Is noise pollution reversible?

Understanding whether noise pollution is reversible or not is critical in order to fight against this invisible threat that affects us all.

Noise pollution can, for the most part, be reversed, but it’s not as easy as turning down the volume and being done with it, and it certainly wouldn’t be instantaneous, with a full recovery having to be measured in decades.

The consequences of air pollution are obvious, even if the air isn’t polluted at some particular time in a particular place. This is not the case with noise pollution. Everybody can probably understand why living near a military base can be noisy, and problematically so, but shut down that base, or move to a different location, and it could seem like the effects of that noise pollution disappear.

A lot of people have a hard time taking noise pollution seriously because they can’t connect cause and consequence.

If a neighbor is throwing a party and is blasting music at 2am, that is noise pollution. But if the police comes over and shuts the party down, the problem goes away, right? That’s how most people think of noise pollution. They tend to believe it’s not a big deal because we can stop it at any time.

However, things are not that simple. Noise pollution does have long-lasting effects. Even if all noise were to magically cease today, its effects will remain for decades.

Another misconception is that noise pollution only affects those who suffer from it directly. This implies that if you live in a quiet town, or even isolated in a cabin in the woods, noise pollution does not affect you. This is also not true.

I realize I should have probably written this article a long time ago when I created Fight for Silence to raise awareness about this issue. But as they say, it’s better late than never, so let’s dive into it.

How far out does noise pollution have an impact?

“I’m not worried about noise pollution because I live/work in a very quiet environment”.

That’s a claim a lot of people make, and it can even seem like a logical one. However, the consequences of noise pollution reach much further than the noises themselves, which means that virtually nobody is free from its effects.

Think of the case of an airport for example. The neighborhoods around the airport are clearly impacted by the noise of jet airplanes constantly taking off and landing, but that’s not the end of it. Actually, those building closer to the airport might have been designed with that noise profile in mind, and could potentially not suffer from it as much as others further away. Have you ever stayed at a hotel near the airport? They are actually pretty quiet, right? That’s what I’m talking about.

Take the airport of La Guardia in NYC as an example. The airport itself is located in the north of Queens, but according to the National Transportation Noise Map, the noise from the air traffic to that airport can be heard as far as Prospect Park in Brooklyn to the South and the city of New Rochelle in Westchester County to the North. Or as far as Englewood NJ to the West and Kissena Park to the East. That is a good 10 miles in each direction!

If that doesn’t seem like a lot to you, think about the electrical grid. Miles and miles of cables and transmission towers cover the US from coast to coast (and most of the world for that matter). These towers produce a low-frequency noise which is often described as electrical humming. It might not be as loud as a jet airplane, but it runs 24/7, which is a different kind of torture, and still a form of noise pollution that has long-lasting effects on both humans and animals.

How long does the effect of noise pollution last?

What would happen if we could magically flip a switch and turn off all the noises in the world? Would that be the end of noise pollution? No, unfortunately, it wouldn’t be.

Realistically speaking, turning off all noises is impossible, but even if we manage to bring down the most outrageous ones and start living our lives within the ranges that are considered medically safe, there’s a lot of damage that has already been made and that would take decades to recover from.

On the human side, it would take at least a generation. Think about the people who work in some of the loudest jobs there are, who suffer from chronic health issues such as titinnus and others, because of the noises they are exposed to. Those health conditions are permanent, so even if all noises stopped, those people will have to live with the consequences for the rest of their lives.

Now, that’s a direct impact, but if you want to get a little bit more philosophical, one could argue that those health conditions might make those people miss out on certain opportunities and that those missed opportunities will have an impact on their descendants, extending the consequences of noise pollution even further in time.

The effects on wildlife would also remain for many years. Some species have had to modify their migration routes or hunting behavior to avoid intense noise sources. Those who have managed to successfully find alternative routes have adapted, while some that haven’t have gone extinct. That’s a permanent damage the environment will never recover from.

And here too, one has to consider the indirect consequences of these changes. If a certain species changes its behavior, that will mean others that depended on it to survive will have to adapt as well. It’s what’s known as the butterfly effect, and nobody can truly grasp the scope of it.

How long would it take to reverse noise pollution?

There are just too many variables involved to accurately predict how long it would take us to make a full recovery from noise pollution, but the extraordinary circumstances of COVID-19 showed us that if we take action today, the recovery process would, at least, begin right away.

The COVID-19 pandemic was a tragic event in almost every way, but it did show as a silver lining when it comes to reverting noise pollution.

A bald eagle hunts over the Iowa River in downtown Iowa City on Monday, Jan. 13, 2019.

Just a little while after the modern world almost came to a full stop, and the noise levels were suddenly reduced to the minimum, animals started to explore their old ways, showing up in places where they hadn’t been spotted for ages. This was true for ground animals, birds, and also marine life, because let’s not forget that our oceans are also noise polluted.

Seeing dolphins swimming in Venice or Istanbul, thousands of birds flocking to Agua Dulce beach in Lima, Peru, raccoons wondering around Central Park NY, or sea turtles laying their eggs at Phanga Nga district, Thailand, showed us that there is hope for a recovery.


Noise pollution is an invisible threat, and as such, it is often considered less important than other, more visible ones.

This is dangerous.

There is hope to make an almost full recovery from noise pollution, just like we are on our way to recovering from the hole in the ozone layer. But this will only happen if we start taking noise pollution seriously, looking for methods to control it, and implementing them.

It is up to us, with gives me hope and scares me at the same time.

Guillermo Carone. Author at Fight for Silence
Hi there! My name is Guillermo Carone, I’m an architect and urbanist by training, and I’ve been on a quest against noise since 2010, when I moved from the calm and quiet Barcelona, to the vibrant and noisy New York City. I have a special interest in how cities evolve and how to keep them a place for society to thrive.

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