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Summer months are peak season for noise pollution

People living next to construction sites and road work the world over often have to put up with noise and dust for months at a time. In Finland most major projects of this nature are limited to a few months in summer – just when many people are on holiday and hope to relax.

HSL:n bussi ajaa Linnankoskenkatua tietyömaan ohi.
Image: Antti Kolppo / Yle

A study from the Ministry of Environment finds that one in six residents of Finland is exposed to environmental noise every day. This means they live in an area where daily noise levels exceed 55 decibels, the government-imposed guideline. Between two and 15 percent of residents have their lives disrupted significantly by noise, the 2007 study found.

Even during the holiday months, work at Finland's construction sites begins at seven in the morning. Some nearby residents and workers react to the resulting noise and dust more severely than others.

Marja Vuorilehto of Espoo in the capital region, says construction work near her home has affected her quality of life in many ways. For example, she has sung in choirs for 30 years, but last October, her voice failed her and she had to quit. She blames construction work near her home on the main Ring Road, Kehä I. Even her piano has gone out of tune due to the excavation blasts.

Rude awakening at 7

A major infrastructure project on Kehä I recently transferred a stretch of the capital city region's most trafficked motorway underground to a tunnel, among other massive projects along the Ring Road. She says each of the households living near the site - she lives in the district of Harjuviitta - suffers through large amounts of noise and dust.

"I wake up every morning shortly before seven when the racket would start. Sometimes it would be both drilling and other noise. It really bothered me," she says.

The Finnish construction firm SRV's director of Finnish operations Juha Toimela says that there are strict rules in Finland about making noise at work sites before seven am.

"It is not forbidden to start up the work machines before seven, but work that creates a lot of noise can't begin until then," he says.

Most noise hazards from construction

Of the 60 or so noise permits the city of Espoo grants each year, almost all of them go to construction firms. Environmental inspectors in the metropolis say few complaints are filed about work sites, but among the ones that are submitted, the majority concern long-term building projects.

In Helsinki, temporary operations causing particularly disturbing noises or vibration such as construction work and outdoor concerts must be reported to the city's environmental protection unit in writing. Neighbours and others exposed to the noise must also be notified in advance before such events take place.

"We'll go out and see what the situation is like and perhaps present some ways we can limit the damage, with for example dust prevention techniques or noise control," says Hanna-Mari Torniainen, an Espoo inspector.

Noise abatement laws in Finland are included in the Environmental Protection Act and Decree that came into effect in September 2014.

Marja Vuorilehto has been in contact with the construction company, the city and her landlord about the problems the Kehä construction site has caused her. She has also filed a complaint with the parliamentary ombudsman.

"We inhabitants have the feeling that we are simply considered a necessary evil, and no one needs to take our needs into consideration."

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