Heath v Brighton Corporation (1908) is an early case which highlights the effects of Low Frequency Noise on a plaintiff and the law’s unwillingness to protect over-sensitive or unique sufferers of nuisance. This study will critically evaluate whether mitigation measures regarding low frequency noise are effective in aiding such sufferers, considering what changes in policy have been made to acknowledge this problem.
Complaints of low frequency noise are investigated under the Environmental Protection Act 1990 and enforcement action is only viable if a local authority if satisfied that a statutory nuisance exists (EPA, 1990). Consequently, a decision of ‘Not a nuisance’ is often concluded
If a person with ‘sensitive hearing’ (Guest, 2003) is effected by a noise. (Bell and McGillivray 2008).
Alves-Pereira, M (2005) concludes that low frequency noise is not effectively legislated and investigations of such produce controversial, contradictory and inconclusive results.
Benton (1997) argues that more protective criteria for low frequency noise is necessary and Berglund (et al. 2000) emphasises that low frequency noise effects are less well researched compared to higher frequency noises and existing regulations are unsatisfactory.
Guest (2003) states that research concerning low frequency noise is not conveyed to government departments, whom fundamentally are responsible for establishing legislation concerning noise and vibration, nor to local authority officers whom investigate complaints and enforce legislation.
Benton and Yehuda-Abramson (2002) reported that complainants of low frequency noise consider that they are inadequately served, therefore supporting the scholarly comments mentioned previously.
Dissimilar to the UK, assessment methods which attempt to conclude positive outcomes of complaints towards low frequency noise by determining nuisance, which otherwise would have failed a A-weighted test, are being established by some European countries. (Socialstyrelsen- Sweden, 1996)
Criteria for assessing low frequency noise levels vary from country to country; currently there are no British Standards that specifically refer to the assessment of low frequency noise.
However, DEFRA (2005) has put in place a five year research programme, Commitment 4, which looks at noise problems. This includes ‘The development and application of a Procedure for the Assessment of Low Frequency Noise Complaints’ which offers local authorities a methodical procedure to help environmental health practitioners to determine whether low frequency sound might be expected to cause disturbance and to form their own opinion on low frequency noise cases. (Moorhouse, 2005)
It is important to note however that this does not provide a prescriptive indicator of nuisance nor a set of criteria. (Moorhouse, 2005)
This proposed guidance suggests that readings Leq,T, in the third octave bands between 10Hz and 160Hz should be taken, for comparison with a criterion curve, to identify bands which exceed the curve. The guidance therefore acknowledges the importance of characterising the distribution of acoustic energy over the frequency range, instead of merely relying on comparable dB measurements. (Moorhouse, 2005) (Møller (1987)
This is important as bodily organs are not equally affected by acoustic energy through the frequency range; alternatively individual bodily organs have their own resonance frequency. Therefore, excluding a frequency spectral analysis could fundamentally generate false evaluation of noise and may hinder diagnoses of the cause of nuisance. (Alves-Pereira, M et.al, 2005)
It is important to note the limitations of existing European methods, some failing to fully appreciate the importance and analyze fluctuation and roughness (Broner and Leventhall, 1983) (Bradley, 1994) due to the resulting noise level being averaged over time. (Zwicker and Fastl, 1999). The DEFRA Guidance (2005) acknowledges this and suggests that readings are taken in L10 and L90 in the same bands, including a 5dB penalty to compensate, to provide information about the character of the sound and how it fluctuates which can be useful in analysis.
Initial approximation of low frequency noise can be obtained by comparison of ‘A’ and ‘C’ weighted measurements with a difference of 30dB highlighting a significant low frequency element. (Noise Review Working Party BATHO Report) (Broner, 1979; Kjellberg et al., 1997)
There is concern with regard to the difference between the two weightings especially when levels are low, probably below threshold as these will fashion an unreliable prediction. (Geoff Leventhall, 2003)
In contradiction, the DEFRA Guidance suggests a more in depth investigation and provides a set of values for the frequency range, which if exceeded may indicate a source of low frequency noise. This in comparison with complainant’s logs and sound recordings played back at amplified levels could identify a possible disturbance.
It is common that low frequency sound level measurements are obtained using A-Weighting so as to mirror an average person’s audible threshold range. Fundamentally, this range usually focus’s on higher frequencies thus making the weighting unsuitable for investigations on low frequency noise. Schust,M (2004)
To combat this issue, Berglund,B. et al, (1999) suggested that measurements should be based upon C-weighting which has a higher low frequency content.
DEFRA (2005) does recognises the use of ‘C’ weighting to monitor lower frequencies,
however fails to advise in relation to how such C-weighted readings can be used to prove a statutory nuisance. It is acknowledged that the nuisance law in relation to noise adopts dB(A) to determine statutory nuisance. (McCullough, 2005) A study by Guest, H (2003) suggests that Environmental health Officers will adapt results taken using C-Weighting to establish the A-Weighting equivalent, so as to use in relation to legislation. This fundamentally negates the effect of using the appropriate C-Weighting and highlights the need for further research in formulating conversions between the weightings or adapting legislation and the use of dB(A) in low frequency nuisance cases.
Some UK authorities adopt LFNR curves developed by Broner and Leventhall to assess low frequency. (Leventhall, 2003)
Alternatively, the DEFRA Guidance provides its own criterion. (DEFRA, 2005)
Vercammen (1989;1992) considers infrasound, sound below 20Hz, and suggests that, in accordance with ISO7196:1995E ‘Acoustics – Frequency-weighting characteristics for infrasound measurements’, G-Weighting should be used to measure infrasound. It is specifically designed for infrasound as unlike C Weighting; it adheres to assumed hearing contours with a slope of 12dB per octave down to 2Hz. This standard is used in some countries but not in the UK.
Despite acknowledged that infrasound, can be audible, DEFRA (2005) fails to mention infrasound and ways in which such noise should be investigated.
The World Health Organization has recognised that the existing standard assessments adopted for environmental noise is deficient for low frequency components. (Berglund et al., 2000).
In establishing a criteria, DEFRA have related annoyance ratings to annoyance measurements. (Belojevic and Jokovljevic, 2001).It is a concern that measurements will only identify a part of the annoyance complex, especially when considering low frequency. (Kalveram ,2000)
The DEFRA Guidance criterion curve, below 31.5Hz, is based on average threshold of audibility for steady sounds because individual thresholds vary considerably. In addition, sounds with an Leq lower than the threshold curve does not necessary mean that they are inaudible to the complainant nor can it be dismissed as a nuisance. (Moorhouse, 2005)
It is therefore important to conclude that this guidance does not fully take note of the complexity of annoyance. An effective criteria for tackling noise nuisance under statute law should take into account all aspects of annoyance including all acoustic features and social moderating values, not merely rely on the comparison of dB or average levels as this will hide annoying characteristics. (Guski, 1999) (Adam, 1999; Andresen and Møller, 1984; Broner and Leventhall, 1978b)
An alternative approach adopted by DEFRA has been to focus on aiding sufferers of low frequency noise by developing ‘coping’ strategies including Computerised Cognitive Behaviour Therapy. It is thought that such stress and distress caused can help sufferers learn to cope via psychotherapeutic interventions. (Defra, 2009).
(9)A recent study by Leventhall, G et al. (2008) suggested that the programme has shown encouraging signs and participants whom took part in a case study did report an ‘improved Quality of Life and improved Coping with Life’. However, it is important to emphasise that this study only consisted of a small control group and so results are inadequate to deduce that cognitive therapy is a decree to rely upon solely.
The UK has progressed towards tackling low frequency noise issues, highlighted by the DEFRA Guidance (2005).
The guidance adheres to conform to the principles of good practice regarding low frequency, understanding the importance of adopting correct weighting for measurements, ‘C’ weighting’, analysing the distribution of energy over the frequency range and analysing fluctuation.
In contrast, the guidance does not account for infrasound nor does it account for all spectrums of annoyance by implementing average hearing thresholds as a comparison tool.
In addition, it is important to acknowledge that this document is only anticipated to present a process to aid local authorities determine whether a low frequency noise exists and does not grant a prescriptive indicator of nuisance.
It is therefore the case that further research needs to be conducted into all matters related to low frequency noise so as to develop a prescriptive indicator of nuisance.
DEFRA has recognised the importance in aiding sufferers and have implemented coping strategies which include cognitive therapy. This is relatively new and its potential to suffice remains un-seen.
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