(Host) The state’s ‘soundscape’ is changing. As Vermonters’ peace and quiet is more frequently interrupted by noise, experts say more communities need to take sound into consideration as they plan for future growth.
VPR’s Steve Zind reports.
(Zind) Ken Kaliski says noise is an environmental hazard just like lead or sulfur dioxide.
(Kalesk) “I see noise as the new pollutant.”
(Zind) Kaliski is with a White River Junction environmental consulting firm called “RSG.” He’s created a map of the greater Burlington area where the streets and highways fan out like purple varicose veins. Their dark streaks indicate noise levels that are in excess of the guidelines established by the World Health Organization. Kaliski says thirty percent of the homes are in areas where noise levels make it difficult to get a good night’s sleep.
At very high levels, noise can be a health hazard. But even at lower levels indicated on RSG’s map, noise can cause stress, irritation and inability to concentrate.
According to the world health organization daytime noise levels above fifty-five decibels constitute a serious annoyance. That’s about the level of our speaking voices. If that doesn’t seem loud enough to bother anyone, think of it this way.
(Blomberg) “Ever had a conversation all day long with somebody you didn’t want to talk with who wouldn’t go away? That’s what the noise can be like for them at 55 decibels!”
(Zind) Les Blomberg is with a national non-profit advocacy group called the Noise Pollution Clearinghouse, based in Montpelier. Standing in his small downtown office, Blomberg picks up a small chain saw.
(Blomberg) “This is battery powered. This is so quiet that you don’t even need hearing protection.”
(Zind) Blomberg says there’s a lot consumers can do to cut down on noise. On a larger scale, he says quieter tires and road surfaces could cut traffic noise dramatically.
Noise is spreading into the countryside as a byproduct of sprawl. Ironically, it’s also one of the unintended consequences of controlling sprawl. As downtown areas are developed for mixed use, Blomberg says residential and commercial interests clash.
(Blomberg) “We get about one150 to 200 emails a week – questions from people in the public. Many, many, many of these are just related to poor planning. You have incompatible land uses right next to each other.”
(Zind) For example, a supermarket that locates loud refrigeration equipment close to the apartment building next door. Or a fitness center in a mall that creates noise problems for an adjacent bookstore.
Ken Kaliski says the answer is for communities to create noise ordinances that are part of town planning – not just intended to help crack down on loud mufflers and blaring stereos.
(Kaliski) “There are very few communities in Vermont that have any decent noise ordinance.”
(Zind) Kaliski says his company’s noise-related business has grown thirty-fold in the past decade. The company does most of its work for industry. In Vermont, their clients are often quarries and gravel pits.
Kaliski and Blomberg both feel that noise is the new pollution frontier. But they sometimes find themselves opposing each other at Act 250 hearings. Kaliski says the Noise Pollution Clearinghouse has unrealistic expectations about how quiet Vermont should be.
Blomberg says Kaliski is too willing to sacrifice quiet and tranquility for development.
Blomberg says the ultimate price of too much noise is a breakdown of community, where individuals and businesses, show little regard for neighbors. Once that happens, he says peace and quiet are difficult to reclaim.
For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind.
(Host) For more information about noise pollution go to vpr.net.