“Eerie hum” from Virginia data centers keeps locals up at night

Photo credit: Robert Scoble, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 DEED 

by Arline L. Bronzaft, Ph.D., Board of Directors, GrowNYC, Co-founder, The Quiet Coalition, and Honorary Chair, Quiet American Skies

Loudon County, Virginia can now boast that it has 175 data centers that bring in hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenue. However, they also bring residents an “eerie hum” which grows louder at night. Some residents said the noise sounds like an airplane engine, a freight train or a leaf blower. One of the residents who moved to the area before the data centers were built said the sound emanating from the centers has invaded her space. Business Insider senior editor Rosalie Chan covered this issue in an article last month.

Data centers are not only present in Loudon County; more and more, they’re being built across the country. As a result, noise complaints will grow in number. Les Blomberg, executive director of the Noise Pollution Clearinghouse, explains that he has already been fielding complaints from people in Virginia and New York.  

Even if noise from these data centers is not that loud and doesn’t lead to cardiovascular disorders, it is still diminishing the quality of life for those exposed to it. People are entitled to live a decent quality of life, a sentiment I shared with Chan when she interviewed me for this article.

Residents who are affected by the noise are beginning to organize and bring information to their local officials. In response to complaints from residents, a spokesperson representing the data centers stated that sound levels were measured and they were under the county’s legal threshold. Residents were also told that the company was exploring ways to alter the operation of the cooling equipment, which is largely responsible for the noise. But residents believe that these solutions will not be enough, and they will still be subject to loud sounds for long periods of time, especially at night.   

Chan informs us that Loudon County is expected to amend its zoning ordinances, implement new standards for data centers and explore ways to lessen noise from data centers. Blomberg states that noise issues can be prevented with better planning. However, I still want to know what is planned to abate the noise for people who currently live near these centers.

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