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Page Six of an eleven-page article:
Noise: A Health Problem
United States Environmental Protection Agency

Special Effects on Children

"Levels of noise which do not interfere with the perception of speech by adults may interfere significantly with the perception of speech by children as well as with the acquisition of speech, language, and language-related skills."
National Academy of Sciences Report

Good health includes the ability to function mentally as well as physically. This is especially true during growth and development.

Adults have worried about the effects of noise on children ever since the early 1900s when "quiet zones" were established around many of the nation's schools. These protective areas were intended to increase educational efficiency by reducing the various levels of noise that were believed to interfere with children's learning and even hamper their thinking ability.

Today's worries are little changed from those of the past. Researchers looking into the consequences of bringing up children in this less-than-quiet world have discovered that learning difficulties are likely byproducts of the noisy schools, play areas, and homes in which our children grow up. Two primary concerns are with language development and reading ability.

Because they are just learning, children have more difficulty understanding language in the presence of noise than adults do. As a result, if children learn to speak and listen in a noisy environment, they may have great difficulty in developing such essential skills as distinguishing the sounds of speech. For example, against a background of noise, a child may confuse the sound of "v" in "very" with the "b" in "berry" and may not learn to tell them apart. Another symptom of this problem is the tendency to distort speech by dropping parts of words, especially their endings.

Reading ability also may be seriously impaired by noise. A study of reading scores of 54 youngsters, grades two through five, indicated that the noise levels in their four adjacent apartment buildings were detrimental to the children's reading development. The influence of noise in the home was found to be more important than even the parents' educational background, the number of children in the family, and the grades the youngsters were in. The longer the children had lived in the noisy environment, the more pronounced the reading impairment.

Assuming a child arrives at school with language skills underdeveloped because of a noisy home, will he or she fare any better at school? Again, the answer may depend on how noisy the classroom is. In a school located next to an elevated railway, students whose classrooms faced the track did significantly worse on reading tests than did similar students whose classrooms were farther away. In Inglewood, California, the effects of aircraft noise on learning were so severe that several new and quieter schools had to be built. As a school official explained, the disruption of learning went beyond the time wasted waiting for noisy aircraft to pass over. Considerable time had to be spent after each flyover re-focusing students' attention on what was being done before the interruption.

But the problem may be well beyond the capacity of the schools to correct. Children who live in noisy homes and play in noisy areas may never develop the ability to listen well enough to learn once they are of school age. To avoid this prospect, our concern for the health and welfare of the nation's children must be broadened to address the total environment in which they grow up.

Noise may hinder the development of language skills in children

Noise disrupts the educational process

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This page from the USEPA Report is part of Section Seven:
The Harm section of