Deafening noise

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Researchers warn that urban noise pollution will exact a severe toll on Ho Chi Minh City eardrums


Dense traffic at the Hang Xanh crossroads in Ho Chi Minh City. Doctors warn that the city's excessive lvel of noise pollution is a threat to the hearing of residents.

Nguyen Thi Thanh Huong sold her house on Pham Hung Street, early this year, due to the excessive noise created by passing vehicles and nearby eateries.

"It's noisy all day and night. I can close the door to prevent dust from pouring in but there's no way to keep out the noise," said the 49-year-old housewife whose house sat on the main road connecting District 5 with districts 7 and 8.

"I could feel my house shaking from the passing trucks," she said adding that she has lived on the street since 1999 when endless noise wasn't a problem.

Huong now lives on a smaller, quieter street.

Residents all over the city now complain that noise pollution has reached "alarming" levels over the past several years, due to dense traffic, indiscriminate advertising and construction.

Nguyen Van Ba said his neighborhood in Binh Tan District has been steadily flooded with noisy factories over the past decade.

Work continues late into the evening, preventing most of the residents of Binh Tri Dong A Ward from getting any sleep.

"Our sleep only begins when they stop work, at 10 p.m. everyday," said Nguyen Thi Phuong, who lives next to a helmet factory. "We don't sleep on the nights when they work an extra shift."

Several studies have sounded alarms on the rising levels of noise pollution and a total lack of code enforcement. In the meantime, doctors warn that all the noise will invariably take its toll in the form of mass hearing loss.

Noisy city

According to state limits on noise levels in residential areas, the maximum allowable noise frequency is 75 decibels (dB) during the daytime, 70 dB from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. and 50 dB from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.

However, recent surveys have found that the limits are routinely violated round the clock.

The city's noise code is typically exceeded by 3.1 dB during the daytime, 6.5 dB in the evening and 20.5 dB at night, according to a recent survey conducted by the National Institute of Occupational and Environment Health.

Dr. Do Hong Giang of the HCMC Ear-Nose-Throat Hospital said that doctors there are conducting a survey on the noise environment of traffic police, fabric manufacturers and industrial machinery maintenance workers.

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Their initial findings show that those subjects that work more than seven hours per day suffer significant hearing loss, Giang told Phu Nu (Women) newspaper.

"Half of miners lose 50 percent of their hearing by the time they reach 50 years of age," he said. "Residents living in areas with high noise pollution suffer hearing loss earlier than others."

Professor Nguyen Dinh Tuan, dean of the HCMC Natural Resources and Environment College, recently released the results of a study in which 150 noise monitoring devices were installed along 30 streets.

"Noise levels have exceeded the allowable levels all day and night on every street," he said.

In addition to traffic sounds, HCMC residents suffer excessive noise exposure from commercial loudspeakers which have become a common fixture in the city, over the past several years.

Tran Van Men, an 83-year-old resident of Truong Chinh Street said he has been "tortured" every day since a number of electronic stores opened near his house.

"They compete with each other by blasting high-volume loudspeakers in front of their stores," he said. "I have been living at a relative's house for the past year to avoid them."

Deaf ears

Doctors say that while the population has grown accustomed to urban noise pollution, continuous exposure to loud noise ultimately leads to hearing loss.

"We often see patients suffering from stress created by working and living in a noisy environment for long periods," said Dr. Tran Duy Tam of the HCMC Mental Hospital. "They tend to have bad tempers and can become angry for no reason."

Dr. Dinh Quang Thanh of the HCMC Physical Therapy and Occupation Disease Hospital said that human hearing ranges from 0 dB to 125 dB. However, it's difficult to hear sounds below 40dB while sounds of more than 105 dB can damage the listener's capacity to perceive sound.

"Frequent contact with noise can also increase the heart rate and blood pressure," he said.

Prof. Tuan of the HCMC Natural Resources and Environment College said that those who are regularly affected by noise can't concentrate well and lose their ability to perform well at work.

"Apart from diseases of the circulatory system, they gradually become less sensitive to noise which is an early stage of deafness," he said.

Although there's been no official survey on the link between deafness and urban noise pollution, experts believe that the number has been increasing.

According to a 2009 government decree on the punishment of noise violators, those who generate excessive noise are eligible to receive fines of between VND2 million (US$97.3) and VND100 million. Violators' business licenses can also be temporarily revoked until they pledge to obey the law.

However, few fines have been issued and even fewer licenses have been revoked.

Enforcement agencies say they don't have the equipment to detect and identify violations.

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