The Rise of Stealth Pollution

OUR cities have become noisier and brighter, our streets have become cluttered and our landscape has been blotted. Yet we seem to accept these changes as the norm. It is not time we address the rise in stealth pollution?


noiseOUR cities have become noisier and brighter, our streets have become cluttered and our landscape has been blotted. Yet we seem to accept these changes as the norm. Is it not time we address the rise in stealth pollution?

There is no doubt that we are more environmental aware these days, which means we are likely to question any change in our environment.

Why do we protest against wind turbines but happy to accept electricity pylons? Why does the ticking of a grandfather clock annoy some people but they accept background music, traffic noise and rowing neighbours? Why are we allowing more streets to be cluttered by unnecessary signage, bollards, railings, yellow lines and even traffic lights? Why are we allowing high streets up and down the country to become colonised by homogenous retail outlets?

These changes have tended to occur incrementally over time so much so we are not aware they are happening. These changes are pollution by stealth.

imgArtificial light has become an essential feature in modern society. It has been used to illuminate streets, roads and hazardous areas; to promote security and to increase the hours of usage for outdoor sports and recreation facilities.

However, lighting can be intrusive in the wrong place it can also create Skyglow, which is an orange glow seen over towns and roads from upward light. This has become a serious problem for astronomers as the artificial brightness of the sky overpowers distant stars, especially those low in the night sky. It is becoming increasingly difficult to find areas where the view of the night sky is unaffected by illumination.

The Council for the Protection for Rural England (CPRE) suggests that the land area in the South West which is experiencing severe light pollution grew by 25% between 1993 and 2000. On average, the light shining upwards at night from each square kilometre in the region rose by 17% over a seven year period.

Noise pollution is displeasing to all of us and can disrupts the activity or balance of human or animal life. The source of noise pollution is often from transport, mainly motor vehicles. There is growing evidence to suggest that transport noise can cause sleep disturbance, cardiovascular disease, elevated hormone levels, psychological problems and even premature death. In addition, studies on children have identified cognitive impairment, worsened behaviour and diminished quality of life.images-4

An assessment by the European Environment Agency of the European Union noise data suggests 55 per cent of those living in urban areas with more than 250, 000 inhabitants in the EU members states (almost 67 million people) suffer daily road noise levels above the lower EU benchmark (55 day-evening-night level (Lden)) for excess exposure.

Save_our_Streets_cartoonStreet clutter is unnecessary signage, bollards, railings, yellow lines and traffic lights which clutter our streets and ruin the visual impact of our surroundings. Street furniture is an essential part of urban life but its proliferation, poor siting and poor design can result in clutter.

It can be visually intrusive and a physical obstruction. Reducing street furniture clutter not only improves the appearance of an area, it is important to help contribute to a socially inclusive environment. A ‘clear zone’ policy prohibits street furniture, including tables and chairs, within a central area so removing barriers and obstructions that present obstacles, particularly for people with disability.

These are just a few examples of stealth pollution and indicate how we have come to accept particular environmental conditions as they develop incrementally over time.

In order to protect our urban environment, we need to remain alert and fight against these incremental changes. If left unchallenged over time they will collectively detract from the overall quality of urban life.

© Gary Haq 2009

Author: garyhaq

I am a Human Ecologist, writer, researcher and broadcaster interest in contemporary environmental issues.

One thought on “The Rise of Stealth Pollution”

  1. I live just off a main road in a west London suburb, a few minutes walk from Greenford Flyover. Last week I was in the pedestrian subway there with a BBC Radio 4 producer and Henry Shaftoe, a senior lecturer at UWE who specialises in urban environments. We were discussing ways of making the subways safer, following the killing of a man there in March. Until Henry pointed it out to me I had not even noticed the level of noise there because I have become so used to it in the 19 years that I have lived in the area. The flyover was supposed to deal with congestion but 30 years after it was built there is, once again, a congestion issue with the added burden of noise and vibration. I grew up in central London yet on the first night in my Greenford home I wondered whether I had made a mistake because of the traffic noise. I would like to do something positive with the space under the flyover but am now concerned that I might be asking people to spend time in a place that could make them ill. These spaces are known as SLOAPs (space left over planning) and they are going to become familiar to those who are choosing to cycle and walk rather than use a car. They are not only subject to traffic and noise pollution, they can also be cluttered with the pointless signage that you referred to. If we expect people to use the dank subways and dangerous pedestrian crossings provided so generously by planners (who moved on to the next project without a thought as to the mess they had left behind them) we will have to fix these spaces and deal with noise pollution as well as the grime.

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