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Noise pollution has been around for a long time. There’s even a reference going back to the 3rd millennium B.C., in The Epic of Gilgamesh: “The uproar of mankind is intolerable and sleep is no longer possible by reason of the babble.”

Noise, often defined as unwanted sound, is not always determined by the loudness of the sound. Someone attending a loud parade may welcome the sound, whereas dripping from a leaky faucet at 3 am could drive the same person crazy. Other kinds of unwanted sounds could come from nearby construction, a neighbour’s dog, idling vehicles, skate boarding or a stereo.

For some people, noise is a major source of stress that can lead to serious health problems. Like other kinds of pollution, it has a toxic effect. As a result, by-laws have sprung up in municipalities across Ontario to help preserve, protect and promote the public health, safety, welfare and the peace and quiet of residents.

These bylaws typically identify kinds of noises, and prohibit them at various times and places. The City of Kingston’s noise by-law, for example, distinguishes between noises from construction equipment, garbage trucks that pick up bulk solid waste, shouting, and stereos, among others.

In Kingston’s residential areas, noise from construction equipment is prohibited from 5 pm of one day to 7 am the next, and anytime on Sundays and Statutory Holidays. For the garbage trucks with the big fork lifts, the hours are the same, except they can make noise on Sundays and holidays. Yelling, however, is only prohibited from 9 pm of one day to 7 am the next, except on Sundays when it’s prohibited until 9 am – a couple of extra hours to sleep in. And if loud, unwanted music is blasting from a neighbour’s home, it’s not allowed at any time.

Many bylaws also establish zones where the times may differ. “Quiet Zones” in Toronto are much more stringent than in general residential areas. They even prohibit the operation of noisy remote controlled cars.

Sometimes noise is intolerable even if it meets the bylaw; in such cases, neighbours can sometimes get relief in the civil courts. A group of 33 residents in the Hamlet of Sparta (15 km Southeast of St. Thomas) successfully took a nearby raceway to court. The bylaw permitted noise from the raceway except between 10 pm and 9 am, but the court agreed that the neighbours should also be entitled to peaceful Sunday mornings. Racing is now prohibited until 1 pm on Sundays and the neighbours were each awarded damages of $1,000 per year for the noisy Sundays of the previous six and a half years (see www.envirolaw.com for details).

What can you do if noise from local industries is driving you crazy? A group of residents in Colabogie, a rural community in Greater Madawaska, are fighting a race track and have created a noise complaint filing procedure that others could adapt. (see www.savecalabogie.com). Another useful website is Gravel Watch Ontario, www.gravelwatch.org/noise.htm.

Not all municipal noise bylaws are the same, so, it’s always best to check what rules apply in your neighbourhood. Many are posted on municipal websites, but you can always call your local municipal office to get information. Enforcement is usually done by police or bylaw enforcement officers, who issue tickets to offenders; in some municipalities, the fines are more than $100. In addition, noise from any one place that persistently exceeds background (traffic) may be regulated under the Ontario Environmental Protection Act; you can file a complaint with your local Ministry of the Environment office.

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