Sound advice for acceptable living

PUBLISHED : Monday, 05 December, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 05 December, 2011, 12:00am


There is no better way to appreciate the clamour that is Hong Kong than returning from a holiday. The screeching of bus and truck brakes grate, the blare of angry taxi horns irritate, piledrivers and jackhammers send shudders down the spine and the drilling from renovations next door or upstairs - or in all likelihood, in unison - sparks annoyance. Complaints can be made to the Environmental Protection Department or police and a knock on the door may bring a measure of relief, but the reality is that we live in a noisy place. Laws and guidelines can only do so much. Education that stresses consideration is the best means to ensure a measure of solace.

It is the least we can expect. Excessive environmental noise is a public health problem that can lead to more than hearing loss and disturbed sleep. Extended exposure can cause cardiovascular diseases, such as hypertension. Studies have linked it to birth defects and changes to the immune system.

Laws took effect in 1989 and have been gradually strengthened. Authorities claim numerous successes, citing among them the placement of barriers and screens beside busy roads, the use of low-noise pavement surfaces, requirements for new vehicles and rules for construction sites. Despite this, they admit that one million people are still affected by excess traffic noise and how many are prone to daily annoyances from renovation or roadworks, among so many other potential sources, can only be guessed at.

There are those who take a philosophical view, believing that nothing can be done about noise other than getting used to it. But there are internationally-recognised limits, like those suggested by the World Health Organisation, that noise levels should not exceed 70 decibels, for health's sake. Construction piling is usually 110 decibels at 10 metres and levels of 128 decibels are possible in our noisiest districts. The legal system can help give us peace of mind. But tolerance, understanding and considerate behaviour offer the best chance of acceptable living.