By Mark Harris, Guest Columnist
As you know, all-night-long noises above a particular threshold level in residential areas can severely restrict the academic achievement of children. Yet, in one district in southern Portland, sound system operators too often use the government school after 10 p.m. as their base to rain down their ear-splitting noise on the community residents.
On the night of Monday, October 18, 2010, thundering sounds from a sound system were heard from 7 p.m. until 5:30 a.m. the next morning from a school in southern Portland. The location, on the Upper Wild Cane River and in the district closest to its source, is ringed by hills which exacerbate reverberations.
The pressure of the noise rattled windows and doors in every house within a 30-metre radius like an all-night episodic earthquake, forcing the postponement of a small-scale environmental project in the Upper Rio Grande Valley by depriving tired workers of their entire night's rest. At no time during the disturbance that night did my portable noise recorder show a reading below 110 decibels at a distance exceeding 30 metres from the source - more than twice the allowable threshold for residential areas in OECD countries.
A worker on the above-mentioned project said he could not sleep a wink until 5:30 a.m. Further, unfortunate sleep-deprived secondary students were seen at daybreak commuting 10 miles to Port Antonio schools. The above facts have been replayed several times since that night in 2010.
Recent examples are August 2012, and non-stop from Friday, October 13, to Tuesday, October 18, 2012. For five consecutive days a dancehall sound system belched out excessive noise on the residents, this time over 115 decibels, most of it from the same government primary school. No one in its vicinity reported having slept at any time in those three days. These occurrences from that particular school have, therefore, continued despite a written request I made three years ago to the chairman of that school board, and copied to others, including the principal.
The police at Comfort Castle and Port Antonio failed, as usual, to act on such occasions by responding with "... have no vehicles", or: "Is it a community gathering?" Apparently, the force of this law varies inversely with the size of the group that breaks it. Hopefully, this is not becoming the case with murders.
EFFECTS ON HEARING
But it gets worse. Obviously, persons sanctioning, aiding and facilitating such wanton destruction of children are largely ignorant of the results of their actions.
The impact of exposure to sound pressure levels above 85 decibels (dB) for more than eight hours, or 100 dB for just 15 minutes, damages the hearing. A car horn at 120 dB causes noise-induced hearing loss after just seven minutes. At 160 dB, the eardrum can break instantly, and 180 dB can permanently kill inner-ear tissue.
Available evidence suggests that loud sustained noises can damage even a foetus, causing a premature birth. At the above venue in Portland, several children reportedly placed themselves within five metres of the blaring speakers without ear protection. Insidiously, with increased time of such exposure, high-frequency sounds are not heard by the child.
In speech, high-frequency sounds are the 'sh', 's', 't', 'p', 'k', etc. The affected person may, therefore, hear 'kind' as 'time', etc., and children were observed leaving that school compound at daybreak the following day.
The implications for affected learning are devastating, and may have, at least partially, caused the poor scholastic performances from our children in recent years. If such partially deaf children do experience learning difficulties, what country can afford to inflict such damage on defenceless children?
The Lancet (August 1975) reported that significant hearing losses were detected in a group of students who had a history of frequent attendance at pop music entertainment events. Nevertheless, it was their free choice to travel to those noisy events. Here in Jamaica, the health-destroying noise blasts invade one's dwelling house.
Successful, low-crime societies strictly curtail noises that deteriorate cardiovascular conditions, hearing, distress, concentration, thinking and meditation, thereby lowering work quality and education levels, and consequently decreasing GDP.
Whether or not such environmental noise pollution comes from other schools in Jamaica, the prudent thing is to 'tie finger before it cut'.
It seems reasonable to hereby request tight monitoring and control of noise pollution from our schools. I humbly suggest that school principals be held responsible for unlawful night noises from their schools. This is no different from the practice of educationally successful countries like Japan, Malaysia, China, Australia, and those in the European Union.
Mark Harris is professor, College of Natural & Applied Sciences, Northern Caribbean University. Email feedback to email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.