Noise pollution danger is hard to hear, this is why Israel must take action

ENVIRONMENTAL AFFAIRS: Hashiloni is the leader of a team of activists trying to ensure that the wind turbines are not erected close to his home further south. 

 A STATION OF wind turbines in the Golan Heights. (photo credit: David Cohen/Flash90)
A STATION OF wind turbines in the Golan Heights.
(photo credit: David Cohen/Flash90)

Uri Hashiloni is fighting to be heard about a loud but often ignored health danger to himself and his family – noise.

As a resident of Ramat Tzvi, a moshav in northeastern Israel between Afula and Beit She’an, the rackets of sound that fill the air around him could get worse due to a wind turbine project.

An agreement between the Defense Ministry and ARAN, a subsidiary of Energix Renewable Energies, was signed in 2021 to permit the establishment of 21 wind turbines with an output of 104 megawatts in the Golan Heights. 

The court approved the project earlier this year, and work is underway. But the Druze community and many of its neighbors have pushed back, saying the project could harm them and their environment.

Hashiloni is the leader of a team of activists trying to ensure that the wind turbines are not erected close to his home further south. 

A power-generating windmill turbine is pictured during sunset at a renewable energy park in Ecoust-Saint-Mein, France (credit: PASCAL ROSSIGNOL/REUTERS)
A power-generating windmill turbine is pictured during sunset at a renewable energy park in Ecoust-Saint-Mein, France (credit: PASCAL ROSSIGNOL/REUTERS)

“Wind turbines are weapons,” he told The Jerusalem Post. “They emit loud, low-frequency intolerable sounds. International research has shown infrasound is dangerous and makes people sick.”

According to Hashiloni, a similar but smaller set of 11 wind turbines in Ramat Sirin has led to the death of around 1,700 birds a year. Killing the birds, Hashiloni said, means upsetting the ecological balance. The birds are needed to consume plant-eating insects and pollinate plants. 

The larger ARAN wind park could mean the death of thousands more birds because it is three times larger than the one in Ramat Sirin – and this is when, according to Hashiloni, the wind park will not achieve the country’s energy goals at nearly as efficient of a rate as standard solar.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu put the wind farm on hold last month after violent protests erupted among the Druze community against the farm. The project, however, is still expected to be resumed in the fall as part of the country’s aim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution.

A new position paper by the Israel Association of Public Health Physicians supports the Druze community’s argument. Five doctors signed the paper, which explains that while wind turbines generate electricity using wind energy and therefore do not use fossil fuels or emit pollution, the turbines create a constant noise that “poses health risks – physical and mental.” 

The association believes that “the danger outweighs the benefit” and that no new turbines should be promoted in Israel for at least five years. 

Yonah Amster, head of the department of environmental and occupational health at the University of Haifa’s School of Health, said he  challenges the association’s position since, according to a recent State Comptroller’s report, around 2,500 people die annually in Israel as a result of air pollution and “anything we can do to get off coal and oil is important.” 

Amster said that instead of taking an all-out ban on wind turbines, specific projects should be assessed on their potential noise exposure and public health impact. He acknowledged that noise pollution has real and severe health effects.

50% of Israelis are exposed to noise that is too loud

NOISE POLLUTION often receives less attention than chemical pollution, because it cannot be seen, tasted, or smelled. However, Amster said it has been linked to adverse short- and long-term effects, from hearing loss to heart disease, anxiety, and depression. 

“Thirty percent of industrial workers in Israel will have some kind of hearing impairment by the time they retire,” Amster said. “Noise-induced hearing loss is the number one employee insurance claim, and the National Insurance pays more toward hearing loss than any other industrial illness.”

The number one cause of noise pollution in the general community is vehicles.

The challenge with noise pollution is that, unlike other health risk factors, it cannot be eliminated by doctors but by politicians and law enforcement. In Israel, more discussion about noise pollution is needed on the national agenda, said Dr. Smadar Itskovich, founder and CEO of Israel Living Lab. 

Prof. Stilian Gelberg, head of the Noise and Radiation Prevention Division at the Environmental Protection Ministry, agreed. She told The Jerusalem Post that “environmental noise is an important issue for public health” and that “increasing noise pollution is a growing concern among the general public and policymakers.”

Gelberg said that “forced exposure” to noise originating from traffic on roads, railways, and airports has increased, including among children subject to multiple residential construction projects and amplification systems in kindergartens and schools.

“A national survey conducted in the United States showed that 8.5% of children between the ages of six and 11 have hearing loss. This percentage increases to 15.5% between the ages of 12 and 19. Hearing loss has many significant physiological and psychological effects, so efforts should be made to ensure that the children are exposed to loud sounds as little as possible,” Gelberg said.

In Israel, 49.7% are exposed to noise above 60 decibels, 22.6% above 65 decibels, and 7.4% above 70 decibels, she added. 

The European Union recommends limiting noise to a range of 53 decibels during the day and 45 at night. 

A noise damage index provided by the Environmental Protection Ministry shows the impact of various sounds. For example, an electric saw (100 dB) is harmful only after prolonged exposure, whereas loud noise in a nightclub (129 dB) is harmful after only a few minutes. A jet at a distance of 30 meters (140 dB) is damaging after less than a minute, and a gunshot (150 dB) is harmful immediately.

The Environmental Protection Ministry runs a “Quiet Cities” project that promotes a variety of regulatory, economic, and informational policy tools intending to reduce noise nuisances in the public space as much as possible. Most recently, it embarked on a pilot project with the National Digital Israel Initiative and several local authorities to install small noise detectors in cities which will allow continuous noise data to be collected and real-time warnings about noise hazards.

The project was initiated in Kfar Saba, Petah Tikva, Rishon Lezion, and Lod. When authorities receive alerts on deviations from legal noise levels, they can react accordingly and thus help improve residents’ well-being. The project is also meant to enable the production of “noise maps” that will show residents the average noise levels in some regions of their city.

“The purpose of the project is to prove the technological feasibility, and the urban and economic benefits arising from it, to expand the use of advanced technologies to reduce noise hazards in cities nationally,” Gelberg explained. 

Earlier this month, the Unit for the Prevention of Air Pollution from Transportation of the Environmental Protection Ministry, officers from the Environmental Protection Section of the Israel Police, and officers from the Jerusalem Police conducted a focused enforcement activity in the city against polluting and noisy vehicles. As part of the activity, 305 vehicles were inspected, of which 98 cars were taken off the road due to various violations. Also, 73 reports were given to drivers of polluting and noisy vehicles, the ministry said.

Last month, Israel Living Lab demonstrated new technologies that could detect noisy vehicles in Acre automatically. Three companies came to Acre to present their solutions, including from Germany, England, and Israel.

Noize, founded by Shahar Kenan, was among the companies. It has a system that combines dozens of microphones and cameras with a machine learning algorithm to recognize the sound of a car honking, a zooming motorcycle, or a scooter, and report that noise – if it is above the legal level – to the authorities in real-time. 

The police can review the incident and determine, for example, if the individual was honking because he was impatient at a green light (punishable by a fine of around NIS 250) or if he was actually in danger.

The company recently completed a successful pilot in Petah Tikva, Kenan told the Post, which was peer-reviewed by the Environmental Protection Ministry and found almost 100% successful.

According to Daniel Zvi, project manager at Israel Living Lab, technology to catch vehicle noise pollution is limited. Before the demonstration, his team mapped the ecosystem to see available solutions. 

“There were not a lot of great solutions in Israel, and globally, there were not many at all,” he said. “We managed to find a few solutions, but they are more or less the same.

“For this challenge, we received applications only from eight solutions when we usually receive anywhere from 15 to 30,” he said. 

Kenan explained that the problem is two-fold: On the one hand, working with municipalities and the government is less lucrative than in the private sector because technology implementation is shrouded with bureaucracy and slow. Moreover, although scientists have raised a red flag about the health impacts of noise pollution, countries are not eager to change.

“In Israel, we are very lackadaisical,” Kenan told the Post. “The law [around vehicle noise pollution] just says that the noise you make cannot be ‘unreasonably’ loud – but there is no actual limit on decibels.”

He said Noize and other partners held a meeting with the Environmental Protection Ministry last month to try to change the regulations and set limits, but “with all the revolution now in the country, I do not believe it is going to pass.”

MEANWHILE, THE number of global people impacted by noise pollution continues to grow.

A 2015 report by the European Environment Agency found nearly 1.7 million additional cases of hypertension, 80,000 additional hospital admissions, and 18,000 premature deaths from heart disease and strokes in Europe each year as a result of noise from cars, trucks, planes, and trains.

A more recent study published in the Environmental Research journal found that noise from road traffic led to sleep disturbances in European pre-adolescents.

Several studies have tied the increased risk of coronary diseases with road traffic noise. For example, a 2019 study published in the European Heart Journal showed that every 5-decibel increase in the average 24-hour noise level was associated with a 34% increase in heart attacks, strokes, and other severe heart-related problems. 

Hashiloni said that stopping the wind turbines will not solve Israel’s noise pollution problem. But he said he sees no value in making it worse.

“The wind turbine project was pushed off because we had thousands of people protesting and we will not stop,” he said. “Why create a new form of unnecessary noise pollution?”