Senator Mark O. Hatfield


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Domestic Policy:

October 12, 1972

Congressional Record - Senate: Pages 35,416 - 35,417


[From the Congressional Record, June 21, 1971]

Noise Control Act of 1971 - Amendment


Amendment No. 216

(Ordered to be printed and referred, jointly, to the Committees on Commerce and Public Works.)

Mr. HATFIELD, for himself, Mr. HART, and Mr. CRANSTON, submitted an amendment intended to be proposed to the bill (S. 1016), to control the generation and transmission of noise detrimental to the human environment, and for other purposes.

Mr. HART. Mr. President, the evidence is accumulating that yet another form of pollution has reached serious levels. I refer to noise. Noise is more than a nuisance: Excessive noise, I am told, is a serious hazard to us physically, mentally, and economically. Too much noise can result in temporary or even permanent, damage to our hearing. Nighttime noise disturbs sleep, while noisy places of work reduce the efficiency of workers. Noise can also influence property values as anyone who lives on the perimeter of an airport or foundry can tell you.

Congress took a major step last year when it created the Office of Noise Abatement and Control in the Environmental Protection Agency. S. 1016, the Noise Control Act of 1971 proposed by the administration, is a further important step in controlling this problem. The President is to be commended for his efforts to bring the seriousness of this problem to the attention of the public and for his commitment to promote an environment which is free from noise that jeopardizes the health and welfare of the citizens of this Nation.

As I join with the distinguished Senators from Oregon (Mr. Hatfield) and California (Mr. Cranston), to introduce several amendments to S. 1016, I think we should pay tribute to our colleague in the House of Representatives, the distinguished Congressman from New York (Mr. Ryan), who has long been a leader in this field. We thank him for the considerable guidance he has given us in developing our thoughts on noise pollution and its control.

The amendments to S. 1016 which we offer today are, we believe, in harmony with the stated goal of that bill. The amendments requiring the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency to set certain noise emission standards within a specified time are designed merely to help him implement the original intent of the law. The addition of a citizens suit provision similar to that in the Clean Air Act amendments passed last year is meant to provide an additional vehicle for the enforcement of noise standards. The citizen will be further benefited, it is hoped, by the requirement that products used in and around the home have labels telling the actual level of noise generation. Thus the consumer will be able to choose products on the basis of their noise generation characteristics as well as price, color, and so forth.

Mr. President, the time has arrived to take positive action toward controlling undesirable noise. The administration has come forward with a very useful proposal. The House began hearings on that proposal and several others last week. The Environment Subcommittee of the Senate Committee on Commerce is scheduled next week to begin consideration of S. 1016 and the amendments introduced today. Let us hope that the momentum of our present efforts will not be lost, but will result in the swift passage of legislation necessary to protect the citizens of this Nation from the hazards of excessive noise.



The national effort to restore our deteriorating environment has unfortunately neglected one of our most devastating and most common pollutants - noise. Excessive noise threatens not only our emotional well being, but as these hearings will establish, noise can be detrimental to our physical health as well.

For too long, the ecological movement has focused only upon the more obvious forms of air and water pollution. While most Americans are incensed because they are deprived of clean lakes and streams, and rightfully deplore the blight of smog, these same Americans are unaware of the toll which excessive noise extracts from their lives.

For over a century it has been known that noise exposure of sufficient intensity and duration produces hearing loss. Yet, we have disregarded known facts about noise and advanced to the point where we now have the dubious distinction of being the noisiest nation in the world. In fact, in the United States it is estimated that 10 to 20 million people have some degree of hearing impairment - the primary cause being overexposure to excessive noise.

It is common knowledge that exposure to a very loud noise such as an explosion, may create deafness - at least temporarily. What is not as well known, but equally as devastating, is that repeated noise builds up to produce the same effect as would a single loud noise. This phenomena, labelled "acoustical fatigue," is capable of producing the same harmful effects upon human hearing.

Loss of hearing, however, is not the only concern when dealing with the problem of increasing noise levels. We are all familiar with the annoyance properties of noise - conversations punctuated with the whir of a blender, television programs disrupted by the passing motorcycle, and a Saturday afternoon nap disturbed by the neighbor's power lawn mower or power saw.

What we do not always realize is that these "irritations" should be regarded as health hazards as well. Although it is more difficult to measure, there is growing evidence that the levels of noise to which urban Americans have grown accustomed are actually capable of inducing a variety of physical, and psychological ills.

Another matter of great concern is that the noise level of the United States is increasing at an astonishing rate. Over the past 25 years the average increase in noise level has been at one decibel per year. When one considers that damage to the ears can occur at sustained exposure to the ranges around 85 decibels and over, and given our present noise levels, it will not be too many years before noise levels in the United States become lethal.

To quote Dr. Vern O. Knudsen, physicist and former chancellor of the University of California:

"If the noise we make keeps increasing at the present rate, it will be as deadly in thirty years in some of our downtown cities as were the ancient Chinese tortures for executing condemned prisoners."

It is my understanding that the witnesses will testify to the extent and character of this growing problem in some detail so I will not dwell further on this matter at this time.

For a number of years I have been personally involved in trying to bring the noise problem to the attention of American people and my colleagues in Congress. I should at this point like to place in the Record copies of remarks I made before the Noise Abatement Council in 1969 and a compilation of State and local noise enforcement laws across the country which was prepared in conjunction with the conference. I am told that this compilation and analysis of existing statutes is the only one of its kind and my office has had numerous requests for it from persons dealing with the noise pollution problem.

I commend the Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency for the bill now before this committee. Too often, legislation follows in the wake of aroused public opinion when the proportions of a crisis have already overwhelmed us. In this case, however, we are presented with the opportunity of being on the offensive - of acting before further damage is done. The Administration has presented us with a bill that would head off what otherwise could be a crisis of the most serious consequences.

The "Noise Control Act of 1971" (S. 1016) if enacted would be a great step forward toward insuring the protection of the human environment from the detrimental effects of noise. This bill allows EPA to co-ordinate all existing Federal noise research and control programs, thus eliminating duplicity and providing for efficient handling of this crucial area.

The Noise Control Act also authorizes EPA to establish criteria for human exposure to noise and authorizes EPA to set standards based upon these criteria to regulate noise emissions on articles which move in commerce. In addition, the bill would authorize EPA to label manufactured goods giving the consumer the benefit of knowing just how noisy a product will be. The bill also provides assistance to states and local governments in establishing noise abatement programs.

The Amendment (216) which has been offered to the Noise Control Act would, in my judgment, serve to strengthen the blll. By setting reasonable time limits for the establishment and enforcement of standards and requiring rather than authorizing the setting of standards, the Amendment would insure that Americans will to be subject to any unnecessary delay in realizing the benefits of this legislation. The Amendment would also serve to guarantee the private citizen recourse against the detrimental effects of noise by allowing EPA to initiate legal action and providing for citizen suits.

I hope that these hearings will prove fruitful in bringing to light the nature of the noise problem and the need to enact this legislation.

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