Noise, normally defined as 'unwanted sound, has been redefined by the Luxembourg-based Expert Panel on Noise (EPoN) as such: Noise is audible sound that causes disturbance, impairment or health damage.
I find it to be a pretty profound assertion in light of the many studies regarding the effects of noise on health – particularly heart health – published in recent decades that all conclude in varying degrees that noise is killing us. It reminds me of all the years the tobacco companies were pussy-footing around the dangers of cigarette smoking. For decades they got away with ambiguous public health warnings like "Cigarette smoking may be hazardous to your health," and suddenly someone put their foot down and made them change the labels.
"Warning: Cigarette smoking causes lung cancer, heart disease and emphysema."
It looks like researchers just keep fiinding new information about the adverse health effects of noise, and it's definitely squirm-worthy.
A new study conducted by physicians from the Danish Cancer Society and published in the Public Library of Science (PLoS ONE) - a scientific journal out of the UK - found a “clear relationship” between noise and escalated risk for heart attacks. The PLoS ONE study of more than 50,000 Europeans produced some grim findings for residents of our noisy planet: with every 10 decibel rise in volume over 60 decibels, the risk of heart attacks to folks exposed to the noise source increases by 12 percent; 80 decibels translates to the sound of an annoying buzzing alarm clock - not as loud as you'd expect from a decibel level capable of contributing to heart disease, right?
So if you're exposed to noise even louder than an annoying alarm clock for long stretches of time in your day-to-day life, your heart is taking a beating and you may not even realize it.
The link, according to study leader Mette Sorenson, Ph.d., looks to be noise-induced stress causing sleep disturbances - sleeps disturbances play a significant role in the noise-heart attack cocktail. Sorenson was actually more specific, pointing to high traffic noise as the stress inducer that leads to sleep disturbances, that lead to an increased risk of heart attack.
There have been plenty of studies in recent decades measuring the effects of noise on health. Some studies have already claimed that noise might be a contributing factor to heart attacks, but few were willing to step out on the limb and slap a scary warning sign on noise, until now anyway. Noise is inescapable in too many places. People are so conditioned to living with noise, there hasn't been an urgency to do something about it until very recently when too many of us realized we were losing our hearing, losing our ability to think clearly in a crowded restaurant, get a good night's sleep; plus, the anti-noise movement has became more and more visible. In the Danish study, the test group was massive - 50,000 people, and researchers claim they found conclusive evidence of an association between residential exposure to road traffic noise and heart attack risk. Of course it has to be road traffic, the most ubquitous noise source on earth, instead of something you can avoid, like sonic booms in the Everglades.
Life isn't always fair, let's face it.
I worry about the effects of noise on my heart all the time. My father, brother, and sister all died of heart attacks; my brother and sister at inexplicably young ages, non-smokers and seemingly healthy. Just last week, my brother-in-law suffered a fatal heart attack at age 63, and he never smoked a cigarette in his life. He’d had a first heart attack about 10 years ago, and ignored his physician’s recommendations for bypass surgery.
As I’ve said before, writing about the health related ramifications of noise over the past three-plus years has turned me into a bit of a hypochondriac, compounded by the fact that I just moved into a duplex directly under the flight path of a major U.S. air force base. But I feel fine, really.
So, according to Sorenson, this study narrowed the noise-heart attack association to none other than regular residential exposure specifically to road traffic noise, which is the noise source on which she based the 10-decibel increase / 12 percent higher risk to the well being of our tickers.
“It shows a clear dose response relationship,” she was quoted telling a Daily Mail reporter.
And, if that's not enough to send you searching for an isolation chamber you can cart around with you, according to another recent study by the World Health Organization (WHO), noise from rail and road transport is linked to 50,000 fatal heart attacks every year in Europe and 200,000 cases of cardio-vascular disease.
That bears repeating: 50,000 fatal heart attacks annually, and 200,000 cases of cardio-vascular disease – and these are the numbers that can definitely be linked to noise, accounting for roughtly 10 percent of Europe’s health care budget.
WHO researchers claim that slightly less than two percent of heart attacks in high income European countries can be attributed to traffic noise levels higher than 60 decibels. Still, cardiovascular disease is the largest cause of death in the EU and accounts for approximately 10% of national healthcare budgets.
Sorenson gives us reason to hope though, by stating that sleep disturbances in and of themselves can contribute to cardiovascular disease risk, which would lead to a hypothesis that exposure to noise during the night might be more harmful than daytime exposure. So maybe the answer is to sleep in a quiet place?
Sorenson also pointed out that that changes in lifestyle caused by disrupted sleep could play a role in the heightened risk of heart attack as well. For instance, she says that stress and sleep disturbances can cause changes to lifestyle habits, including increased tobacco smoking, thus a potentially stronger association between traffic noise and heart attack among smokers.
But before we all breath a collective sigh of relief and go back to blaming heart attacks solely on cigarettes and poor sleep habits, Sorensen said her study did indeed find indications of an escalated rate of heart attacks in people subjected to road traffic noise who never smoked. Gotcha!
The population targeted for this study consisted of people who lived mainly in urban areas, and researchers did not rule out that other factors could be at play. But they kept coming back to traffic noise as the real culprit.
"Traffic noise in cities is an important public health issue,” said Ann Stauffer of the Health and Environment Alliance headquartered in Brussels, Belgium.
In addition, evidence shows that noise escalates incidents of stroke, especially in the older population, and affects children’s ability to learn.
New data on the harm noise is reaping on our bodies is surfacing every day it seems. The next step is to raise the awareness flag, get medical professionals in on the discussion, and become activists for establishing effective anti-noise legislation. People need to become proactive about lowering the planet's decibel levels.
And find a place to sleep that's quiet, if you can. Go on, save yourselves!
Summer is here, and with it come the familiar sights, scents, and sounds of the season. We all love the smell of fresh cut grass, but the noise emanating from the lawn mowers? Not so much. This may or may not surprise anyone, but the noise from lawn mowers is causing hearing damage to the folks who are doing the mowing.
Gas-powered lawn mowers can reach 90-106 decibels, while the threshold for continuous noise is 85 decibels before hearing damage begins to become an issue. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), 85 decibels over an eight hour day is the maximum permissible in a work environment before hearng is threatened. For every five decibels over 85, those permissible hours are cut in half. Allow me to do the math here: exposure to 90 decibels and permissable (safe) hours drop to four. Ninety-five decibels, two hours. One hundred decibels, and exposure should not last more than one hour.
Most professional lawn care workers do wear hearing protection, but what about weekend mowers? Folks who are mowing their own lawns, and young people mowing neighborhood lawns to earn spending cash? These are the the people who are not as aware (if they are aware at all) of the dangers of prolonged exposure to the mower’s noise.
Compounding the problem? iPods. People are cranking up their iPods so they can hear their music over the blare of the lawn mower. The two sources of loud decibel noise can make for a serious assault on the ear buds.
For many of us, listening to music at full volume is one of the pleasures of mowing the lawn. I am just as guilty as the next person – at least I used to be. I don’t play with fire these days, and I try to protect my hearing at all costs. Hearing protection, in the form of good, industrial ear plugs while you’re mowing the lawn is going to spare your delicate ears a lifetime of trouble.
In addition to the decibel dangers of lawn mowers to their operators, let’s take a look at the effects of lawn mower noise on the neighbors who can’t escape it. In most areas of the country, people have windows open and spend more time outdoors in the summer. But the drone of lawnmowers from morning to night takes a toll on everyone subjected to the sound, whether they know it or not. Lawn mowers can disrupt an otherwise peaceful Sunday afternoon, wake us too early on any given morning, and contribute to the noise pollution that is effecting the health of humans and animals.
Lawn mower noise easily falls into that category of second-hand noise pollution, a term used to describe noise that is experienced by people who did not produce it. There’s a growing school of thought that second-hand noise is as detrimental to our health as second-hand smoke, and even some who consider second-hand noise a civil rights issue.
More and more people are looking for new ways to protect themselves and their families from pervasive noise by installing noise blocking and noise absorbing materials into their homes and offices, and even sound blocking fencing in their yards. But summertime is all about being outdoors, and yet outdoors is becoming less pleasant all the time, especially when you have two or three neighbors mowing at the same time.
For anyone in the market for a new lawnmower who is interested in not contributing to the neighborhood din, check out the chart I came across at a site called PeoplePoweredMachines.com.
With a header that announces “Your lawnmower choice will affect the quality of your neighborhood," the chart offers some detailed options for choosing a quieter lawnmower that might be a welcome change in your neighborood.
Ever since J.D. Powers first presented verifiable proof that noise is the number one complaint among hotel guests, response from the hotel industry has been lukewarm.
Some chains have hired consultants to spend time in hotel rooms and take notes on bothersome noises that might be distressing hotel guests. A rackety air conditioner for instance, or a continuous humming from a light or in-room refrigerator.
I am not sure why I found this surprising, but there seems to be a big problem among hotel guests who are subjected to the loud snoring from guests one room over. Folks who travel for business are ever-protective of their in-room quiet, and the snorers are keeping a lot of travelers awake at night. In fact, some who travel routinely on business have admitted they dread hotel stays because of the noise and accompanying sleep deprivation they say they have surrendered to.
When J.D Power published the results of their detailed North American Hotel Guest Satisfaction Index Study in 2011, noise complaints far outnumbered other complaints of smelly rooms, rude staff, and slow Internet connections combined. OK, no real surprise there.
Stuart Greig, J.D. Power’s vice president of global travel, says noise is a definite downer when it comes to hotel guest satisfaction, and this distinction is not limited geographically.
Apparently, noise in hotel rooms is horrible globally.
But the snoring next door is the problem getting the most attention. Although I have stayed in many hotels in my life, in the U.S., Canada, Europe and Mexico, I do not recall ever being stuck next to a snorer, although that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen; it just means that if I was next to a snorer, I don’t remember. I never complained to the front desk about a snorer, but loud parties and out-of-control kids shrieking up and down hallways – yeah, I’ve lost it a few times over that kind of noise.
But the snoring problem seems to be widespread, and hotels are looking at ways to alleviate the intrusion of snoring guests on the guests they’re disturbing. The Crowne Plaza hotel chain now has “snore monitors” – people who patrol some of the chain’s UK hotel hallways to monitor noise coming from rooms – particularly snoring. If they hear a snorer in the course of their patrols, they knock on the door and tell the snorer to pipe down or move out of the room!
OK, in all fairness, the Crown Plaza has instigated this monitoring process in areas they call “quiet zones,” rooms in which guests can request to be accommodated, where they will not be subjected to ordinary hotel noises, snoring included. If a guest in a quiet zone room turns out to be a snorer, first it is suggested they try a calm bath with some of the hotel’s complimentary soothing bath salts. This is what they really do. If that doesn’t do the trick, which I assume is usually the case because if bath salts were a cure for snoring I think the whole world would be aware of it - the snoring guest can be asked to move to a regular room in a non-quiet zone portion of the hotel – you know, with the rest of the riff raff.
After the initial anger of being woken from a sound sleep in a hotel room you’ve paid for, to be told that you’re snoring and it had better stop - even if you manage not to tell the snore monitor all about places where the sun don’t shine before calling the front desk to complain about such inhospitable behavior, it’s got to be a mortifying experience.
The Crowne Plaza has also installed sound abatement material in their quiet zone rooms as an added layer of protections for guests who want to be guaranteed a quiet experience during their stay. They’re calling these rooms treated with noise absorbing materials “snore absorbing rooms.”
According to the British Snoring and Sleep Apnea Association, four in 10 Brits are snorers, a condition caused by a partial blockage of the upper airway. It’s not like snorers set out to be unruly and prevent people from sleeping, but they might as well be premeditated rabble rousers as far as some are concerned.
Crown Plaza representatives say they only resort to waking snorers and threatening them with a move to the non-quiet portion of the hotel as a last resort.
Happily, U.S. Crown Plaza hotels have no plans to hire snore monitors any time soon, but they are considering adding soundproofing materials to more hotel rooms, which really is the most sensible – and sensitive option.
The chain also is trying out snore-absorption rooms in Britain, Spain, Portugal, France, Italy, Belgium and the Netherlands.
And although it is considered one of, if not the most serious problem, snoring is still just one of a myriad of irritating sounds hotel guests have to contend with.
Doors slamming, conversations being conducted in hallways, amorous couples in the room next door, traffic from outside – all these sounds contribute to sleepless nights for hotel guests. Many hotels have done nothing to address noise issues for their guests until recently, but it seems to me that staffing hall monitors to wake those poor snoring souls crosses a line.
If a hotel wants to become known for its quiet rooms, installing sound abatement materials in at least some of the rooms, and offering those rooms to guests at a slightly higher rate, or on a first come, first served basis makes much more sense. Just like they have smoking and non-smoking rooms, there should be rooms treated with noise blocking and noise absorbing materials, and rooms that are not treated. Noise is unhealthy, and the sleep deprivation it causes is unhealthy. Second hand smoke is unhealthy, which is why people have a choice to book a non-smoking room. Why aren’t noise problems given equal attention?
Some hotel visitors sleep with earplugs, unplug offending noise makers like in-room refrigerators, or request rooms in the most isolated corners of the hotel. But usually, noise can not be avoided due to the very nature of hotels – lots of people, all with different agendas, descending on the same place to spend the night. It’s a recipe for noise any way you look at it.
Hotels that are serious about reducing noise to improve customer satisfaction need to address the thin walls and structural issues that contribute to their noise problems, and change the acoustical shortcomings of the rooms and hallways, instead of waking snoring guests and asking them to move to a different room. I bet that gesture can trigger a whole new noise source in and of itself.
Parties, fighting couples, loud music and televisions – these are the noisemakers that can be resolved with ultimatums, but not all noise problems are as easy to fix. The first hotel to offer rooms treated with proven noise abatement materials is going to be the one that attracts guests seeking quiet, with no inappropriate or invasive procedures necessary.
Father’s Day is fast approaching – June 17, only nine days away. If you’re searching for the perfect Father’s Day gift this year, you’re probably looking beyond the obligatory card and tie.
If you polled dads across the country, their number one wish for Father’s Day might be peace and quiet. And they really mean it – a solid stretch of at least 10 hours of silence, or the closest thing to it they can find.
Now, this could be a challenge. How do you gift a commodity as valuable and, more often than not out of reach, as quiet?
A gift certificate for a massage could be a good bet. Check ahead with the spa to make sure their masseuse is not a chatty type, and fetch your dad one to two hours of undisturbed ahhhhhh. If he’s a golfer, time on the green might be a favorite escape, if he can squeeze in his tee-off mid week when most courses are quietest. But even the most creative choices for giving dad some quiet time are fleeting. Buying quiet is just not easy.
It may seem like a stretch, but how many adults do you know, men and women, who don’t dream of a quiet space at home they can call their own? Soundproofing in homes today is growing in popularity, although most homeowners aren’t sure where to begin or what the cost might be.
Although the scientific veracity of these findings may be debatable, on a recent episode of “Family Feud,” a television game show that asks contestants to guess the most popular answers to random questions, the results of the show’s survey question: “Name the noisiest room in a house,” were, in this order:
If the dad in your life were to choose his own peace and quiet oasis, he may or may not choose any of these rooms, but for practical purposes most homeowners look to install noise absorbing and noise blocking materials in a home theater or home office. These rooms tend to provide a comfort level that can be enjoyed for long stretches of time, whereas a bathroom might not offer any realistic relaxation space for more than 20 minutes. The kitchen may not offer the absolute isolation that is part and parcel with peace and quiet, which makes the living room an equally questionable contender.
Different rooms have different noise abatement needs, so if you decided that the dad in your household would appreciate a quiet space of his own (or one you could share), the first step would be to talk to an acoustical consultant who can evaluate noise issues in the home, and help choose the best room for soundproofing treatment.
Let me just mention that soundproofing is never absolute. Eliminating all sound completely is simply not achievable, but noise can be dramatically reduced in a room – and in today’s noisy world, this “little luxury” is growing in popularity as more and more people seek solitude from the clamor of everyday life.
Noise abatement in a home theater makes sense, as this room is meant for enjoying music, movies, and television with as little external acoustical interference as possible. Eliminating noise in home theaters can be tricky because there may be issues of vibration and low frequency sound that requires a different sound abatement approach than, say, a room in which the challenge is keeping external noise out.
A home office might make sense for soundproofing treatments, since most homes do not have home theaters, and home offices are becoming standard as more people choose to telecommute. Depending on factors such as the number and placement of windows, as well as noise sources affecting the room, a noise blocking or noise absorbing treatment may be called for, or possibly a combination of both. An acoustical expert can also determine if the ceiling or floor need noise abatement treatments as well.
For anyone who has struggled with noise-related sleep deprivation, the bedroom may be the best choice for soundproofing, especially since it can serve as a comfortable retreat when the need for peace and quiet arises.
As the number of studies proving the negative health effects of noise keeps growing, the number of people looking to install noise insulating material in their homes grows. Increasingly, architects and builders are including soundproofing material in new home projects as a selling point that definitely appeals to buyers.
When I was growing up, ours was a family of eight children in a cavernous six-bedroom house on Lake Michigan, built in the late 19th century. There were always a door slamming, voices echoing, televisions, radios, stereos blaring – it was a boisterous household. My dad found his solitude in our bunker of a basement, which actually did a good job of sealing out the upstairs chaos above.
But that basement was built more than 100 years ago as a fortified shelter to protect the home’s inhabitants from the tornadoes that occasionally moved in off the lake in summer. Its solid stone walls were thick enough to house a wine cellar. Dad was a quiet guy, who rarely seemed perturbed by the noise in the house; he would just slip down to the basement to putter when he needed peace and quiet.
It wasn’t until he passed away in 1994 that we realized how peaceful his cellar lair actually was, an oasis in that big old house where over the years he taught himself to build delicate ships in bottles, make custom fishing rods and golf clubs, and kill time with a half a dozen other hobbies that required quiet and focus.
Everyone deserves such an oasis of peace and quiet, although you’re just not going to get it in most houses built after the early 20th century. In modern houses, creating a “peace and quiet” room can be the best Father’s Day gift yet, especially since mom can enjoy it too. Realtors find that home soundproofing can increases the resale value as well.
If you can think of a better Father’s Day gift – or perhaps you already have – tell us about it in the comments below.
If a tree falls in the forest, and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?
You don’t need humans to confirm the sound of a falling tree, or any noise for that matter, as scientists will tell you. The proof is in the behavior modifications that noise has caused in the forest’s wildlife.
The impact of noise on wildlife – from birds, to elk, to whales – has garnered plenty of attention from scientists in recent years. What may or may not be surprising is that studies are showing that animals with habitats in natural settings are modifying their behaviour in response to human noise.
You know that “fight or flight” instinct that we all experience when a door unexpectedly slams, cars collide, jackhammers tear up the street or an ambulance races by, sirens blazing? The “fight or flight” instinct in wildlife is being wildly over-stimulated, and although sometimes their behaviour modification is brief, it nonetheless happens. This is a real problem, as planet earth seems to be buckling to the impact of man-made noise on its ecosystems.
A 2009 article in Park Science describes animals reacting to human commotion in the reflexive manner of a creature suddenly threatened by predators. In humans, we know that these responses, when over stimulated for ongoing stretches of time, can lead to elevated blood pressure, stress, sleeplessness, depression and even heart disease. In wildlife, the constant flare-ups of anti-predator behavior interferes with their ability to perform normal functions, like foraging for food and taking care of their young.
The fear among scientists is that, as human-caused noise disturbances to wildlife become more frequent, populations of species could start to fade.
In Northern California – north of San Francisco, Muir Woods presents as a redwood-vaulted oasis, a place so silent that the air can be heard circulating around the redwood branches, and the gurgling of Redwood Creek is unmistakable and exhilarating. One of the first things visitors to Muir Woods National Monument in Marin County notice is a noise level monitor.
This place wasn’t always this quiet.
Back in 2001, Muir Woods had already been abandoned by the native otter population decades earlier, and pileated woodpeckers had abandoned the national park as well. A familiar pair of northern spotted owl – endangered species, in fact – were not frequenting the redwood cove as often as they once had, and park rangers were growing concerned.
Adding insult to injury, an asphalt walkway that had been installed was interfering with the growth of the redwood’s surprisingly shallow root systems, causing at least one of the redwoods – age somewhere between 500 and 1,200 years old – to fall.
Still, the man-made noise issue was the most worrisome, as the clamor of garbage can lids and park maintenance vans infested the park. Tying its proverbial noose, it seemed, was the park’s proximity to a metropolitan area of seven million people.
For decades, park rangers and scientists have been worried about the affects of human noise on wildlife, but little was done about it. Eventually, however, an effort to restore the Muir Wood’s natural sounds took hold.
Slowly, mechanical sounds were silenced, and park visitors followed suit. With a concerted effort, human noise was all but squelched. Signs posted near Cathedral Grove in the center of the park request silence from visitors. The decibel meter near the gift shop entrance that measures the voices of visitors had one park visitor commenting that they could see themself crunching on potato chips, as the decibel meter jumped with every crunch.
Today, there are times when the quiet in the park is so absolute, it seems possible to hear a banana slug slither by. According to scientists, this level of quiet is critical to the well-being of the native wildlife, which is recovering from the man-made cacophony that threatened its existence not too long ago.
Officials at some of the country’s national parks have worried about noise, and some have taken steps to make changes. Noise issues vary dramatically from one park to another. In the Florida Everglades, generators have been silenced at a campground, and park caretakers are trying to negotiate with airboat operators to measure the impact of their fans – which can mimic the sound of jet engines – to see if the noise they generate can be reduced. They have also approached officials at Homestead Air Force Base south of Miami about the timing of the sonic booms that shake the saw grass.
Noise reduction measures are being taken at some national parks, while there are high profile noise battles going on at others.
Park managers at the Grand Canyon want to require aircraft operators to shift to quieter planes, fly higher above the canyon’s northern rim, and refrain from flying at dawn or dusk. Senator John McCain, R-Arizona, has introduced legislation that would not only preempt the park’s plan to reel in aircraft noise, but would consider noise standards met if for at least 75 percent of the day, 50 percent of the park is free of commercial air tour noise.
Arizona environmental organizations have denounced McCain’s proposal, calling it a give-away to the air tour operators and an excuse to redefine what constitutes natural quiet.
A McCain spokesperson says the amendment was a measure to protect tourism jobs.
One of the most remarkable outcomes of the Muir Woods study comes from a year-long inventory taken of all sounds, natural and otherwise, in four places in the park. It was discovered that noise from the parking lot and gift shop bled a quarter-mile into the forest.
The parking lot was moved about 100 yards farther from the entrance, an ice machine was removed and the decibel meter was installed.
Park rangers are still establishing the affect that the reclaimed quiet has had on the park’s wildlife, since other clean up procedures were enacted at the same time, including removal of invasive weeds, elimination of the asphalt walkway, and installation of a new boardwalk that prevents visitors from walking on the forest’s spongy, porous moss-covered floor.
They say they don’t know the results yet. But otters have returned after a 74-year absence, and chipmunks are coming back as well.
In fact, two breeding pair of the rare, spotted nocturnal owls are inhabiting the Muir Woods site today.
Photo: Tim Robbins in "Noise" courtesy of Seven Arts Pictures
Noise pollution is making us sick, nervous, distracted, unproductive, and sleep deprived. It’s even killing us. Do we pull a Henry Bean to make it stop?
If you saw the movie “Noise” you may know that Henry Bean is the real life batterer of car alarms on whose life the movie, starring Tim Robbins, was based. Bean could not stand the sound of car alarms blaring for up to four hours in his Manhattan neighborhood, and when car owners didn’t address their blaring alarms soon enough, Bean did.
“It bothers me that their cars can shout in my ear, not stop shouting, and I can’t do anything about it,” Bean said in a 2008 interview. “My pride can’t handle it. I can’t exist if I don’t fight back in some way, however pathetically or ineffectually.”
Bean spent years breaking into those cars with blaring, unattended alarms. It was during a particularly sleep-deprived night that he broke into a car whose alarm had been blaring for more than four hours outside of his apartment. By the time Bean broke the car’s window, popped the hood and disconnected the battery cable, the car had already been pummelled with eggs, beer and tomatoes.
“People inflicted their fury, but nobody did what I did,” he said.
Oh, and the car's owner called the police. Bean spent a night in jail, and thousands on his legal defense. When all was said and done, he was admonished but hardly reformed. He has admitted to taking more blaring car alarms out since his arrest, but he skims the details.
The character based on Bean in the movie “Noise” sacrificed his marriage and his Manhattan apartment in his uncontrollable need to shut down car alarms, waging a one-man war on the urban noise pollution in what began as an attempt to get some peace and quiet.
The film received good reviews, but the general public wasn’t interested. Apparently noise isn’t a big box office attraction, but the film itself did a good job of defining a pervasive form of pollution that, although it is harming us, gets little attention from most people. Studies have revealed time and again that noise can be harmful to human health, just like air and water pollution. Noise damages our hearing, interrupts our sleep, and raises our blood pressure to dangerous levels. According to the World Health Organization, noise pollution is responsible for tens of thousands of deaths a year.
In New York City, noise is the number one quality-of-life complaint. Arline Bronzaft, a psychologist who studies noise, is a member of New York’s Council on the Environment, and helped rewrite the city’s noise code in recent years. It was Bronzaft’s landmark 1970s research that brought attention to the noise of elevated train tracks, which hampered the academic performance of children in nearby schools. In July 2007, the first new noise codes in New York in more than 30 years went into effect, regulating construction noise, air-conditioner noise, garbage truck grinding and even music from bars and restaurants. That’s right, taxi drivers are no longer permitted to lean on their horns except in situations of “imminent danger.”
Today, urban landscapes can be so noisy that ornithologists have discovered birds warbling at the top of their lungs to be heard. Nightingales in Berlin have been documented singing up to 14 decibels louder than their relatives in quieter surroundings, in an attempt to be heard above all the city noise Yet the cacophony of modern life is hardly confined to metropolises like New York or Cairo, Egypt, where you literally have to shout on the street to make yourself heard.
In “Noise,” the Bean character and his family head to the country for a weekend to escape the city’s noise, only to be besieged by a neighbor’s noisy leaf blower. Escaping noise is not an easy task.
Even scarier is the fact that noise affects your health, even when you sleep through it.
Scientists at Imperial College London monitored the blood pressure of 140 sleeping volunteers who lived near London’s Heathrow airport. Their research discovered that the volunteers’ blood pressure rose when a plane few overhead, even while the volunteer slept. Another study of 5,000, 45-to-70-year-olds living near airports for five years or longer found that they were at greater risk of suffering from hypertension / high blood pressure than their peers in quieter communities. In 2007, the World Health Organization estimated that long-term exposure to traffic noise may account for three percent of deaths from ischemic heart disease among Europeans.
Meanwhile, the world continues to get louder. The 20th century was the loudest in the history of the world, and the past decade was the loudest decade in the history of the world, according to researchers. The question is, when – if ever – will it get quieter?