 19, 2002 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








Public Health Hazard: Excess Noise

by M. Chevroni

Summertime. The windows are open. From the street below comes the usual cacophony: passing cars, honking horns, a wailing ambulance and from closer range the sound of phones ringing and "Chassidic" music on high volume blasting in from the neighbors.

If you go to a wedding, before you even make it past the entrance hall you raise your hands to your ears in a vain effort to spare them from the deafening music. But the high decibels are not just a matter of personal discomfort, for loud noise causes more than its fair share of problems.

The Loud Israeli

While speaking with your son in Bnei Brak or Jerusalem you count the number of buses passing by on the street below, hear the sound of passing sirens and constantly strain to identify various other background noises blending into the conversation.

When you eventually hang up the phone you lay the receiver down with inexplicable fatigue. The question you originally called to ask remains unanswered, of course. Apparently it got lost between the passing loudspeakers announcing an unprecedented shoe sale or desperately needed donations for some tzedokoh fund.

We are constantly exposed to noise pollution both inside and outside. Last night the baby -- the neighbor's baby, of course -- cried all night; they are trying to teach it to sleep through the night, which makes you a participant in the educational project -- whether you like it or not.

According to Dr. Stillian Gelberg of the Ministry of the Environment's Department of Noise Prevention, Israelis, like Americans, make a lot of noise. The problem is that the noisy Israeli cannot stand noise and makes a big racket to get a little bit of peace and quiet. The Europeans, says Dr. Gelberg, are quieter. They are more sensitive to noise and therefore they preserve the quiet. We live in crowded conditions, which means more noise.

Most people in Israel live close to city streets or highways. Little can be done to prevent traffic noise from entering the home, though in some cases noise barriers are being erected. In addition, some industrial areas are located in close proximity to residential areas. If there is a carpentry shop next door, during certain hours of the day your peace of mind will be disrupted by screeching machinery. In many cases, events halls dot these industrial areas so that the noise carries on into the night as well.

Another unfortunate factor to be added into the noise equation: because of Israel's warm climate windows may be open throughout much of the year. An open window brings in outside noises, including the mothers' calls of "Ruti, time to come home."

The problem is that while noise caused by other people is intolerable, the noise we are responsible for is deemed acceptable or unavoidable. If the person refurbishing the house is you or I, the noise does not disturb us because we stand to gain. Says Dr. Gelberg, the homeowner "envisions the way the house will look after the renovations. Someone who suffers from the noise but has nothing to gain from it will perceive a much higher volume."

The Detrimental Effects of Noise

"Noise definitely has an effect," says Dr. Roginsky of the Environmental Ministry. "You could say noise causes harm to both the body and soul."

First of all, noise harms people's hearing. "Sometimes the damage is temporary," says Dr. Roginsky. "After absorbing a large dose of noise one feels like he cannot hear a thing. This is a temporary effect that soon passes." Many people experience this following weddings.

But noise can also cause permanent, irreparable hearing damage. "It depends on the volume of the noise and the length of exposure," explains Dr. Roginsky. "This type of damage is seen among young people as they reach draft age. Hearing tests indicate a large percentage of hearing damage among young people who frequently listen to high-volume music."

Although they do not produce loud sounds, Walkman devices can also cause hearing damage, because the earphones are placed directly on the ear near the eardrum.

Noise also affects other parts of the body, Dr. Roginsky reveals. "Noise often raises blood pressure and disrupts the heartbeat. A study conducted in Germany among people who live close to major thoroughfares showed a direct correlation between extended exposure to noise and the incidence of heart disease. Noise also increases the flow of adrenalin."

This explains why high-volume music keeps young people on the dance floor. "Studies say noise slightly disrupts kidney function," adds Dr. Roginsky. "And noise definitely causes fatigue. It is very fatiguing."

Ulcers should also be added to the listp; noise plays a part in causing them too.

In terms of mental effects, first of all noise causes anxiety. One woman who suffered from anxiety during the Gulf War was unable to eat and could barely sleep for weeks. Long after she overcame her feelings of anxiety, she explained she was not at all afraid of a missile carrying a chemical warhead falling. What frightened her immensely, she said, was the fear of hearing the sound of a missile falling, a feeling she described as the sound of destruction.

"Noise really can cause a nervous breakdown," confirms Roginsky. "It is simply extremely irritating and harms the ability to concentrate and think and does not allow people to rest." Children who live in noisy areas are less successful in school and they grow tired faster than children who live in quiet areas.

There's an Air Conditioner Under the Table

"Ask the man-on-the-street what kind of noise bothers him most and he is likely to mention the wedding band at the top of his list," says Roginsky. But regular noises affect us on a daily basis: neighbors, music, home renovations and air conditioners. Roginsky says her department receives numerous complaints about air conditioners.

"This comes as no surprise," says Roginsky. "Under crowded living conditions, like most of ours', the neighbor's air conditioner can be very disturbing. Those who run the air conditioner do not hear the noise, because it comes from the motor installed outside. The motor might be directly under the window of a neighbor who likes open windows. The noise from the air conditioner is not unavoidable or necessary. It depends how it is installed and which model is in use."

Traffic noise is a constant source of noise pollution, including urban traffic, highways, trains and planes. Air- traffic noise is the worst of all. "When people hear a plane," says Roginsky, "they are very disturbed by the noise, but the sense of discomfort is accompanied by a sense of fear. A passing plane, at least in Israel, conveys a sense of danger, according to studies. Planes remind Israelis of war."

As disturbing as planes may be, at least they only cause noise for a moment. Traffic noise, however, is continuous. Not much can be done about the noise caused by passing buses on city streets. However, there are certain steps that can be taken on interurban roads.

"Acoustic walls can be built to contend with this noise," says Roginsky. "Such a wall was installed on the Begin Highway in Jerusalem, for example. It was built with a special diagonal angle. In certain places there are embankments to deaden street noise. In Ramat Aviv Gimmel, for example, there is a green embankment. Such an embankment blends in with the landscape and is less expensive than an acoustic wall. Both of these measures reduce noise levels. Further efforts have been made through traffic regulations. Certain streets are closed to heavy vehicles and speed limits are imposed-- partly to contend with noise. Traffic volume and speed are major factors in noise. The type of asphalt also plays a part."

"Quiet asphalt" was discovered when a special type of asphalt was used to improve drainage from certain roads. Later the experts working on the roads noticed noise levels had also decreased. "Quiet asphalt reduces noise levels by two decibels," says Roginsky. "Not a decisive effect, but it helps."

Air-traffic noise is difficult to reduce. The only measure that can be taken is to impose building restrictions, like those currently imposed under the TMA 24 Plan, the construction plan for Ben-Gurion Airport. A noise map shows which areas are most exposed to air-traffic noise, with lines and graphs indicating noise levels in decibels. In problem areas, building restrictions provide a solution--that is, for those who do not yet live there.

Measuring Decibels

A unit called a decibel, based on a logarithmic scale, is used to translate noise levels into terms everyone can understand. Decibels cannot be measured with a home measuring device, so the baby's cry cannot be rated on the scale.

Some examples: Whispering - 20 decibels; Regular conversation - 60 decibels; Normal traffic noise - 80 decibels; Band music - 120 decibels; Ambulance siren - 140 decibels; Airplane - 160 decibels at a distance of 30 meters.

How many decibels reach our ears when a car-alarm system is set off? We do not have a precise answer, but such noise, particular when it is ongoing, definitely does upset one's peace of mind.

"Throughout Yom Kippur a few years ago," says R' Y., "I and other people praying were disturbed by the sound of the alarm on the car of one of the people praying with us. The alarm did not stop all day long. We were hardly able to concentrate and nothing could be done about such an irritating disturbance which went on and off incessantly."

Under normal circumstances, one can call the police, who are legally authorized to take measures to stop the noise. (Halachic guidance may be necessary to ensure that this is alright.) The measures at their disposal even include damaging parts of the vehicle and the alarm system, breaking into the vehicle and towing it away.

Legal regulations define noise pollution based on a classification system, including loud noise and unreasonable noise. Unreasonable noise is also unlawful.

"An individual may not make loud noise or unreasonable noise," says the Disturbances Protection Law of 1961. This noise can derive from any source that might disturb someone in close proximity to the source of noise. How is it determined whether noise is "unreasonable?"

"There are noise devices," explains a police spokesman. "According to regulations, noise levels are measured with such devices. If we delve into the exact definition of unreasonable noise we will get tangled up in a highly detailed table. The bottom line is that if noise continues for more than nine hours per day during daylight hours, noise levels starting at 50 decibels are defined as unreasonable noise and therefore prohibited. The same source of noise, if it is at night and continues for more than half an hour, will be defined as unreasonable noise, starting already at 40 decibels."

Before they can lay blame, police must ascertain exactly how much of the total noise is coming from the object under suspicion. "We measure the combined noise of the suspected source -- a compressor or air conditioner, for example -- together with the normal background noises. Then we turn off the suspected device and measure the background noise alone. Then a complicated logarithmic equation is done, producing a very accurate estimate of the amount of noise emitted by a certain source. After examining the table, we determine whether the noise is considered reasonable or unreasonable, and illegal."

Other types of sounds can also be considered excessive. These types of noises are difficult to measure, because the effect is subjective. Some people are disturbed by any music, while others only consider loud music noisy.

Noise Prevention Law

The law has one standard for workdays and another standard for rest days, and nighttime regulations are more stringent than daytime regulations. The Disturbances Prevention Law of 1992 includes a special regulation for amplification devices.

"One may not sing, shout or play musical instruments," reads the law, "from 2:00 to 4:00 p.m. and from 11:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m." This applies in open and semi- enclosed spaces, but it is also highly advisable to avoid holding unwanted musical performances during these hours. Of course noise that does not escape the walls of the home is permitted any hour of the day or night. Transgressors are subject to a fine or a six- month jail stay.

Music or Noise?

Stories abound about the sounds heard at events halls, what some of us refer to as "noise" and what others -- generally the younger set -- call "music."

"Yesterday I went to a wedding at a very well-known wedding hall in Bnei Brak," recounts Rebbetzin A. "When the band started to play I, and everyone else, felt the band was outdoing itself and every other band I had ever heard. While noise levels are unbearable at many weddings, this time it was absolutely horrendous.

"It turned out that baalei hasimcha in the adjacent hall had decided to move the orchestra to a spot next to the wall of the hall in which our wedding was taking place. The music was coming from the adjacent hall as well as from our own orchestra.

"The normal noise at weddings, which causes at least temporary hearing loss, was doubled at this wedding. And more than that, our orchestra wanted to overpower the music coming from the wedding next door and the volume went up until it became unbearable.

"With my hands over my ears I left the hall to summon help. I was told baalei hasimcha next door had specifically requested it and nothing could be done. Our orchestra turned down the volume, but the evening was so noisy that it was hard to feel any joy."

Even without the doubled orchestra--a frightful combination-- the noise at many weddings is hard to bear. Who sets the musical threshold? Are the bandleaders the culprits?

Several bands we spoke with said they merely serve the demand. Even if they have their reservations about the songs they play and the requested volume, they supply the goods. The young people -- the chosson and his friends and the kallah and her friends -- are the ones who want high- decibel music. Impossible to exchange a single word? That is of little concern to them. People come to a wedding to dance, they say.

Not at all weddings, of course, but it is safe to assume as a general rule. One bandleader recalled a wedding at which the chosson's father warned that should he have to come over to the bandstand during the wedding to have the volume turned down, he would lower his payment to them.

When a parent like this gets his way, the younger guests' spirits wane. One mother decided that at their wedding the volume would remain at a reasonable level. She stood near the bandstand throughout the wedding and greeted her guests there, with one ear constantly monitoring the sound system. The volume stayed low. The guests were able to breathe freely and to speak with one another, but the dancing . . . it was not the most joyous wedding ever.

What keeps the guests on the dance floor? The amplification system. Band owners are convinced that everything depends on proper speaker setup. When the speakers are distributed properly throughout the hall, the volume is more tolerable (because it may not have to be so high). The worst arrangement -- and the most damaging to the eardrum -- is too few speakers bunched together.

There seems to be a glimmer of hope at the end of the tunnel. Some roshei yeshivos and mashgichim are opposed to excessively modern, rhythmic or loud music, only agreeing to take part in weddings with authentic Jewish music played at a moderate volume. And it works. Not long ago I was at a wedding in Jerusalem with just a drummer playing. Everyone danced, even the older people, and people were able to talk to one another. At the end of the evening they left with their hearing intact and their headache medicine unopened.

The Environmental Ministry has also lent its opinion in the events-halls issue, although strictly speaking they are not under its jurisdiction. "Somehow events halls fall between the cracks," says Roginsky, "but the Environmental Ministry has managed to enter this niche. At the very beginning of the year, an amendment was passed regarding restrictions on noise levels at events halls."

Although such a law may seem difficult to enforce, the Ministry has a ready solution: set up a committee. The committee is charged with the tasks of checking data and issuing a recommendation to the Environmental Minister on acceptable noise levels.

"At every events hall special devices will be installed," Roginsky promises. "The moment noise exceeds the permitted level, the music simply disappears." Even if the music remains at permitted levels, if it disturbs someone outside of the wedding hall during late-night hours, the band can be asked to lower the volume.

Self-Defense Against Noise

To defend against auditory attacks Roginsky recommends installing double-pane glass, which significantly dims outside noise -- as long as the windows remain closed. Acoustic features should be taken into account when purchasing an apartment and can be improved afterwards. Noise is less audible in a room full of furniture. Rooms can be laid with sound-absorbent rugs. Walls can be insulated through various means.

Another option is to live in bedroom communities. Residents work (or learn) in Jerusalem or Bnei Brak and come home at night to sleep in peace in Modiin Illit. For some people there may be no alternative. Today fewer people are purchasing apartments in Jerusalem and Bnei Brak.

There are also devices available to mask noise with natural sounds: a burbling brook, the swish of treetops swaying in the wind. These devices may not yet be available on the local market, but Dr. Gelberg offers another suggestion: fans disguise noise. In Spain water fountains are used in noisy areas. In public places acoustic ceilings are very helpful. Such ceilings can also be installed at home, at the risk that a child might not hear his mother calling.

An effective, highly portable solution: earplugs. I know people who cannot go to sleep without them. Others arm themselves with earplugs when they go to weddings. Dr. Gelberg is not in favor of this option. "The ear," he explains, "is the control center for the body's balance. Earplugs interfere with operations at this control center."

Work Hazards

The Ministry of Labor is responsible for noise-related problems at the workplace. According to Labor Ministry regulations, in some fields earplugs must be worn while working. Noise is known to be the number-one cause of work- related illnesses in Israel. Noise in excess of 85 decibels eight hours a day, every day, is dangerous. Places like carpentry shops, textile factories, forges and garages may have risky noise levels.

Workers should have their hearing checked at least once a year, wear ear protection and hope the factory owner decides to purchase modern machinery or insulate very loud machines.

Silencing the Computer

The computer, a known household hazard, contributes its fair share of noise. The faster the computer the noisier it is, in many cases.

With today's high-speed computer chips the drives spin faster and graphic cards produce more heat, meaning the system requires more powerful fans. The result: faster computers that make more noise.

An American computer consultant advises asking the salesperson for information on the number of decibels emitted, before making a purchase. Manufacturers do not advertise noise figures of their own volition, primarily because they have no control over volume levels.

As a rule stronger electrical currents will make the cooling system noisier. It may be worthwhile to replace the computer's power supply and use a more modest electrical power supply of 300 watts, which generally suffices.


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