Noise pollution & the Graham-Lees dumpsters

Josette Corazza

The first floor of Graham-Lees Hall proves to be a great place to live. However, those on corner of the President’s side can tell you that mornings are our least favorite part of the day. Between 6:30 and 7:00 a.m. every morning, the dump trucks reverse down the walkway to the right of Graham-Lees, beeping all the way, and empty the two dumpsters located directly underneath my window. This occurrence is accompanied by the loud crashes of metal being moved, trash being dumped and the communication of workers shouting to be heard above the din.

I have heard from people on the fourth floor of Graham-Lees that this daily event wakes them from their sleep. It is difficult enough to get enough sleep as a college student, but with the early-morning interruption of garbage disposal, you can forget about a healthy, continual sleep cycle. Some mornings, I feel mild annoyance with the dumpster routine, though I am grateful for the custodial work and understand its necessity. Other times, however, I feel distressed and disturbed by the noise. It wasn’t until recently stumbling upon an article about the growing severity of noise pollution that I began to understand why I was being affected this way.

According to the World Health Organization, noise pollution is the second biggest environmental cause of health problems in humans after air pollution. Because noise is invisible, people don’t consider it in the same terms as other pollutants and generally ignore its effects. The Lancet’s “Auditory and non-auditory effects of noise on health” paper from 2013 states that “noise exposure increases systolic and diastolic blood pressure, changes heart rate, and causes the release of stress hormones.” In other words, loud noises not only take a toll on our tolerance, but also on our nervous health.

According to a Vice article, “multiple studies from 2012 suggested that noise pollution contributed to 910,000 additional cases of hypertension across Europe every year and 10,000 premature deaths related to coronary heart diseases or strokes.” The same 2013 Lancet report claimed that long- term exposure to an average noise level of just 55dB is “thought to be risky for the health.” To put this into context, 120dBs is normally considered the human threshold for pain. According to a noise comparisons chart from Purdue University, garbage trucks rank at 100dBs. This is eight times as loud as 70dB, the arbitrary base of comparison, about as loud as a radio or TV audio.

According to the chart, “serious damage [is] possible in eight-hour exposure” to 100dB noises. Although there is no way that residents of Graham-Lees will be exposed to the din of the morning dump truck routine for more than eight hours at a time, the consequences of this occurrence deserve some investigation. There are potential anxiety-inducing effects of unwanted noise. According to a 2016 paper by the Public Library of Science, “depression and anxiety increase with the degree of overall noise annoyance.” Although there is no evidence that excessive noise will lead one into depression or an anxiety-based disorder, it certainly does not help those who are already predisposed to mental illness.

The early-morning disruption of the Graham-Lees dumpsters is more than just a minor annoyance. Students are experiencing both interrupted sleep cycles and the dangerous effects of noise pollution. We should respect the hard work done to keep our campus clean, and we should understand that the custodial staff must adhere to their predetermined schedule. However, we can broaden our understanding of the tolls that noise pollution takes on nervous health and consider investing in some earplugs to relax in relative silence.