“Noise pollution is an invisible danger. It cannot be seen, but it is present nonetheless, both on land and under the sea. Noise pollution is considered to be any unwanted or disturbing sound that affects the health and well-being of humans and other organisms.” : National Geographic
HOW LOUD IS TOO LOUD?
HEALTH IMPACTS OF ENVIRONMENTAL NOISE
“There is increasing concern about the impacts of environmental noise on health, especially in urban areas. The growing body of evidence indicates that exposure to excessive environmental noise does not only impact quality of life and cause hearing loss but also has other health impacts, such as cardiovascular effects, cognitive impacts, sleep disturbance and mental health effects.”
How Loud is Too Loud suggests construction noise levels can be reduced by quieter methods and equipment, noise barriers, silencers, mufflers, limiting the number of concurrent noise sources and using electric instead of gas powered equipment.
Toronto’s Municipal Licensing Standards Division (MLS) is responsible for the Noise Bylaw and investigates complaints. Toronto’s Noise Bylaw came into effect in 2019. One of the weaknesses of the Bylaw is that it does not specify decibel limits for construction, mechanized lawn care equipment, or amplified sound levels in parks. The noise situation was exacerbated when the Province extended construction hours to allow construction between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. seven days a week, until September 2021.
The 2019 Noise Bylaw did not fully address concerns identified in the 2017 Toronto Public Health’s report, How Loud Is Too Loud?
MLS is reviewing the Noise Bylaw and plans to report on recommended revisions in the spring of 2021. The Toronto Noise Coalition will review MLS’ recommendations in consultation with residents. The Toronto Noise Coalition advocated for much stronger regulations and enforcement to be incorporated in the 2019 Bylaw.
Despite the health risks cited by Toronto Public Health, Toronto’s Noise Bylaw allows unlimited, unsafe noise levels for construction and mechanized gardening equipment in residential neighbourhoods (refer to the Noise Bylaw for details).
- Is it right that shift workers have their sleep interrupted by construction noise?
- Is it right that your backyard BBQ is disturbed by noise from gardeners blowing leaves off lawns?
- Is it right that kids and adults working from home should have their thoughts interrupted by excessively loud equipment?
New York City’s Noise Code takes noise more seriously calling it a “menace”. Noise mitigation plans are a prerequisite for ALL building permits (residential and commercial). Comprehensive noise-abatement measures must be taken, such as jackhammers with noise-reducing mufflers and portable street barriers to reduce sound impacts. The Code requires that construction equipment adhere to permitted noise levels.
In comparison, Toronto does not require noise mitigation plans for building permits except for major construction projects for after hours work.
TWO-STROKE ENGINE GARDEN EQUIPMENT
As a result of citizen advocacy and Councillor Shelley Carroll’s leadership, on October 12, 2020, City Council approved a motion requesting the City Manager, and the Medical Officer of Health, to report in the 1st quarter of 2021 on environmental and health impacts of gas-powered two-stroke engine leaf blowers and other garden equipment, including the feasibility of a year-round ban or a ban from May to September.
HOW NOISE LEVELS ARE MEASURED
Sound intensity, measured in decibels (dB), uses a logarithmic scale so sound intensity grows rapidly. A 20 dB sound is 10 times more intense than a 10 dB one. A 100 dB sound is one billion times more intense than a 10 dB one.
Source: From the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health & Safety
NOISE POLLUTION IMPACTS WILDLIFE
According to National Geographic:
“Noise pollution also impacts the health and well-being of wildlife. Studies have shown that loud noises cause caterpillars’ hearts to beat faster and bluebirds to have fewer chicks. Animals use sound for a variety of reasons, including to navigate, find food, attract mates, and avoid predators. Noise pollution makes it difficult for them to accomplish these tasks, which affects their ability to survive.”
DUST IS A HEALTH PROBLEM, NOT A NUISANCE
“If you and your neighbors inhale silica particles found in the dust, you could experience short-term and even long-term respiratory problems.” : Risks of Inhaling Construction Dust – New York Times
The Ontario Ministry of Labour recognizes that construction dust is a health hazard.
Unfortunately, too many neighbourhood contractors do not make efforts to mitigate construction dust despite the Toronto implementation of the Dust Bylaw enacted in September 2018.
The Dust Bylaw (417-2.1. Dust; general requirements) says that no one should cause or permit dust as part of a residential construction activity to escape a residential property onto another premises. The responsibility to cause or permit dust falls upon the person doing the work and the person who directs the work (this includes homeowners).
Types of residential construction work that often cause dust include stonework and masonry.
“Section 417-2.1. does not apply to: (1) necessary municipal work; (2) work occurring on commercial and industrial properties; and (3) the construction of a multi-residential building, subdivision, or mixed-use development; and (4) a residential demolition project for which an approved demolition permit has been issued.”
HAVE A DUST COMPLAINT?
Toronto’s Municipal Licensing Standards Division (MLS) has the responsibility to investigate complaints. Unfortunately, a response can take days or weeks after incidents are reported, often after work is completed and crews have left the site.
Considering that fines can be as high as $100,000 it is perplexing that people do not follow the Bylaws, and that Toronto lacks a more effective inspection and enforcement system.
DUST CONTROL MEASURES
The Dust Bylaw recommends one or a combination of the following dust control measures:
- wetting the construction material
- using a wet saw
- using dustless saw technology
- tarping or otherwise containing the source of dust
- installing wind fencing or a fence filter
- using a vacuum attachment when cutting
- any other preventative measure deemed adequate by the authorities