Ear-splitting car alarms, predawn street cleaners, ubiquitous leaf-blowers, and other forms of noise pollution are louder than ever and posing a genuine risk to people's health, writes Katharine Mieszkowski in Salon. Loud noises damage hearing, raise blood pressure, ruin sleep, and, in fact, cause tens of thousands of deaths a year, says the World Health Organization. Don't look for government help, though. Patchwork ordinances help in some locales, but it's largely up to individuals and grass-roots efforts.
New York City racked up 350,000 noise complaints in 2006, and scientists found that even birds are chirping at the top of their lungs to be heard. "The last decade was the loudest decade in the history of the world without a question," says one noise pollution fighter. The din is creating extremists. A new film starring Tim Robbins, Noise, chronicles the true story of crusader Henry Beam, whose personal war against car alarms even landed him some jail time. (Read more noise pollution stories.)