City wants to get an earful from you about cutting down on noise

Toronto's Municipal Licensing and Standards is looking to overhaul noise bylaws, which have not been significantly updated in 17 years, as recent research shows noise can actually be bad for your health.

Chronic exposure to high decibel noise is a health threat, recent studies suggest

With booming growth and busy roads comes plenty of jackhammers, leaf blowers and honking car horns. (Trevor Dunn/CBC)

The city of Toronto is holding the first of five public consultation sessions Monday, hoping to get an earful from residents about unwanted noise amid recent reports that it can actually make you sick. 

"A lot of people are chronically exposed to noise levels that pose a health risk," said Tor Oiamo, an assistant professor in the department of geography and environmental studies at Ryerson University, citing studies by Toronto Public Health and the World Health Organization (WHO).

According to the Municipal Licensing and Standards department, the city's noise bylaw (also known as Toronto Municipal Code, Chapter 591) hasn't had a significant overhaul since 2002. City staff will consider all the feedback and have recommendations on what to do with the city's noise bylaws by the fall of 2019.

The five public sessions will each focus on a different aspect of noise pollution.

Monday evening's session will look at power equipment, such as leaf and snow blowers, and what restrictions should be placed on their use.

Other topics will include motor vehicle noise on highways and private property, amplified sound from bars, construction noise and what time restrictions should be placed on building activity and general noise, such as playing instruments and other residential noise.

Tor Oiamo, an assistant professor in the department of geography and environmental studies at Ryerson University, says if the city is looking to get the 'maximum bang for the buck' in terms of noise reduction, it should look at motor vehicles first. (Ryerson/supplied)

Meantime, Oiamo says revisiting the rules and noise standards to protect residents is long overdue.

"The health effects themselves have become quite clear and there's strong evidence to suggest particularly cardiovascular health effects of excessive noise exposures chronically," said Oiamo.

According to the WHO, one in five Europeans is regularly exposed to noise levels that could "significantly" damage their health.

The organization's first report since 1999 looked at new sources of noise, such as wind turbines and "leisure noise" from concerts and sporting events. It also updated recommendations for unacceptable noise levels.

Oiamo says based on new evidence, Toronto and other jurisdictions are looking at revamping noise management action plans using bylaws as enforcement instruments.

"[They] are making sure that noise thresholds are updated with the most recent evidence that exists in terms of health and nuisance," he said.

But noise bylaws are notoriously difficult to enforce. Recently the responsibility to respond to noise complaints shifted from Toronto police to the city's bylaw officers. According to Municipal Licensing and Standards, noise bylaw officers try to respond to complaints within two to five days.

An Ipsos Reid poll commissioned last year by Municipal Licensing and Standards suggests about 46 per cent of city residents are concerned about noise pollution.

An Ipsos Reid Poll commissioned last year by Municipal Licensing and Standards found that about half of city residents (46 per cent) are concerned about noise pollution. Here is a list of the most bothersome sources cited by respondents. (City of Toronto/supplied)

The poll suggests residents are most concerned about noise caused by construction and/or heavy equipment due to residential and commercial building construction.

But Oiamo's research suggests another more common source of noise pollution.

"Power equipment, amplified sound, construction noise — are all generally what I would call point sources or non-mobile sources. Motor vehicles ... constitute the majority of noise that Torontonians are exposed to in general," he said.

Oiamo adds that if the city is looking to get the "maximum bang for the buck" in terms of noise reduction, the motor vehicle category would be the first place to look.

But he admits that it could be a tough sell if it's perceived as another reason to wage a "war on the car."

"It requires very large, potentially systemic sorts of interventions to actually address significantly, whether it's reducing speeds across the city or reducing the number of vehicles in general across the city, which might not be popular for a lot of people."


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