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Silent killer that is noise pollution

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PHIRI—We did our own inspection

If a Chancellor College (Chanco) report on the state of noise pollution in the country is anything to go by, there should be cause for worry as regards what would befall Malawi’s next generation. In this Friday Shaker, FESTON MALEKEZO dissects the report and bounces it off with experts’ opinions on this silent killer.

The report, titled: ‘Assessment of Noise Levels in Heavy and Light Industries in Blantyre City’, lays bare the fact that noise levels in most industries are above the recommended limit level of 85 dBA (A-weighted decibels).

Done by Isaac Chirwa, Justice Stanley Mlatho, Casper Kamunda and Chomora Mikeka from the Department of Physics and Electronics at Chanco, the study was aimed at assessing noise levels in companies in Blantyre City.

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The study was in relation to their compliance with National Standards and the Occupational Safety, Health and Welfare Act of Malawi (1997) on noise pollution control.

Shockingly, the study shows that only 21 percent of industries in the city comply with the national regulations.

“Lack of noise data, awareness, commitment and enforcement by the regulatory authorities were observed to be contributing factors to the failure to implement induced-noise hearing-loss control programmes,” the report reads in part.

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The report notes that industries in developing countries such as Malawi, despite contributing to national development, can also be associated with adverse effects on the environment and the health of workers.

Health practitioner from the College of Medicine, Symon Nayupe, said noise has been observed to cause temporary and permanent hearing loss and psychological effects such as annoyance, stress, hypersensitivity to sound, increased blood pressure and heart rate, difficulties in breathing and increased sweating that may result in nausea and fatigue.

Studies in the United States (US) have shown that about 30 million workers are exposed to noise in their workplaces and that the noise accounts for 30 percent, of all acquired hearing loss in the US population.

According to the National Statistical Office, at least 1,556,670 people are persons with disability, representing 10.4 percent out of which 377,790 have hearing impairments.

Shockingly, with a growing economy of Malawi, it is estimated that there are many industries that produce noise levels in excess of 85 dBA; a threat in the offing.

Federation of Disability Organisations in Malawi Programmes Manager, Simon Munde, said it was unfortunate that some companies were failing to comply with regulations, posing risks to their workers and the public.

“What should be done here is that councils should be empowered to make sure that there is compliance. There are a lot of gaps that we, people with disability face, especially in the industries face. Accessibility is a living example. Workers in all factories need to be protected from any harm that may cause health complications,” he said.

While concurring with Munde on the part of empowering enforcing agencies, Africa Disability Alliance Director, Action Amos, encourages workers in companies not to be negligent, asking them to wearing protective gear whenever available.

Malawi enacted laws and published Malawi Standards to guide industries to institute noise-induced hearing-loss abatement programmes.

The extent of compliance to these laws and standards by industries in Malawi is not known and it is for this reason that the study was carried out.

Ministry of Environment spokesperson, Sangwani Phiri, said local councils had the mandate to be proactive in enforcing by-laws against all forms of uncalled for noise or vibration for acts deemed to be a nuisance to environmental occupants.

Phiri quotes Section 40 of the Environmental Management Act (EMA) of 2017, which talks about noise control and vibration.

“It has set standards or guidelines for the abatement of unreasonable noise and vibration but it is silent on the amount of decibels from any source. In the same vein, the National Waste Management Strategy’s National Environmental Action Plan (2019-23) does not equally say anything in terms of quantification on the amount or number of decibels which each noise source has to produce.

“However, much on curtailing uncontrolled amount of decibels lies in the hands of local municipal councils to exercise enforcement on those found to be producing noise in form of sound, like music blaring out of entertainment centres, campaigns,” he said.

Phiri further said Section 2 of EMA provides that an authority, where regulations, rules or standards are issued under any other laws as provided for in Sub-section (1)—has the general power to supervise , monitor and enforce regulations , rules and standards, as if issued under this Act.

Much as the study recommends that, in sections of industries where the noise levels are high, programmes to reduce or prevent hearing loss should be implemented, nothing seems to be working.

In addition, the study says there is need for regular inspections of noise levels in industries to ensure compliance of permissible noise levels.

Anthony Kasunda

Blantyre City Council (BCC) Public Relations Manager, Anthony Kasunda, said it would not be proper for the council to dispute findings of the report but rather learn from it.

“There are laws that guide authorities and the industry when it comes to issues of noise pollution and the industry is aware of such because, mostly, they form part of licence conditions. But, as you have rightly put it, there are a number of stakeholders that manage the companies apart from the council. They all have a role to play. Apparently, there are regular inspections not only by the council but other stakeholders too,” he said.

Malawi Confederation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry spokesperson, Millie Kasunda, said though they do not have the powers to enforce the regulations, they advise their membership to comply.

The report sampled 40 industries in Blantyre in textile, food grain and milling, iron and steel, wood, tobacco, bottling, plastic, packaging, tissue, confectionery, fertilizer and printing industries, among others.

In 2015, BCC issued a statement banning the city’s residents from holding engagement parties, weddings, bridal shower ceremonies in residential areas to curb noise following complaints from some companies.

However, the ban was lifted after the residents obtained an injunction against BCC.

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