Is all this noise pollution in Mumbai hazardous for you?

Oct 02, 2012, 13:08 IST | Ruchika Kher

At a time when the city recorded its noisiest Ganpati see off in a decade, The GUIDE digs deep to analyse how exposure to high decibel zones in urban spaces is increasingly having a hazardous affect on our eardrums. Listen up, people!

Noise levels recorded at Girgaum on September 29 were more than 120db (decibels), which can cause hearing loss with even a 15-minute exposure. If you haven’t taken notice, still, read this — It’s not just the festivities that are affecting our hearing abilities — working, residing, travelling and partying in high decibel zones are also having a dangerous impact on our ears, every day. So, is it the penalty of living in an urban setup? Yes, according to many.


Sound and the city
"Things have changed, drastically in urban areas, in the last couple of years. Today, people are going about their lives, with their earphones plugged into their ears. Plus increased usage of the mobile phone and voluminous traffic are some of the other facts that impact hearing,” says Dr Divya Prabhat, ENT Surgeon. She adds that urbanisation has resulted in an increase in cases with hearing problems. “People in villages don’t have these issues,” she reminds us.

According to experts, any noise above 85-90db risks injury to the ears and louder the noise, shorter is the exposure needed for damage. Continuous exposure to noise up to 85-90db is allowed for only eight hours per day. For every additional 3db, maximum exposure time is halved. According to the Factories Act, however, an exposure of 110db noise is allowed for 15 minutes only, to avoid health damage.

“Sounds above 120db can cause permanent hearing loss and can initiate tinnitus. Normal conversation is at 60 db, heavy city traffic is at 85db, motorcycle is at 95db, and personal stereo at maximum level is at 105dB, rock concert at 110db and firecracker 120-150db. So, just imagine the kind of effect all these things would be having on our hearing,” questions Dr Samir Bhargava, ENT Specialist.

Whose noise is it anyway?
While most people know and understand the harmful affect of noise and try to refrain themselves from such exposures, many get subjected to forced high decibel sounds without choice.

“Everything is a matter of self interest. Many are aware of it and feel the impact. The question is that how do you protect yourself from someone else’s noise because there will always be people who don’t care about others. That’s where law enforcement comes in. I feel awareness is important and a large number of people are aware, but we need to be protected from people who don’t care,” explains Sumaira Abdulali of Awaaz Foundation.

Noise on the job
While most of us have an option of protecting our eardrums through self-control and by adopting various methods, there are few, who can’t avoid the effects of loud sounds owing to their professions. Musicians, DJs, mechanics, traffic policemen, airport ground handlers are a few examples of those who work in high decibel zones and get exposed to high levels of noise on a daily basis.

“I’m a keyboard player and have been playing Rock and Roll for 25 years now. In our early years, there was no knowledge of protection to ears. Our practice sessions used to be a loud affair (still are) and that damages hearing to a large extent. In my right ear, the hearing is much lesser than in the left, and I also, at times, get a sharp ringing tone in my ear, that stays for a few minutes and stops,” shares Subir Malik of the band Parikrama, who now uses ear plugs during practice sessions and also tries to keep the volume slightly low when rehearsing.

The question is that how do you protect yourself from someone else’s noise because there will always be people who don't care about others.
— Sumaira Abdulali, Awaaz Foundation

Echoing a similar tone, DJ Stetson revealed that he was aware of the hazards involved in his profession and hence, decided to use as much protection as possible, from the start. “My profession entails me to listen to music at a high volume and I know that very high volume can be very damaging to the ear canal. So, I use noise-cancelling head phones to listen to music while playing a set, mixing or making changes in the track. I have invested in a good pair of headphones, which even though are loud do not damage my ear canal. I even make sure I am not playing music on the maximum level,” he tells us.

But for some, noise is a daily battle that must be combated even as helpless as it might sound: “This is our job and we have to do it. We don’t pay attention to the noise. What else can one do!” was the curt reply from a traffic policeman at a busy traffic junction in Parel in response in our query about hazards of his duty.

Ground realities at the airport
Not just when a plane takes off or touches down, noise is experienced even when the aircraft is parked, which comes out of the auxiliary power unit. It’s a unit, which is on when the aircraft is on ground and the passengers are boarding and the luggage is being loaded. Although the noise is at a very high level, the airport staff is not exposed to it, continuously, for eight hours. They are exposed to it maximum for 30 minutes and then the plane takes off. Even for this limited period, the staff uses earmuffs, which protects them from loss of hearing. In addition to these areas, the baggage make-up area, which is where the vehicle and trolley movement is witnessed, experiences loud sounds. But ground handlers who work in that vicinity take proper care.
- An airport official

> Avoid exposure to loud sounds for longer than 15 minutes, or wear earplugs if you cannot avoid. They can reduce sound by 15-30db.
>  One should use mobile phones as an emergency tool. Usage of mobile should be as less as possible.
>  Using iPods and listening to loud music through earphones should be cut down
>  Don’t use any pins or sticks to clean the ear.
>  Cold should be avoided. If one gets cold, one should treat it, immediately.
>  Unnecessary antibiotic usage is bad for the ears.


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