If we all want livable communities, then why aren’t all our communities livable?

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Is it really necessary to allow social, economic and environmental issues to become crises before we can act, while conflict displaces collaboration to make community solutions unnecessarily costly?

From greenhouse gases to pesticides to microplastics to excessive noise, environmental pollution ranks high among costly issues that destroy community livability in Hawaii.

Noise pollution?

Yes, health and environmental sciences and public law recognize the following three categories of atmospheric pollution: dissolved gases, particulate matter, and compression waves that we experience as sound.

Atmospheric pollution is defined as anything from these categories that exceeds healthful dosage/exposure limits, including sounds exceeding maximum permissible levels and defined by law as noise pollution.

The Hawaii State Department of Health defines maximum permissible sound levels in Hawaii for both day (7 a.m. to 10 p.m.) and night (10 p.m. to 7 a.m.) as follows:

  • conservation or residential zones – 55 decibels day, 45 decibels night;
  • apartments or businesses zones – 60 decibels day, 50 decibels night;
  • agricultural or industrial zones – 70 decibels day, 70 decibels night.

Regarding pollution control, the Hawaii State Constitution, Article XI, Sec. 9, Environmental Rights, says in part, “Each person has the right to a clean and healthful environment, as defined by laws relating to environmental quality, including control of pollution … ”

Hawaii Revised Statutes, §342F-3, says in part, “ … the director (of the DOH) shall prevent, control, and abate noise pollution in the State.”

Honolulu firefighters arrive at the scene of a broken fire hydrant in Kaimuki in 2015. Emergency vehicles contribute to our noise pollution. Nathan Eagle/Civil Beat

In other words, each person in Hawaii has a constitutional right to effective pollution control, including noise pollution as defined by DOH maximum permissible sound levels.

Sec. 9 further says, “Any person may enforce this right [to pollution control] against any party, public or private, through appropriate legal proceeding … ”

This establishes a right to pursue legal consequences for failure to control pollution, a right that applies to noise pollution even as it does to greenhouse gas and pesticides. In effect, Article XI, Sec. 9 mandates that all public and private interests must control their pollution or be controlled, including noise pollution.

Sirens! Horns! Bars!

A partial list of noise sources includes sirens, garbage trucks, backup beepers, kneeling buses, party trolleys, horns and car alarms, mopeds, motorcycles, bars and block parties, bottle sorting, homeless and bar patron sidewalk gatherings, leaf blowers, wood chippers, construction, power washing, jet afterburners aimed at town, helicopters over conservation or residential zones, and harbor noise.

Not all noise bothers all persons, but all noise pollution violates State Constitution Article XI, Sec. 9, that mandates effective public and private control of all pollution sources in Hawaii.

In fact, some noise is controlled, but not all, and piecemeal pollution control is like relying on a bucket with holes while community livability drains away.

As we pursue our economic and political interests, let’s be mindful that true self interest respects each person’s rights, while true livability respects all social-economic-environmental interests.

When we choose good faith collaboration over crises and conflict, we will live with less pollution of all kinds, from greenhouse gases to noise.

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