Noise, a by-product of urbanization and industrialization, is increasingly recognized as an environmental nuisance affecting basic human health and well being. Scientific advances in noise assessment and modelling allow prevention of noise nuisances; this is much simpler, and usually less expensive, than attempting to alleviate noise problems after the fact. Israel therefore has made noise considerations an important element in assessment of development proposals, and in preparation of land-use plans.

Sources of Noise Pollution

– Motor Vehicle Noise

By far the greatest source of noise in urban areas is motor vehicles. Traffic noise is a chronic rather than an acute noise source, as it reaches levels high enough and persistent enough to disturb concentration and relaxation, but not high enough to cause physical damage to hearing. Proper traffic management (direction of flow, street plan, number and location of traffic lights and stop signs) can decrease noise considerably. Noise is invariably taken into consideration in the planning of new roads, but for older, existing roads, noise reduction is more problematic.

The type, age, maintenance level and quantity of vehicles also affect the level of noise. New vehicles purchased in Israel must meet noise regulations; but older cars (and new ones, once they leave the showroom) are not subject to any noise requirements even though annual inspection and licensing are obligatory. Buses and trucks constructed in Israel are rarely checked for noise levels. In Israel, the problem of automobile noise is exacerbated by the relatively old age of vehicles and by the high price of spare parts, which cause car owners to postpone maintenance.

The Ministry of Transportation has published regulations limiting noise from automobile engines, horns and mufflers, but the regulations are not specific enough to be effectively enforced. More recently, the Ministry of the Environment decided to adopt vehicle noise reduction standards based on recommendations of the OECD, modified to suit conditions in Israel.

In a socio-acoustic study of noise pollution, conducted by the Environmental Protection Service in the Tel Aviv area, 52.5% of respondents considered noise to be the major disadvantage of their residential area, significantly higher than any other single disadvantage. Despite this, only 20.1% of those questioned pinpointed noise as an environmental problem they would seek to rectify, and only 9.3% had ever taken steps to complain about vehicular noise.

– Air Traffic Noise

Israel’s major airport, Ben Gurion International, is located near densely populated areas. Noise from airplanes taking off and landing was one element studied in the socio-acoustic survey performed by the Environmental Protection Service. Forty-one percent of respondents living in the vicinity of Ben Gurion International Airport said they were either "disturbed" or "very disturbed" by aircraft noise. It was found that residents’ subjective perceptions did not correlate with objective data up to a level of 80dB(A), but that at a level of 85dB(A) or over, 80% considered themselves "disturbed" or "very disturbed".

Eilat airport also constitutes a noise nuisance, but plans have been drawn to remove it from its current location within the city limits. At Herzliya’s domestic airport, noise problems precipitated regulations forbidding use of the airport before 6:30 a.m.; now pilot training is still conducted from the airport, but crop dusting, which once constituted a large portion of the airport’s activity, is based elsewhere (aerial spraying must be done early in the morning). Relative to its size, Israel has a large number of military airfields, some of them near densely populated areas. On the basis of recently obtained information, noise maps for military airports are being prepared to serve as a foundation for land-use planning. Although Israel has adopted the International Civil Aviation Organization’s recommendations with respect to aircraft noise, regulations have not yet been promulgated to permit enforcement.

– Industrial Noise

Industrial noise is controlled by regulating the total ambient noise level throughout the workplace, or providing protection for those workers who are exposed to excessive noise. Maximum noise levels are set by the Safety at Work Ordinance at 85dB for an eight hour exposure period. However, no law exists requiring factory equipment to meet noise specification standards. Industrial noise may damage hearing and psychological well-being, and may increase the risk of other industrial accidents. Approximately 400,000 Israeli workers (33% of the industrial work force) are exposed to excessive noise as defined by the law. Hearing impairment is the second most common occupational disease in compensation claims to the National Insurance Institute.

Construction noise in urban areas is also a major environmental problem. Regulations exist setting standards for performance and design of construction machinery to limit noise. Construction workers involved in ground-clearing and excavation may suffer gradual, permanent hearing loss.

– Other Urban Sources

In Israel’s mild Mediterranean climate, families spend a great deal of time out of doors; when in their homes, they often leave the windows open. Thus residential noise generated by televisions, stereos, alarms and conversations constitutes an important factor in noise pollution. Other residential noise comes from air conditioners and fans.

Planning to Prevent Noise Problems

The Ministry of the Environment advises the national, district, and local planning authorities on the use of noise abatement measures in land-use planning and building. When required, environmental impact statements are presented to District Planning Commissions along with plans for roads or junctions. The Ministry of the Environment employs a model which forecasts the distribution and intensity of noise impacts from predicted traffic flow, and evaluates the effectiveness of alternative measures to reduce noise impact. Even minor changes in the routing of a proposed road may alleviate noise problems from the outset; after the route is fixed, acoustic screens (based on U.S. Federal Highway Administration models) or treatment of residences may be required.

Sophisticated models exist for the evaluation of aircraft noise. The Ministry of the Environment employs the model developed by the U.S. Federal Aviation Authority, which uses three parameters to measure the level of exposure: noise level in decibels; number of flights during the day; number of flights at night (the latter weighted more heavily than the former). The resulting unit of measurement is called Day-Night Leverage (LDN). The ministry’s guidelines using this model recommend that construction be limited where sound levels exceed 65 LDN, and that alternative sites be located for aviation facilities where sound levels exceed this figure and noise-sensitive residential or institutional areas are affected. Only when alternatives are unavailable is acoustic treatment of buildings considered.

In 1986, the National Planning and Building Board approved in principle a flexible plan for the operation of Ben Gurion Airport. The plan provides maximum safety through air traffic control. It enables efficient use of runways to avoid delays, and promotes cost-efficiency for operators and aircraft. The plan also ensures minimum aircraft noise and the prevention of environmental nuisances. The plan makes specific suggestions for the areas surrounding the airport, and recommends the adoption of regulations for noise-restriction according to the guidelines of the International Civil Aviation Organization, which would disallow the use of noisy aircraft like DC-8s and B707s. Pursuant to this plan, a comprehensive noise monitoring system was established in 1991. It involves six monitoring stations, and includes a realtime data collection system to monitor all noise activities within the airport, and a central control and monitoring system to correlate noise events with flight data.

Legal Framework for Prevention of Noise Pollution

Section 2 of the Abatement of Nuisances Law, 1961, provides that "a person shall not cause any considerable or unreasonable noise, from any source whatsoever, if it disturbs or is likely to disturb a person in the vicinity." Regulations were issued pursuant to this law in 1966 to restrict noise levels in residential neighborhoods at night and during the noontime siesta. They forbid the use of a loudspeaker for advertising in residential areas at all hours, and disallow the operation of a vehicle with an improper muffler. In 1977, additional regulations were promulgated, defining unreasonable noise as "permanent or changing noise whose duration and measured level exceed the level specified in one of the appended charts." The charts establish permissible noise levels by type of neighborhood, time of day and duration of noise. New regulations were added in 1990 to include types of noise not covered by the initial regulations background noise, impulsive noise, infrequent explosive noise and pure tones in the spectrum (noise generated by aircraft, motor vehicles, trains or construction equipment is not included). The regulations provide clear guidelines for criteria and methods for the measurement of noise. Recently, additional regulations have been drafted to control noise caused by air conditioners and alarms and to set standards for railroad noise. A 1992 amendment to the Abatement of Nuisances Law authorizes police to take reasonable measures to shut off car alarms after the alarm has been sounding for 20 minutes.

Where municipalities have adopted these Ministry of the Environment regulations as by-laws, local government inspectors are able to add their enforcement efforts to those of the national police.

Local environmental units are responsible for dealing with noise complaints from the public against commercial enterprises. If unit personnel find that noise exceeds permissible levels, local authorities may require, as part of the licensing procedure, that noise be contained within legal limits. The Ministry of the Environment assists local units in the purchase of noise measurement equipment and the training of personnel. A guidebook on noise assessment and noise abatement methods has been prepared to provide the staff of local units as well as planners and developers with the necessary tools for incorporating means for noise abatement in the early stages of planning. Land transport, air transport, stadiums, playgrounds, industrial installations and quarries are covered in this guidebook.