Since 2017, we here at NoiseNet have been evangelically spreading the word about how dangerous noise pollution is for both human and environmental health. While NoiseNet’s initial concepts were born from a more base desire for a quieter life, what we discovered in our initial research truly changed the ways that we look at the noise around us. Since then, much of our business communications with local governments has focused on two things: the deeply adverse effects of noise on residents and the local environment, as well as the more practical ways that NoiseNet devices can help our clients streamline their noise complaint process and reduce workloads. What we’ve found is that, while the second point is what grabs sales, the first point is eye opening for our customers. So many people simply do not know that noises can harm us physiologically.
This is why we were so excited to see the New York Times, one of the world’s most prestigious news outlets, release a huge, in-depth, and scientifically sound exposé on the consequences of noise pollution on human health last week.
If you have a New York Times subscription or haven’t reached your limit of free reading, you can read the full article here. If not, read on for a summary of their findings.
The article moves across the United States to locations of varying urban density levels, to measure sound levels in the average home. Neighbourhoods in suburban California, dense New York City, rural Mississippi, and more were all investigated to see how different levels of nuisance noise affected residents. They also consult with over 30 scientists to definitively communicate what noise does to people. Here are their findings.
What Noise Does To Your Body
When sharp, sudden, and unpleasant sounds – like shrill sirens, barking dogs, plane engines, or power tools – enter your ears, they immediately trigger the amygdala, or stress centre of the brain. This causes the amygdala to react and put the body into fight-or-flight mode, raising adrenaline and cortisol levels and activating the sympathetic nervous system, which raises the heart rate, blood pressure, and triggers the production of inflammatory cells.
While these effects aren’t too serious in isolation, the true damage happens when the noise either regularly disrupts sleep or is so constant that the body doesn’t have time to wind back down. Those who are suffering with chronic noise end up with inflammation, hypertension and plaque buildup in arteries, which increases their risk of heart disease, heart attacks and strokes.
The scientific team behind the article conducted a thorough array of studies to discern these effects, and found that those living in areas with high levels of nuisance noise were more likely to experience major cardiac events, even after adjusting their data for other environmental factors like air pollution or socioeconomic risks.
How Loud is Too Loud?
This is a common question that we get when we talk about noise pollution, so it’s great to now have a both reliable and readable source to point to that explains everything. The most important data points are:
Nearly 1/3rd of the US population lives in areas with ambient noise levels above 45dB.
The World Health Organisation recommends less than 40 dB as an annual average of nighttime noise outside bedrooms to prevent negative health effects, and less than 30 dB of nighttime noise inside bedrooms for high-quality sleep.
The rural area bedrooms surveyed never got that quiet, even when transport levels were low.
Jarring sounds that break through the ambience (such as a train rolling past) have heavier effects on our health, even if average dB levels over time are the same as more consistent sounds (like the steady hum of a highway).
Who Is Most At Risk?
With this study being conducted in the USA, many of the socioeconomic findings are unique to that area. However, it’s important to recognise that similar effects can be seen across the world, no matter the demographic makeup of a particular area.
The key takeaway from this investigation is that “poor people and communities of colour are more likely to experience excessive noise exposure because they often have fewer housing choices and are more likely to live near high-traffic roads, raucous waste dumps and industrial areas.”
This kind of data is particularly important to our clients, as the environmental health departments of local governments. Knowing which areas are most likely to be impacted is also a key indicator of which areas may encompass those businesses or other bodies exceeding legislatively-allowed noise levels. Monitoring these areas and implementing effective noise reduction strategies can have enormous benefits to residents’ quality of life.
What Can Be Done?
This is the area we feel most qualified to speak on. Noise monitoring – especially the kind of remote monitoring that we offer – is proving to be a key piece of a proactive local government. Paris has recently begun trialling “noise cameras” that measure the sound level of vehicles and will soon begin fining drivers who exceed them; Switzerland has introduced national “quiet hours” that have drastically reduced average noise levels; and The European Union as a whole requires member nations to monitor and assess sound levels across regions and to produce new action plans every five years to accommodate the communities at greatest risk.
One of the hardest things for noise regulators to do is to get evidence based data on the extent of a noise problem. The question is not how to fix the problem, but whether the problem exists or not. Once a noise regulator is able to see if there is a real problem or not, the solutions typically become clear. By making this process dramatically easier and cheaper, NoiseNet is playing our part in helping the hazards of noise be managed
These kinds of measures are an amazing way to help both local governments and their constituents, and we’d love to see similar measures implemented across both the USA and our home of Australia.
If you’re intrigued by this New York Times article and would like to bring better noise abatement strategies to your local government, you can head over to our website www.noisenet.com to learn more about what NoiseNet does.