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Russia: Moscow's Noise Pollution Reaches Dangerous Levels

  • Chloe Arnold

http://gdb.rferl.org/A84FAC39-2184-453C-9D23-7C9A9E8DF19A_w203.jpg --> http://gdb.rferl.org/A84FAC39-2184-453C-9D23-7C9A9E8DF19A_mw800_mh600.jpg Heavy traffic, noisy city (AFP) MOSCOW, September 19, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- The sound of ordinary life in Moscow is being drowned out by the noise of heavy traffic, aircraft, and round-the-clock construction work.

A new report produced by Moscow's Environmental Health Service has found that noise pollution in Moscow has reached critical levels.


Seventy percent of Muscovites live in unacceptable noise conditions, according to the report, which points to the detrimental effects of traffic and construction noise on the city's health.


The city's environment watchdog is warning that noise pollution has reached unprecedented levels and is recommending better sound insulation for buildings, and stiffer fines for persistent noise polluters.


Polina Zakharova works for Moscow's Environmental Health Service, a department of City Hall. In a recent interview with RFE/RL, she struggled to compete with the noise of the traffic on Moscow's busy Novy Arbat street 22 floors below.


"This is a real problem for our city. Now, about 70 percent of the territory of Moscow is considered to be a zone of noise discomfort, created by construction sites, road traffic, and aircraft," Zakharova says." In some places, the level of noise is above the recommended level for the Russian Federation by between 10 and 25 decibels."


Dangerous Levels


According to Zakharova, the recommended level of acceptable noise should be below 55 decibels in the daytime, and 45 at night. In Great Britain, laws require hearing protection to be worn if the noise reaches 85 decibels -- a level regularly found on Moscow's busier streets.


The Environmental Health Service receives more than 300 complaints a year about excessive noise -- a figure that is growing by about 12 percent every year, Zakharova says. Ninety percent of the complaints are about transport and construction work, the rest are concerned with noisy restaurants and bars, or neighbors who play their music too loud.


"We hear it sometimes, but we've long stopped taking any notice. Anyway, what would be the point of complaining? Do you really think they would do anything about it?"


Muscovites who are affected by noise can currently ring a 24-hour hotline and a team of experts will assess the level and decide whether it is acceptable. But Zakharova admits the service is limited. The team consists of just seven people, who monitor sound levels across the city.


"We want the violation of acceptable noise levels to be taken more seriously. There are two organizations which have the power to impose fines," Zakharova says.


"The police can fine individuals, while the Federal Service for the Oversight Of Consumer Protection and Welfare can fine establishments, like night clubs and cafes and also construction sites. In order for people to take this problem more seriously, we are recommending that the fines should be increased."


Fines


Currently, noisy individuals are fined 100 rubles ($4), while companies must pay just 10,000 rubles. Often they pay the fine and continue to make the noise.


Zakharova says the health effects of noise pollution are well established.


"Our own epidemiologists and those working abroad have found that adverse noise levels greatly affect one's health. Constant exposure to increased noise can affect your nervous system, it can mean you find it hard to sleep, and it can also affect your blood pressure and your heart," Zakharova says.


But despite the Environmental Health Service's recommendations, noise levels in Moscow are unlikely to decrease. Car ownership has soared in recent years as salaries have increased, and Russia's vast oil wealth has fueled a construction boom in Moscow.


In the streets surrounding RFE/RL's Moscow office, no less than 12 construction projects are currently under way. But Muscovites seem resigned to their noisy environment. Irina works in an office that backs onto the construction of a new bank.


"We don't notice the noise. We're used to it. I used to live in one place and then I moved, and the next place was even noisier. To begin with I really felt it, but then I grew accustomed to it. But it really does have an effect on your nervous system. It starts to wear you down after a while," Irina says.


Meanwhile Lilia, a pensioner taking her granddaughter for a walk, was forced to shout above the noise of a passing police car.


"Oh, this is one of the quieter streets in the neighborhood. These little streets are very quiet. We just live here; we don't hear it in our homes," Lilia says.


"We hear it sometimes, but we've long stopped taking any notice. Anyway, what would be the point of complaining? Do you really think they would do anything about it?"

RFE/RL Russia Report


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