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THE LEGAL FRAMEWORK FOR ENVIRONMENT AND PERMISSIBLE NOISE LEVELS

Introduction

The word noise is derived from the Latin term nausea. Noise can be excessive when it either interferes with normal activities such as sleeping, conversation, or disrupts or diminishes one’s quality of life. Therefore, permissible noise limits are usually regulated by laws. The maximum permissible noise levels emanating from premises like residences, mixed-use residential and commercial properties, factories, construction sites, places of entertainment, religious worship centers, etc. are enumerated in the National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency Noise Regulations 2009.

The National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency (Establishment) Act, 2007 established the National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency (“NESREA”) with the primary responsibility of enforcing environmental standards, regulations, rules, policies and guidelines which protect and enhance the quality of our environment.

In furtherance of its set objectives under its enabling law, NESREA in 2009 made a regulation prescribing different penalties attached to infringement of noise regulations. Noise as defined in Regulation 18 of the National Environmental (Noise Standards and Control) Regulations 2009[1] means any unwanted and annoying sound that intrinsically objectionable to human beings or which can have or is likely to have an adverse effect on human health or the environment. The unit of measurement of noise level is in decibels which means a dimensionless unit used in comparison of the magnitude of sound pressures, intensities or powers.

 

Purpose of regulation

The primary purpose of the noise Regulations is to ensure maintenance of a healthy environment for all people in Nigeria, the tranquillity of their surroundings and their psychological well-being by regulating noise levels and generally, to elevate the standard of living of the people by prescribing the maximum permissible noise levels a facility or activity to which a person may be exposed, providing for the control of noise and for mitigating measures for the reduction noise and for giving effect to the provisions of section 22 of the NESREA Act 2007.[2]

Under these Regulations, the agency may seize, impound, confiscate or prohibit the use of any property, tool, machinery or other instrument which is likely to, or has caused the emission of excessive noise, if, in the agency’s opinion the sanction would restore the permissible noise level in the area. Generally, Regulations 17 make provisions for offences and penalties under these Regulations.

 

Premises contemplated by the regulation

The scope of application of the noise regulation covers the following:

  1. Any building used as hospital, convalescence home, home for the aged, sanatorium and institutes of higher learning, conference rooms, public library, environmental or recreational sites;
  2. Residential buildings;
  3. Mixed residential (with some commercial and entertainment);
  4. Residential + industry or small-scale production + commerce;
  5. Industrial (outside perimeter fence);
  6. Factories, workshops and construction sites.

The NESREA Noise Regulations requires all owners or managers of any premises, from which noise emanates, which noise may be over and above the permissible levels, to measure its noise output and to ensure that it is within the maximum permissible noise limits allowed for such an environment.

 

Permissible Noise Levels

The permissible noise limit for residential, semi-residential and small-scale commercial premises range between 50 to 60 decibels during the day, and 30 to 50 decibels at night time. For the purposes of this measurement, daytime is reckoned from 06:00am – 10:00pm, while night is from 10:00pm – 06:00am. This time takes normal human activity into consideration.[3] A decibel is the standard for the measurement of noise. The zero on a decibel scale is at the threshold of hearing, the lowest sound pressure that can be heard, on the scale arc.

 

Control and Mitigation of Noise

The owner of machinery, or the owner or occupier of an industry or mine or any other such facility shall undertake measurements of noise levels within the facility as well as within the ambient environment of the premises using noise level meters, measurement schedules and protocols that meet the Agency’s standard and such data shall be submitted periodically to the Agency at intervals to be determined by the Agency.[4]

No person shall emit or cause to be emitted, or permit the emission of noise resulting from any action or activity specified in the regulation, if that noise is a disturbance to the receptor or in the neighbourhood for more than two minutes or is within the prohibited time in a residential area or Noise Control Zone as determined by the Agency in consultation with State and Local Governments.[5] The action or activities referred to includes the following:

  1. Yelling, laughing, clapping, shouting, hooting, pounding, whistling and singing;
  2. Selling or advertising by shouting or outcry or amplified sounds
  3. Operating any equipment in connection with construction;
  4. Detonating fireworks or explosive devices not used in construction;[6]
  5. Operating any auditory signalling device, including to the ringing of bells or gongs and the blowing of horns or sirens or whistles or the production reproduction or amplification of any similar sound by electronic means; and
  6. Operating or playing a radio or musical instrument or any electronic device or group of connected devices incorporating loudspeakers, transducers or other electro-mechanism, which is intended for the production, reproduction or amplification of sound.[7]

This is without prejudice to the right of the Agency to permit the operation of an electronic of an electronic device or loudspeakers or the emission of noise for purposes of creating public awareness, demonstration, religious assembly, political debate, cinematography, and musical or other theatrical entertainment beauty competition, handicraft show, fair, circus, private dance/party/lecture or public hearing.

 

Enforcement of the Noise Regulation

Complaint may be made to the Agency in writing if a person considers that the noise levels being emitted, or likely to be emitted, may be higher than the permissible noise level or reaching disturbing proportions. ln any such complaint, it is not necessary for the complainant to show or prove personal loss or injury or discomfort caused by the emission of the alleged noise. The Agency shall conduct due investigation and substantiation, take all reasonable steps to ensure that the noise is abated or controlled within permissible levels.

 

Conclusion

Noise can cause hypertension, high stress levels, tinnitus[8], hearing loss, sleep disturbances, and other harmful effects. Notwithstanding the NESREA noise Regulation 2009 there is need to create general awareness towards the hazardous effects of noise pollution. This is more so in our country where the people generally lack consciousness of the ill effects which noise pollution creates ad how the society including themselves stand to be affected by the adverse effects of the generation and emission of noise pollution. Suitable chapters can be added into textbooks, which teach civic sense to the children and teach them how to be good and responsible citizen which would include learning by heart of various fundamental duties and that would obliviously include learning not to create noise pollution and to prevent if generated by others.

The media also plays a key role in dissemination of information, hence the sensitization of the public needs to be done via this channel. NESREA as an agency should also activate and maintain a tollfree helpline to ease the bottlenecks associated with making formal complaints via official channels.

 

 


[1] Regulation 18 National Environmental (Noise Standards and Control) Regulations 2009.

[2] http://www.lead-journal.org/content/12116.pdf

[3] Regulation 2 of the National Environmental (Noise Standards and Control) Regulations 2009.

[4] Regulation 4 of the National Environmental (Noise Standards and Control) Regulations 2009.

[5] Regulation 5 of the National Environmental (Noise Standards and Control) Regulations 2009.

[7] Regulation 5(2)( a-f) of the National Environmental (Noise Standards and Control) Regulations 2009.

[8] (pronounced ti-ni-tis), or ringing in the ears, is the sensation of hearing ringing, buzzing, hissing, chirping, whistling, or other sounds. The noise can be intermittent or continuous, and can vary in loudness.

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