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Author: George C. Maling Jr.
Noise is a problem in our society, as well as a global environmental problem, that has significant adverse effects on health and the quality of life. Today, there is a substantial gap between the present level of noise and a reasonably quiet environment—in cities, suburban communities, and workplaces. Reducing noise levels, however, raises many challenging technological and policy issues.
In January 2006, a proposal was approved and a study committee, headed by me, was appointed by NAE to investigate the economic and quality-of-life benefits that might be realized through focused efforts to reduce the negative effects of noise. The study will include a description of existing and potential solutions and recommend policies to encourage their development and deployment. Subcommittees are currently collecting, synthesizing, and analyzing information on applications of current technology, research and development initiatives for noise control technology, and intergovern-mental and public-relations programs.
The articles in this issue of The Bridge address some aspects of these issues. In the first article, William Lang and I provide an overview of the engineering and policy challenges to reducing unwanted noise. Several of the areas we touch upon are then taken up in subsequent articles.
For American manufacturers to remain competitive in the global economy, we will need engineers trained in noise control engineering and human responses to noise. Richard Lyon and David Bowen describe the challenges to designing and producing quieter products. Patricia Davies, a professor at Purdue University and an expert in the new field of perception-based engineering, addresses the human aspects of noise reduction and the metrics we use to measure noise. She describes interdisciplinary research on many fronts for addressing the concerns of ordinary people about noise in indoor and outdoor environments.
Transportation noise is pervasive in our world. People are subjected to noise from cars and trucks, freight and passenger trains and light-rail urban transit systems, and aircraft, especially around airports. These issues are discussed in an article by three authors, Ian Waitz, Robert Bernhard, and Carl Hanson.
Finally, Robert Bruce addresses the serious problem of excess noise in the industrial workplace, which causes hearing loss and other health problems for many workers. He describes many available engineering noise-reduction methods that could be used to change the noise environment for millions of workers. However, in many cases, reducing employees’ noise exposure will require new technologies.
Many of the articles also touch on how government responses to noise issues can be improved. Although there is some cooperation among government agencies on the state and federal levels, noise programs, local ordinances, and government regulations can all be greatly improved and better coordinated.
We recognize that the challenges to noise reduction pose great difficulties from a technical and a policy standpoint. However, we also recognize that our country needs to address these issues for reasons of health, individual quality of life, and national economic competitiveness.