Sound and the city

Photo credit: Ian D. Keating licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This excellent essay by on Curbed discusses urban noise levels. It’s a very comprehensive piece, discussing multiple aspects of urban noise and how it affects people.

Some urban noise is an unavoidable accompaniment to modern life, but much can be done to make cities quieter. These include enacting laws against excessive vehicle exhaust noise, horn use, aircraft noise including helicopter flights, and indoor quiet laws.

Of course, enacting laws isn’t enough. They must be actually be enforced. Crowdsourced reporting using smartphone apps can help with enforcement.

My only quibble with the Curbed article is that the author cites the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as recommending only 85 decibels (dB) for 8 hours to prevent hearing loss, but the link is to the National Instititue for Occupational Safety and Health. While part of the CDC, NOISH is charged with making recommendations for the prevention of work-related injury and illnes, not recommendations for the general public. So NOISH’s 85 dB exposure standard, actually 85 dBA*, is an occupational noise exposure level to prevent noise-induced hearing loss in the workplace–it’s not intended to be a safe exposure threshold for the public.

The NIOSH Science Blog post on February 8, 2016, specifically addressed this concern. And my research revealed that the only evidence-based safe noise level to prevent hearing loss is an average of 70 decibels a day.

Given the general misunderstanding of what is a safe noise exposure level for the average person, Furseth’s article raises important issues that I hope are starting to be taking seriously.  Cities have gotten louder and the effect of increased noise on residents and visitors is something that should be given serious attention.

*A-weighted sound measurements are adjusted to reflect the frequencies heard in human speech

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