Rutgers University

Rutgers center battles noise pollution nationwide

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Eric Zwerling, director the Rutgers Noise Technical Assistance Center Credits: Nick Romanenko/Rutgers University
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NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ  - Eric Zwerling got a call this week from a man was living next to a fitness center, complaining he repeatedly heard the loud thud heavy free weights and medicine balls hit the floor.

The man was recovering from having a pace maker in his chest and wondering of the impact of the noise from the gym.

“I’ve received thousands of calls,” said Zwerling, director of the Rutgers Noise Technical Assistance Center.

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Over nearly three decades, Zwerling, has fielded calls and traveled nationwide to explain the dangers of loud sounds on people’s lives. He has written noise code regulations for communities from Florida to Alaska and he has trained investigators in all 21 New Jersey counties.

Though noise is often viewed as “a secondary pollutant, or people don’t consider it at all,” Zwerling said, it impacts biochemical, physiological  and psychological health.  

As far back as the 1980s, the federal Environmental Protection Agency found that noise contributed to stress disorders, cardiovascular illnesses, sleep disruption and productivity loss.

However, the EPA later decided the issue was better handled at the state level, according to the agency website.

Working in the Rutgers University Department of Environmental Science, Sterling took over the Noise Technical Assistance Center in 1990, at first working for little or no salary until he could generate funding. It is the only assistance center still operating

The effects of noise pollution, he said, have contributed to cases of  arson, assault, murder, suicide and motor vehicle accidents, often related to sleep disruption.

“The vast majority of Americans are unprotected from noise, and products like jack hammers are being manufactured with unregulated noise," he said.

Noise can range from loud music blasted outdoor to an industrial air conditioning system outside a building to a cars and truck to air travel.

Recently Zwerling studied a case in Ohio where a car wash was built with the exit facing nearby homes, and most of the noise coming out that exit.

“They could have rotated that building to have the exit turned away from the homes,” he said.

Often, he says, noise can be control through simply being consider  surrounding neighborhoods.

Zwerling capsulizes this feeling in his training sessions, telling investigators that people simply should be “civil to each other.”

 

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