Hear no evil
Noise pollution is worse than ever. But there is something you can do about it
Pop* is a ceramic artist who likes a calm serene environment to work in. So when her neighbours turned her quiet street into party central, Pop had to ask them to turn the music down.
But instead of respecting Pop's right to quietude, the revellers got mad. Pop was physically assaulted and hospitalised for several days. Ultimately, she decided to move home.
Pop isn't alone. These days, noise pollution is almost everywhere -- from traffic to construction sites, digital advertising to aeroplanes. In some cases, the noise is far more than just an irritant.
Take the recent high-profile case at Mathayomwatsing School in Bangkok's Chom Thong district, when a group of 24 men stormed the school while 248 students were taking their General Aptitude Test and Professional and Academic Aptitude Test. The attack took place after the school had asked people at an ordination ceremony at neighbouring Wat Sing to turn down their loudspeakers so as not to disturb the students. Some 12 people were injured.
A study last year by the Thailand Research Fund found that of all official complaints lodged nationwide, around 33% concerned noise pollution. These complaints mostly involved noise from intoxicated people, quarrels, motorcycle racing, parties and entertainment venues. According to the records of the Pollution Control Department, the number of complaints in the capital is higher than in other cities. In 2016, 92 out of 253 complaints were made in Bangkok compared to only six in Chiang Mai.
Krittika Lertsawat, founder of the Sound Good Project which publishes academic articles related to noise pollution, said noise can be divided into five broad categories: transportation, industry, construction, recreation and neighbourhood.
"Most complaints concern neighbours who have parties or drink and then make a lot of noise. There are also complaints about the noise of neighbours' home appliances such as air conditioners or water pumps. However, we've found that many people don't complain when they are disturbed by noise. They think it can't be helped. They choose to be patient until they get used to the disturbances," Krittika explained.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), exposure to noise levels higher than 85 decibels (dB) is harmful. Our everyday environment can expose us to dangerously high noise levels, even leading to hearing loss. While normal conversation or background music is only 60dB on average, the noise from motorcycles is about 88-95dB. Pubs can be as high as 85dB, cinemas 88-95dB, discotheques 120-140dB and sirens 140dB.
And high noise levels can be damaging mentally as well as physically.
"One study found that loud noise makes us more alert and subsequently our heart beats faster. If our body is stimulated non-stop, it can lead to heart diseases or stress because we don't have enough rest," according to Oraya Sutabutr, founder of Quiet Bangkok, a group which raises awareness of noise pollution.
Krittika and Oraya agree that a significant issue regarding noise pollution is the fact that many Thais do not understand privacy rights.
"Most Thais are considerate, especially if they have known one another for some time. When neighbours are loud, many don't complain because they don't want to be seen as difficult or outspoken. Thais tend to be patient as a result," Oraya said.
Residents from Kheha Nakhon 2 housing estate protest in front of the Administrative Court against noise pollution from Suvarnabhumi airport, in 2010. (Photo by Pattanapong Hirunard)
She cited a recent case of Thammasat University students at a dormitory in Chiang Rak, Pathum Thani, who were disturbed by loud music from a Buddhist ordination ceremony while studying for exams. One student became so frustrated that she took to social media. At first she was met with threats and abuse, before the hashtag #SaveChiangrak was created by netizens to support her.
"[The people who took part in the ordination] argued that they had celebrated like this for a long time, since even before the students had moved in. This showed that they didn't respect other people's rights," Oraya said.
Although Bangkok has the highest number of noise-related complaints in the country, Oraya believes that people in the capital are actually more considerate than people in the countryside.
"We hardly ever see loud celebrations for Buddhist ordinations in the city. When I ask staff in restaurants or cafes in Bangkok to turn down the music, they do. But staff at places in the countryside look at me like I'm crazy and refuse," she said.
The cases of Mathayomwatsing School and Chiang Rak are two occasions when noise complaints were taken seriously, thanks in part to social media. But in many other cases, people choose to keep their mouths shut. Why? Oraya blames it on legal loopholes, poor legal implementation and ineffective punishments.
The Thailand Environmental Noise Regulation states that the 24-hour average sound level should not exceed 70dB. As a result, people can play music loudly for several hours but avoid falling foul of the law because their average for the day is within the limit. Meanwhile, the maximum penalty is a fine of 10,000 baht and/or one-month jail term.
Oraya wants to see changes to the law.
"The 24-hour average for standard noise conditions should be terminated. Laws should be specific as to what kinds of events can or cannot be allowed at certain times, and for how many hours. Zoning should be implemented. Entertainment venues, for example, shouldn't be allowed in residential areas," she said.
"The law should also specify noise standards for such products as home appliances," Krittika added. "Thai law doesn't have punitive damages. So while cases are in the courts, noise pollution may still be ongoing. In the UK, they can implement a fine of £7,000 (293,000 baht) per day or temporarily suspend the business until they stop offending. This would deter people from breaking the law."
*not her real name
What people can do when they are disturbed by noise levels
Record details (date, time, period, types of noise and sound levels) daily. This can be done in writing, or, even better, through audio or video.
Try to reason with the person or persons responsible
Learn more about noise regulations at pcd.go.th.
Take your case to the police, the press, Pollution Control Department or the Damrongdhama Centre of the Ministry of Interior.
Highlight your case on social media.