Noise pollution is a type of energy pollution in which distracting, irritating, or damaging sounds are freely audible. As with other forms of energy pollution (such as heat and light pollution), noise pollution contaminants are not physical particles, but rather waves that interfere with naturally-occurring waves of a similar type in the same environment. Thus, the definition of noise pollution is open to debate, and there is no clear border as to which sounds may constitute noise pollution. In the most narrow sense, sounds are considered noise pollution if they adversely affect wildlife, human activity, or are capable of damaging physical structures on a regular, repeating basis. In the broadest sense of the term, a sound may be considered noise pollution if it disturbs any natural process or causes human harm, even if the sound does not occur on a regular basis.
The prevailing source of artificial noise pollution is from transportation. In rural areas, train and airplane noise can disturb wildlife habits, thereby affecting the manner in which animals in areas around train tracks and airports hunt and mate. In urban areas, automobile, motorcycle, and even entertainment noise can cause sleep disruption in humans and animals, hearing loss, heart disease (as a result of stress), and in severe cases even mental instability. A notable exception to the rule is the electric, or hybrid-electric, automobile. Hybrid vehicles are so quite, in fact, that legislation is pending to actually make them louder. This is in response to numerous injuries in which pedestrians, unaware of a hybrid vehicle's presence, have been struck by such vehicles in parking lots and pedestrian crosswalks.
Although most developed nations have government agencies responsible for the protection of the environment, no nation has a single body that regulates noise pollution. In the United States, regulation of noise pollution was stripped from the federal Environmental Protection Agency and passed on the the individual states in the early 1980's. Although two noise-control bills passed by the EPA are still in effect, the agency can no longer form relevant legislation. In the United States, Canada, Europe, and most other developed parts of the world, different types of noise are managed by agencies responsible for the source of the noise. Transportation noise is usually regulated by the relevant transportation ministry, health-related work noise is often regulated by health ministries and worker's unions, and entertainment noise such as loud music is a criminal offense in many areas. As the bodies responsible for noise pollution reduction usually view noise as an annoyance rather than a problem, and reducing that noise often hurts the industry financially, little is currently being done to reduce noise pollution in developed countries.
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