There are many facets to a healthy environment. When thinking about protecting children from environmental health hazards, perhaps the chemicals in cleaners and bug sprays may be the first things that come to mind for you; or perhaps air pollution or Lead. Another important facet that you may not have considered is protecting children from noise pollution. As the mother of two young children and the National Director of the Eco-Healthy Child Care® (EHCC) program, I strive to make sure that the places my children live, learn, and play are as healthy and safe – and that includes keeping them away from harmful noises and noise levels.
Noise pollution is any unpleasant noise created by people or machines that can be annoying, intrusive, and/or physically painful and harmful to one’s health. Many occurrences in our daily lives constitute as noise pollution, such as road traffic, jet planes, garbage trucks, construction equipment, manufacturing processes, lawn mowers, or leaf blowers. Indoor sources can include boom boxes, heating and air conditioning units, and even metal chairs scraping on floors.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, noise pollution is an increasing public health problem for children and adults alike. It can lead to hearing loss, stress, high blood pressure. It can even interfere with sleep, speech, and productivity. Both the World Health Organization and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency also recognize that noise pollution can be detrimental to our health. Young children are especially sensitive to the harmful effects of noise pollution because they are at a critical age for brain development. Children exposed to noise pollution while trying to learn may try to tune out the unpleasant noise, but unfortunately, they may also learn to tune out a teacher or caregiver’s voice. Consequently, they are more likely to experience reading delays, difficulty with language skills, and problems with attention and concentration. Children who spend time in noisy areas also tend to have higher resting blood pressure and higher stress levels than children who live, learn, and play in a quieter environment.
Fortunately, you can reduce the harmful effects of noise pollution for children in your care. Below are some eco-healthy tips for reducing noise pollution and mitigating its harmful impacts:
- Close windows and doors to decrease outdoor noise pollution when lawnmowers, leaf blowers, and garbage trucks are running. Be sure to open windows again after the noise has passed for good ventilation.
- Install noise absorbent materials such as wall quilts or cork boards on walls and ceilings, especially walls that might be adjacent to noisy neighbors.
- Play music intentionally and as a main event or learning activity, but not as background noise. Try to keep the surroundings as quiet as possible during nap time by closing windows, turning off music, and setting the nap area as far away as possible from noisy activities.
- Provide headphones for learning activities that involve music or other listening activities and teach children early about what a healthy volume is for listening (see EHCC’s Noise Pollution Fact Sheet at www.cehn.org/ehcc/factsheets for a guide of healthy and unhealthy noise levels).
- Make your voice heard when it comes to noise pollution! Work with neighbors, city or county officials, and parents to address noise at the source and request that noisy activities are adjusted to promote a healthy child-care setting!