The virus’ unintended consequence–the air is cleaner, quieter

Photo credit: Flora Westbrook from Pexels

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

In my earlier writing, I had suggested that studies would be forthcoming that would focus on the impacts of reduced sound levels brought about by reactions to the coronavirus pandemic. What is obvious to many of us, especially those of us living in urban centers, not just researchers who are tuned in to environmental sounds, is that surrounding sound levels have now been reduced. Fewer cars on the road, fewer nearby train sounds, and fewer overhead aircraft have resulted in less noise intruding into the lives of residents who are disturbed daily by the loud sounds of cars, trains, and aircraft. In New York City, with so many people confined to their homes, the hustle and bustle of pedestrians on major thoroughfares is gone.

Marina Koren’s article in the Atlantic this week is entitled “The Pandemic is Turning the Natural World Upside Down.” Ms. Koren writes that there has been a significant decrease in air pollutants as measured by earth-orbiting satellites. She adds that there is also “significantly less noise from cars, buses, trains and other transportation.” In her piece, she writes about Dr. Erica Walker, a researcher in Boston, who has studied and written about the acoustic environment. Dr Walker has recently taken her decibel meter to measure the sound levels in her community. And since she has written about noise pollution in her city for several years, she can make comparisons of sound levels before and after the Coronavirus. Dr. Walker now reports, using actual sound measurements, that her city has become much quieter.

With less urban noise, city dwellers are now hearing more bird singing, Koren notes. She writes that oceans are quieter today and reports the finding that “whales in the bay experienced a drop in their stress-level hormones.” No surprise, as cruise ships and other maritime vessels bring about an increase in sound levels in the ocean and these higher levels of sound “can increase stress-hormone levels in marine creatures, which can affect their reproductive success.”

As a long-time researcher and writer on the adverse effects of noise on our health and well-being, I never hypothesized about a world with less noise resulting from strict limitations on those human behaviors that have made our planet a noisier one. Nor did I envision that these limitations would come about because of a virus—a microscopic organism that needs host organisms to replicate.

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