Noise could cause illness or kill: Who would have thought?

“Ahhh…did you hear the racket in the sky, this morning?” Arlene had nudged me off my noonday stupor at an informal seniors philosopher’s group at Marpole Place. “It felt so close, I was afraid the jet would land straight to my bed, not only shattering my ears but also burning me down,” she had raised her voice. Well, at least you haven’t turned deaf or suffered a heart attack, I could have told her but I sensed it wasn’t the moment to allay her agitation.

Marpole where we live, and where she had grown up, sprawls right under the path of Boeing jets taking off and landing at YVR International Airport, a viewing distance west of us. Increased Air Canada flights and more berths for other international airlines, indeed, have raised noise levels these past few years. While Marpole is within city limits, it lies on the extreme south end where downtown hugs the mountains and the North Shore on the opposite side. Hence, residents of condominium, apartment rental, and free standing houses still hug a veritable peace from raucous movement of vehicles and people, as well as bars and late night pubs, downtown.

I do draw loads of settled wind in its grid streets of manicured front gardens, long lines of aged oaks and chestnut trees, and in the spring canopies of cherry blossoms. Hardly anyone loiters in the streets though from early to late evenings in the summer, I do meet couples strolling up and down the grass-trimmed sidewalks, conversing in whispers, except, when close to and passing by the school grounds on 68th Street, which is opened as a park in the summer, squeals of children in the slide and the swing somersault in the air. Other than that in passing, cawing crows, crying seagulls, or the brief call of mourning doves, no noise shatters the neighborhood. Until, planes begin to leave and arrive, and the cops carry out their planned bust.

When Gudrun Langolf, Marpole Oakridge Area Council Society’s chair then, passed around a petition demanding YVR to lessen noise level by any means, I signed half-heartedly. Honestly, none of it bothers me. I lived Manila, haven’t I? She couldn’t have imagined what I’ve lived through in a city where noise seems as natural as breathing. Which explained, perhaps, my half-hesitance to sign the petition; honestly, either I’m rather impervious to occasional piercing sounds and the slight trembling that come with them or I do sleep as the cliché says, like a log—how vivid the image, isn’t it?

Yet indeed, I should be concerned; I could be losing my hearing. Or should I? I can still hear a whisper, and the rustling of organza that hugs the legs, which from zero or total silence, the kind we often experience in mountain tops as a ringing in our ears, nakabinging tahimik, to 30 decibels of the softest whisper. And in normal conversations, already up 60 decibels, I hardly strain to catch a word. Yet, I should be affected when fired up spirited exchanges raise decibel levels 10 times, according to the Noise-induced Hearing Loss website; often I’m not though in bars and discos, where all sounds blare I’d leap out of a door as if from an ejection button.

But a shout or door alarm amid a din especially in enclosures does seem to shatter my ears, the decibel already up by another 10 decibels translated higher into millions through an exquisite process, which the pinna, our visible ear, catching sound that travels through tiny canals with esoteric sounding parts as waves in an inner furry tunnel of nerves to the brain. Learning in the site, too, that an ambulance siren at 120 decibels booms in trillions in the ear, I now understand Arlene’s distraught state.

Her wailing though didn’t end with such extreme exposure to loudness; as well though only muffled, the thump of a neighbor’s teenage son playing his boom box until the wee hours, and an insomniac just above her bedroom scuttling around, hammering whatever on the floor has turned her into a nightly criminal with thoughts of choking both. Sustained, she could fall ill.

Apparently because of its invisibility, it often baffles us to hear of illnesses like psychological imbalance, heart disease and even death as caused by sustained exposure to extreme sound. Who hasn’t experienced temporary deafness during take off and landing on a flight? Or heard of a homecoming seaman who worked in the engine room turned totally deaf. I knew an uncle-in-law, just out of the ICU recovering in a regular ward, died from the sound of a fire alarm due to a freak fire at Manila Doctor’s Hospital.

Warnings about the dangers of “injected loud music” with iPhones and Androids though have seemingly fallen on deaf ears, pun intended. Constant review of anti-noise pollution laws— some going back to the 1930s like in Vancouver—through activism has yielded from City Hall a list of such unimagined culprits as fitness classes, idling vehicles, buskers and street musicians, and yes, school yards, with ancillary information on what office or agency to call if feeling endangered. Yet, told about it, Arlene had raised her brows, “who would have thought we’ve come to this?” she asked. I nodded, indeed.

Published in Peregrine Notes by Alegria Imperial, Business Mirror Philippines, August 17, 2013