Noise polution: How Lagosians risk deafness, high blood pressure

Many Lagos residents may be going deaf without  realising it; a few more may not even know they are walking on the precipice of high blood pressure. In this report, Saturday Tribune’s  team led by Chukwuma Okparaocha, Tola Adenubi, Tunde Alao and Newton-Ray Ukwuoma, unravel a  most potent health hazard  and ways to avoid it.


In June this year, the Lagos State government shut down 70 churches, 20 mosques and about 11 hotels, club houses and beer parlours.

However, those places were not shut because the state government had suddenly become hostile to religion, neither were they shut because the government had outlawed clubbing, partying and merriment by fun-seeking young people, rather they were sealed as part of moves aimed at reducing noise in the state.

Noise pollution is a problem many are grappling with in Lagos. As a matter of fact, unconfirmed reports have it that Lagos has one of the highest level of noise pollution in Africa. The blaring from music record sellers, hooting from commercial bus operators and loud music from hawking vans, especially local herbs sellers as well as loud noise from worship centres are some of the pollutants which have given Lagos the “noisy city” tag. In recent times, phone selling outlets have also joined the fray, as they often employ the services of music people, especially disc jockeys (DJs), who in turn blare loud songs from huge loudspeakers directed towards spots where people are commonly found.

In Lagos, it is not uncommon to see religious institutions in residential places. In some instances, religious worshippers seek God in shops and stores located in buildings, where they share compounds as tenants with other residents.

Yet, noise emanating from religious houses is far from being the only source of worry for Lagosians; rather, there exists a somewhat  unlikely source of noise pollution in the state that prides itself as the “Centre of Excellence.” This is the Lagos traffic, which is widely regarded as one of the highest in Africa.

Thus, apart from reckless driving, Lagos traffic is also notorious for reckless and needless hooting and blaring of horns by different grades of vehicles, including large articulated vehicles whose hooting can be heard metres away.

The situation is not helped by some highly ranked government officials, including military and police officers, as well as public office holders, especially politicians, who loudly blare very irritating sounds from their sirens that could be heard several meters away.

The situation is not helped by some highly ranked government officials, including military and police officers, as well as public office holders, especially politicians, who loudly blare very irritating sounds from their sirens that could be heard several metres away. They usually do this as a way of requesting other road users to make way for them, irrespective of the nature of traffic logjams everybody is faced with.

Quite often, one also sees ambulances belonging to both private and public health organisations “blowing” their sirens and thereby forcing or hoodwinking other vehicles into making way for them. Such ambulances usually turn out not having any case of emergency, thus rendering the use of sirens unnecessary.

It is, therefore, with a view to changing this trend that the Lagos State government has devoted a day, sometime in October, as the “No Horn Day,” when motorists are expected to refrain from hooting or blaring the horns in their vehicles. Former Governor of the state, Mr Babatunde Fashola, whose administration idea the “No Horn Day” initiative, was then known for his refusal to use sirens, as a way of setting an example to all highly ranked public service holders.

But for residents of buildings where religious institutions are neighbours, it is hell living in such environment.

When Saturday Tribune visited Alhaji Yekini Tadeshe Street in Ahmadiya area of Lagos State, there were about three churches located on the street, with all three churches having megaphones that blared ear-deafening noise directed outwards. Also, a popular Islamic/Arabic learning institution is located just close to the streets.

For Vincent Oladotun, a resident, it is hell coping with the noise when all the religious institutions have programmes going on simultaneously. According to him, “Every Sunday, I always run away from home to my church in Ota.

“But I really don’t think it is good to have the kind of noise that comes out of these religious institutions. It’s most deafening when all of them have programmes at the same time. This often happens on Sundays.

“Sometimes, even the Islamic/Arabic study centre has programmes on Sundays. Anytime this happens, there is some kind of competition over who controls the atmosphere as they all scream on top of their voices through their megaphones to ensure they are heard far and beyond.”

“It is much more terrible when there is no power supply and we have to open our windows for ventilation. The noise is deafening and sometimes I wish there were other ways to worship God,” the young man further lamented.


Schools worst affected

On October 31, 2013, desperate mothers held their hearts in their hands as 22 students of Ogba Junior School fainted after inhaling toxic fumes from a laboratory close to their school.

But toxic fumes may not be the only harmful thing students in public and private schools in Lagos are exposed to, as it is believed in some quarters that thousands of students are daily exposed to  noise pollution, which is indirectly taking its toll on students’ lives.

A journey round parts of the Lagos metropolis, as made by Saturday Tribune, showed that many public secondary and primary schools share boundaries with markets, industrial centres, very busy  roads, sawmills, among others.

For instance, a public primary school at Kola area of the Lagos-Abeokuta Expressway was found to be not only sharing boundary with the Kola Market, it also had a stagnant and open gutter at its entrance, and perhaps, most importantly, it was observed to be built only metres away from a high-tension power line.

Also at Kola, two schools both of which share the same premises, were found to be located quite close to a section of the Kola Market full of DVD and CD sellers who busied themselves with blasting out of music from their shops.

Many of such traders were found to have large speakers placed directly in front of their shops, while, apparently in a bid to outwit one another, each trader made his speakers’ noise level very high.

One of the students of the earlier mentioned schools at Kola, Ayo Akindele, when asked how it felt learning in a noisy environment, said noise from a grinding machine or from one of the numerous CD shops around had become a menace that often disturbed students while lessons were going on.

“Most times, the noise disturbs us a lot. You can imagine a situation whereby a student is trying to understand what his teacher is trying to say, only for such a student to be jostled by a loud music close by. This happens from time to time, and no matter how we try to ignore it, it will always be there,” Akindele noted.


Deafness, high blood pressure may be on the rise

According to experts, noise, which is generally known as any unwanted sound, is believed to have a lot of deleterious health effects on the society, especially on young people.

While in extreme cases, noise is said to have the potential of causing hearing impairment and hypertension, it is also known to be a main cause of annoyance and sleep disturbance among all classes of people.

Dr. Olubunmi Omojuowolo, chairman, Nigerian Medical Association, Lagos State chapter and a physician at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), revealed the multifaceted effects of excessive noise on human being.

According to him, when noise is louder than normal, the effects can be medical, psychological and social. “Medically,” he said, “it can cause hearing loss or deafness. This may be sudden or gradual, depending on the extent of damage of the eardrums over a period of time.

“Loud noise can also cause insomnia, which can trigger other health conditions such as stress, headache, seizure and inability to concentrate. It has also been associated with highblood pressure, directly and indirectly through stress.”

Omojuowolo also said that excess noise can lower the cognitive development of children. Explaining further he said, “when children are regularly exposed to noise, it may interfere with their speech.

“They may develop speech or reading difficulty because auditory processing functions connected to the brain are compromised.”

Speaking on the effects of noise on the brain on children and adults, the Chief Medical Director of the Federal Neuropsychiatric Hospital, Yaba, Dr. Richard Adebayo, explained that excessive noise affects the central nervous system in developing children as well as adults.

“The environment,” he said, “has a role in shaping our psyche, behaviour and productivity. For instance, a child in the womb can perceive sounds and can also respond to them by motor activity and cardiac rate change. When a growing child is exposed to high noise, it may interfere with the development of the central nervous system as well as some of the internal organs.

“And for adults, noise pollution puts the nerves in the brain on edge. This may cause sleep disorder, also known as insomnia and restlessness. In prolonged situation, the brain may try to adapt to the environment and tolerate the noise. However, this does not apply in all cases. Most people who can tolerate noisy environment often induce the brain with drugs. And with time, they may become addicted to these medications,” he said.

And speaking about the connection between noise and heart-related problems, he said, “Noise pollution can be linked to cardiovascular crisis and hypertension only indirectly. When a person does not sleep soundly over a long time because of noise, it results in stress. An individual with a history of heart problems or hypertension can be aggravated by stress caused by sleep disorder. Ordinarily noise pollution will not lead to hypertension,” he said.

When commenting on the effect of noise on a learning environment, a psychologist and social behaviour expert, Mrs Feyisara Amos, disclosed that apart from serving as a major source of distraction, noise from markets, moving vehicles, religious centres and other sources, could hamper the ability of students to concentrate in the long run.

“When exposed to noise for a very long time, hyperactive children tend to become more active and even quiet children tend to lose touch with their sensitive nature. Generally, the existence of a noisy environment does not bode well for learning,” she stated.

She further disclosed that aside the mentioned effects, elevated noise levels, especially those associated with loud music and industrial activities, could create stress and stimulate aggression and other antisocial behaviours.

“We are taught that when children learn in noisy classrooms or are made to daily experience noisy situations, they could end up having more difficult time understanding speech than those who learn in quieter environments. Children’s mental development should never be taken for granted because they continue to develop their speech perception abilities until they reach their teens,” she added.

Much of the problem has been blamed on poor regard for land use planning by successive governments. This view was shared by a seasoned town planner and ex-chairman of the Nigerian Institute of Town Planners (NITP), Mr. Moses Ogunleye.

“There is big challenge with regards to land use planning in Lagos state.  Most of what we have are cases of sporadic developments based on one-man decision or one-investor decision, which are basically for business purposes.

“The ideal way to plan is to build in accordance with what is called ‘Complementary Building.’ This describes a situation whereby, for instance, a school complements a library; a market complements a motor park, for effective traffic management.  But what we have is a situation whereby it is either industries going to meet schools or schools coming to meet industries,” said Mr Ogunleye.

“If unapproved developments spring up around schools, then questions must be asked from appropriate authorities,” he also stated.


‘All pollution will end by 2020’

At this juncture, it is worth noting that noise pollution, which seems to be the main thrust of this report, is far from being the only source of worry to environmentalists and indeed all Lagos residents.

From time to time, LASEPA shuts down companies for violating the state’s environmental laws after being deemed to have polluted the environment with toxic effluents emerging from such companies’ waste units.

Recently, a popular and highly-populated church sited on the Apapa-Oshodi Expressway was temporarily put under lock and key after it was accused of messing up its surroundings. Again, also recently, a hotel belonging to one of Nigeria’s finest footballers ever was shut and possibly fined for also violating the state’s environmental laws.

Saturday Tribune  recalls recently observing a soft drink making company situated very close to the Old Toll Gate area of Lagos releasing a foul-smelling water into the drainage channels around. So pungent was the smell of the water that everyone around the company could be seen covering their nostrils with handkerchiefs, while the entire surroundings appeared so ‘charged’ that it almost forced tears out of people’s eyes, including those of Saturday Tribune reporter who was within the company’s periphery at the time.

Thus, reacting to this development, General Manager, Lagos State Environmental Protection Agency (LASEPA), Mr. Adebola Shabi, said his agency was fully abreast of the whole situation.

According to Shabi, it’s very easier to control neighbourhood — induced noise than ‘neighbour to neighbour’ noise.

While the former connotes noise emanating from say, religious houses, public places, hotels, among others, neighbour induced noise involves people playing records in their rooms.

“In essence, unwanted or valueless type of noise has been a major challenge in Lagos metropolis and I am happy to say that we have achieved at least, 25 percent reduction in the past four years due to our awareness programmes,” Shabi said.

He stated that what the agency is doing now is how to achieve the international best practices in noise control, by maintaining 55 decibel (DB) in the day and 45 DB in the night.

“Whereas in the mixed area, it should be 65 DB in the day and 55 DB in the night, while in the industrial area, the acceptable noise level should be 90 DB in the daytime while it should be 80 DB in the night. I am very sure that with the rate we are going, we will achieve over 50 percent result,” he assured.

The LASEPA boss hinted that close to 92 religious houses that comprised churches and mosques were sanctioned recently, adding that as a result of the agency’s activities, it had achieved between 20 and 25 percent compliance from religious leaders.

According to him, parts of recommendations are that religious houses should not mount external public address system and where it’s allowed, it’s only meant for “a call to prayer” that should not last more than three minutes.

“Additionally, bars or hotels and public places of entertainment are now mandated to install enclosed double glassed windows. We are planning to have a forum with these operators on both noise control and security issues by the first week of November, 2016,” Shabi hinted.

On industrial pollution, he stated that at present, many industries had installed effluent treatment plants, compared to the last four years.

According to him, 168 facilities who are into wet processes (generating waste waters), had put in place effluent treatment plants, while the government is looking at ways the remaining few would get financial assistance.

“We are looking at a way of introducing a communal waste plant by which they can treat their wastes in pool,” he said.

In addition, he stated that government was not oblivious of the pollution associated with petrol stations across the state and the dangers this portends.

“Oil and gas are part of industrial pollution. Underground water pollution is common in the state and the agency is mandated to monitor all filling stations to ensure that monitoring wells are provided.

“This would allow us to detect if there are leakages, or set page.

“We are giving the filling stations between six and 10 months to provide the monitoring wells,” he stated.