Noise Is Pollution, Not Just An Annoyance

But I’m sure Scott Pruitt’s EPA will get on this (boldface mine):

Noise is “the new secondhand-smoke issue,” said Bradley Vite, who pushed for regulations in Elkhart, Ind., that come with some of the nation’s steepest fines. “It took decades to educate people on the dangers of secondhand smoke. We may need decades to show the impact of secondhand noise.”

The Environmental Protection Agency has said that noise below an average of 70 decibels over 24 hours is safe and won’t cause hearing loss. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health says anything below an 85 won’t cause hearing loss for workers exposed to loud machinery.

But those levels are way above recommendations made by the European Union. In 2009, the E.U. set noise guidelines of 40 decibels at night to “protect human health.” And it said steady, continuous noise in the daytime — such as the noise on highways — should not exceed 50 decibels.

“We’re in active denial” about the effects of noise, said Rick Neitzel, director of environmental health policy at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. “We’re far, far behind what Europe is doing.”

Because it’s not just the loud stuff:

Noise doesn’t just affect hearing, noise activists say. A study by the University of Michigan showed an association with cardiovascular disease and heart attacks, according to Neitzel, who conducted the study.

“The consensus is that if we can keep noise below 70 decibels on average, that would eliminate hearing loss,” Neitzel said. “But the problem is that if noise is more than 50 decibels, there’s an increased risk of heart attack and hypertension,” he said. “Noise at 70 decibels is not safe.

Of course, some get it worse than others:

People in poorer and racially segregated neighborhoods live with higher levels of noise than other people, according to a 2017 study led by the School of Public Health at the University of California at Berkeley. Neighborhoods with median annual household incomes below $25,000 were nearly two decibels louder than neighborhoods with incomes above $100,000.

And communities where at least 3 in 4 residents are black had median nighttime noise levels of 46.3 decibels — four decibels louder than communities with no black residents.

One more reason to get people out of cars:

Most of the roaring noise from highways comes from the tires on the road, not the engine or exhaust noise,” said Robert Bernhard, vice president for research at the University of Notre Dame and an expert in noise-control engineering. Traditional concrete is raked with grooves that run across the road to drain water, he said.

Quieter concrete has grooves that go with traffic and drops highway sound levels 5.8 decibels, on average, a study in Texas found. That is equivalent to a roughly 70 percent reduction in traffic, according to Emily Black, spokeswoman for the Texas Department of Transportation.

Keep in mind that a 10 decibel increase means a ten-fold increase in the ‘loudness’ (the power) of the sound. Someday, we’ll start to look into this. Probably not the next few years though…

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6 Responses to Noise Is Pollution, Not Just An Annoyance

  1. Art says:

    There are relatively small things that can make a lot of difference: Incorporating crumb rubber into pavement resurfacing, converting areas to pedestrian only or rerouting through traffic all help.

    Check out: for well researched ideas on how to design livable spaces and towns that make sense both financially and as machines for living.

    A good article:

  2. brianbreczinski – Central Pennsylvania, USA – work: chemist, NMR manager; hobbies: gardening, reading, photography, electronics, biking, woodworking
    brianbreczinski says:

    I wonder if noise also contributes to anger issues.

    Also, the concrete data is interesting, but most of the U.S. is paved with asphalt, isn’t it?

    • Art says:

      Absolutely, For a time I worked in a machine shop and noticed that after eight hours of noise I was surly, slightly disoriented, slept poorly, and drank more. Professional-grade protective earmuffs, sometimes with ear plugs, helped a lot.

      I don’t know what the literature says but the effect was so profound, and protective equipment so effective, there is little doubt in my mind.

    • I bet it does. I used to work in this horrible little basement office with multiple people who never, ever shut up. My stress level when they were in the office versus a day when they were elsewhere was astonishingly different.
      Of course, the fact that the things they were saying were incredibly dumb and racist didn’t help…

  3. Tree-poor urban environments probably contribute to this, too. Places with a lot of greenery are usually much less loud, and also less stressful. Of course, you have to take care of plants in a city. Being a sidewalk tree is difficult.

  4. someone says:

    Modern USA is built for the car. Good luck with that.

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