WITH MODULATED frequency, we have campaigned on this page for the enactment of noise controls throughout Greater Washington. Today, comprehensive ordinances are in effect in Alexandria and in Arlington, Fairfax and Montgomery Counties.Developed with the coordination of experts at the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, these laws set decibel limits for various sources of noise, prohibit certain earsplitting activities and limit the hours of operation for others. Falls Church and Fairfax City, too, have noise ordinances, though they are more limited in scope. But there has been an eerie silence on this score in the District and Prince George's County.
Ironically, the District started the movement in this area many years ago, when the city's department of environmental services drafted what was then considered a good, enforceable ordinance. But somehow the draft wound up in one of the countless city hall nooks and crannies set aside by the executive branch for losing things. Then, a year ago, Mayor Washington did rediscover the measure, dust it off and send it on to the city council. Hearings were held at mid-year and then . . . silence. Now word has it that the proposal has been redrafted for "consideration" by the council this spring. That's fine as far as it goes. But why doesn't the council simplyset its mind to do it up this spring? Prince George's County might then be encouraged to make it unanimous.
Noise pollution is a serious matter of public health. The Council of Governments' expert on the subject, Donna Dickman, notes in an article in the Janaury issue of Ear, Nose and Throat Journal that an estimated 16 million American workers are exposed to occupational noise levels that endanger their hearing. Moreover, she writes, roughly 40 million people "are thought to be victims of noise levels that frequently interfere with communication, relaxation or sleep." There is also research indicating that noise adversely affects work performance and efficiency.
In addition to legislation, the region can do other things to control noise. We have in mind the indiscriminate use of police helicopters and the indifference of officialdom to burglar alarms and those hellishly loud sirens. (Some of the fire, ambulance and police sirens are so loud tht the noise bounces off buildings and makes it difficult to tell where the emergency vehicles are coming from.) And private citizens can strike their own blows for tranquillity. Dr. Dickman notes that "probably the most effective environmental noise that "probably the most effective environmental noise combatant has remained 'too quiet' for too long. That source of noise control is the individual. Through comparison shopping . . . the individual consumer can alert manufacturers, garbage disposals, vacuums, dishwashers, etc." Such efforts, combined with the continued expertise and regional leadership provided through the Council of Governments, can go a long way toward making Greater Washington a nice quiet place to live in.