While there is a strong temptation among many Americans to dismiss almost any public policy that comes out of Europe, a series of studies there has direct bearing on public health here in Pine Bluff. In the latest issue of the scholarly journal, Noise & Health, Dutch scientists report that prolonged exposure to higher levels of traffic noise contribute significantly to increased likelihood of coronary disease.

While there is a strong temptation among many Americans to dismiss almost any public policy that comes out of Europe, a series of studies there has direct bearing on public health here in Pine Bluff. In the latest issue of the scholarly journal, Noise & Health, Dutch scientists report that prolonged exposure to higher levels of traffic noise contribute significantly to increased likelihood of coronary disease.

Over the last decade, multiple studies also have demonstrated that higher levels of environmental noise cause school children to have significantly higher blood pressure. Other studies have found that prolonged exposure to loud noise had negative consequences for women’s reproductive health, impaired brain development in juveniles, increased levels of anxiety, higher levels of aggression, sleep disturbance, memory deficits and of course, hearing loss.

One group of researchers summarize this body of research in a single declarative sentence: “(Excessive) noise presents a significant health hazard.” Given that the vast majority of scientific research on the topic positions excessive noise as a personal and public health hazard, why is our community so tolerant of needless noise?

There is a perennially vocal group of citizens whose homes and businesses are adjacent to Fourth Avenue train tracks. They have fought for decades to reduce the frequency of train horn warning blasts. The railroad has been long resistant, citing a particular aspect of public — namely not being run over by a train — over the comfort and peace of residents. What results is an ongoing grudge match with few winners.

Then there’s a sustained opposition to the predominance of booming car stereos that many of the town’s young people prefer. Hardly any street in the city is immune to the presence of thundering cars that don’t so much emanate music as irritating low frequency vibration.

Even so, a member of the local judiciary was purported to have characterized the omnipresent din of car stereos as “just cultural.” Cultural it may be, but there are many culturally derived behaviors that are poisonous, destructive and degrading of the community — that we don’t dismiss so readily. Why then has a “culture” of tolerance developed to protect these individuals who are breaking the law, endangering themselves, eroding public health and making Pine Bluff look increasingly like one more wild west urban slum?

What makes all this worse is a fact that local law enforcement is loathe to admit: there is a substantial correlation between cultural prerogatives supportive of excessive loudness and other criminal behavior. In essence, noise scofflaws are trumpeting their proclivity to flout not just the noise ordinance, but other laws as well. Yet, they motivate freely, assailed by threat of apprehension. As the authors of a Department of Justice publication, The Problem of Loud Car Stereos, states, police are concerned not only with the annoyance brought on by this behavior, but also because the noise, “…inhibit(s) drivers’ ability to hear emergency signals on the road.”

The consumer newsletter The Quiet Zone captures both the financial and cultural motives for loud stereos, “…magazines (devoted to car audio), like the boom car systems they sell, are aimed at an audience high on hormones, whose system just isn’t big enough. Sex sells, and sex sells car stereos. The ratio of flesh to fabric of the women photographed in … (the magazine) is greater than 10 to 1. They are selling din by showing skin. Incivility and rebellion also sell car stereos. The enemy is your sleeping neighbor, your parents, anyone over 40, and Peace and Quiet.”

The Quiet Zone publishers are almost right. The enemy isn’t peace and quiet. We, ourselves, are the enemy — just as long as we tolerate the noise.