Out of the 11 pieces of legislation governing noise-related issues in Trinidad and Tobago, the Environmental Management Authority (EMA) has authority to act under only one. This was highlighted by Nadia Tewarie, technical officer at the EMA noise unit, during a July 28 webinar entitled “Understanding The EMA’s Role in Noise Pollution Management”.
It was within this context that Matthew Jardim of the emergency response and investigations unit advised more than one participant during the question and answer segment to “contact your nearest police station for immediate relief”. Two participants, however, recounted stories of incidents where this proved futile.
One participant spoke of calling the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service (TTPS) to address the issue of bars that bring music trucks onto the Western Main Road, only to be told that nothing could be done as the offenders had received noise variation permits (permission to exceed prescribed noise limits) from the EMA.
Jardim advised that when faced with such situations, members of the public should “remind” the police of their legislative duties under the Summary Offences Act which “clearly states that the police have the primary jurisdiction when it comes to noise, especially from the trucks”.
The EMA itself has had to take this course of action as recently as July 20 when they issued a press release advising that music trucks do not require noise variations in response to a misunderstanding that arose from conflicting guidelines provided to political campaigners during a TTPS press conference that day.
Jardim explained how different types of criteria, such as the mobility or nature of the noise-producing object, can shift the responsibility of addressing a noise complaint away from the EMA entirely. He stated that while EMA could take action against noise caused by bars and nightclubs through special reserve officers on secondment at the Environmental Police Unit (EPU), it lacks the legislative authority to address issues like noisy vehicles, loudspeakers and fireworks.
Tewarie also advised the participant that a noise variation does not prevent operation of the Summary Offences Act which can be enforced by the TTPS.
Section 70 of the Summary Offences Act states that any person who causes a nuisance to the public is liable to a fine of $1500 or imprisonment for six months.
Jardim highlighted the fact that the law makes reference to anything causing “a nuisance to the surrounding residents” without stipulating “prescribed noise levels”. In law, a nuisance is defined as anything which is harmful or offensive to the public or a member of it and for which there is a legal remedy.
Another participant recounted an experience of calling the Fyzabad Police Station regarding noise from a bar only to be told “the bar owner says that his noise is not loud and they don’t have a device to measure the loudness of sound.”
Police Constable Charles from the EPU interjected, saying that a police officer “can address the noise issue without an instrument.”
In contrasting the authority of the EMA with that of the TTPS, Jardim described the type of action the EMA could take as “typically retroactive”, meaning it investigates a potential breach after it happened.
Jardim explained that the EMA can serve a notice of violation if its investigations reveal a breach of noise variation or the prescribed standard of noise for the area.
Another EMA representative disclosed that the Authority is considering a digital solution that would allow the public to quickly determine whether a particular event has received EMA approval for noise variation.
Currently, the only notice the public receives of an upcoming event that has received EMA permission for exceeding prescribed noise levels comes in the form of advertisements that are placed in the newspaper at least 35 days before the event occurs. When implemented, the electronic register would allow anyone to access the information without having to check back copies of newspapers or make a trip to the EMA’s Information Centre.
What about Fireworks???
In response to a question about why fireworks are not within the jurisdiction of the EMA, Tewarie cited the difficulty of regulating fireworks given the instantaneous nature of the sound. “Measurement of the sound is done using a sound level or noise meter,” she said, “It has to be measured for a period of at least 30 minutes. The noise has to be continuous and it has to be measured on the property boundary of the source of noise or at the affected person.”
Fireworks are governed by the Fireworks Permit Regulations under the Summary Offences Act meaning that any redress must be sought via TTPS. The EMA’s next webinar is expected to delve more into this topic.
The noise pollution webinar was the second instalment of the EMA Knowledge Series. The third instalment, which will be broadcast live from the EMA Facebook page, takes place on August 25 from 1 – 2 pm on the topic “Fireworks Use – A Discussion on the EMA’s Survey Results”.