The very fact that the first set of rules to be legislated and applied by the Environmental Management Authority (EMA) attempted to address the noise pollution phenomenon suggests that perhaps the Government felt it could be less difficult than, say, the air, water and hazardous/toxic materials pollution problems.
The noise pollution rules have been in force for a decade, hence the key question? Have they made any difference? I am not aware of any recent objective surveys of current noise pollution in comparison with earlier ones, but subjectively, and from reading many public complaints, I am inclined to the view that the noise pollution levels must be higher and more widely suffered and now out of control.
What may be the most worrisome development is the creeping official attitude of officialdom that I referred to in last week’s column where the Acting Deputy Chief Fire Officer publicly admitted that it is in effect impossible to control the emerging fireworks menace, despite specific provisions for discharge of fireworks in the Summary Offences Act. Anyone reading his comments will see that they are directed at the safety of the noise polluters with some guidance for protection of pets and a muted appeal for consideration of the elderly.
More recently there was an advertisement from T&TEC along similar lines mainly for protection of its equipment in association with fireworks and for safety of the noise polluters, all of whom are breaching the law. This is perhaps to be expected as shortly after the Act was originally explained the then minister responsible for the EMA openly suggested in Parliament that voluntary compliance was the preferred path.
One does not necessarily have to be a medical practitioner to understand the negative effects of noise pollution. Some sounds and noises, natural or man-generated, can be tolerated provided that the duration is short. Some may even be soothing and pleasing as, for example, the sound of the surf, or wind through the trees, a waterfall, rain on a “tin” roof, bird song or even the calls of frogs or insects.
The problem with noise pollution lies in its frequencies, duration and the intensity. But depending on the nature of the noise pollution, coming from fireworks, bars, fetes, churches, construction, factories, traffic, aircraft, political meetings, sports events, barking dogs, burglar alarms and even loud talking people, such pollution can cause a range of reactions from simple annoyance and avoidance to temporary or even permanent damage to the physiology and general mental health of humans.
While there are undoubtedly many persons who habituate to some forms of noise pollution my guess is that there are far many more who suffer anything from irritation, anger, sleeplessness, panic and emotional stress, and certainly some who will suffer more severe stress, depression, hypertension and hearing defects.
As mentioned above a defence against noise pollution is avoidance. Much easier said than done, given our culture and official attitudes. Exactly how is a family in Woodbrook or elsewhere living in a house for decades supposed to avoid the noise generated for several hours each night coming from a similar residential structure next door converted into a noisy bar or religious assembly place? The options are impossible — move to another residential area and face similar problems, or sound proof their home or parts thereof.
In the past the core question with noise pollution, or for that matter any form of pollution has been the attitude of incumbent administrations to their responsibilities to pass the necessary legislative instruments to control it, and to ensure that the state agencies responsible meet their responsibilities under such legislation for enforcement of the law.
Pollution control legislation under the EM act so far is limited to noise pollution and water pollution from businesses of certain kinds.
There is as yet nothing significant that applies to air pollution, hazardous wastes, toxic wastes or household wastewater, although some relevant legislation has been drafted and held up in bureaucratic processes.
The irony of the issue is that noise pollution is the most easily tackled of the pollution problems. To control water pollution it is absolutely necessary to pinpoint the source, which may involve entering private property, while with toxic and hazardous waste dumping you really have to catch the polluter in the act. In contrast metering noise levels is easily done, even more easily effected than singling out drinking/drunk drivers and administering a breathalyser test.
The noise level standards are already well established in our law and the only thing that is necessary is a more rigorous system of noise monitoring, prompt and strict enforcement with penalties for breaches, comparable with those for drunk driving or use of cel phones or other electronic devices while driving a vehicle, and there should be minimal variation permissions and certainly no exemptions.
The Revised National Environmental Policy is supposedly based on the polluter pay principle, even as the victims of noise pollution continue to suffer and pay for it. The existing law is as inadequate as its enforcement.
Extracted From: Trinidad Express Newspaper