Urban noise is a top environmental risk

Photo credit: Nick Wehrli from Pexels

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

Kamyar Razavi and Kayla McLean affirmatively state In their Canadian Global News article that urban noise is a top environmental risk. They quote an associate professor, Tor Oiamo of Ryerson University, Toronto, who notes that studies “link long-term exposure to noise with an increased risk of heart disease,” adding that the higher risk of heart disease can lead to heart attacks. Oiamo says that noise can even harm us when we are sleeping-–your body can feel the intrusive sounds.

While Oiamo, like many of us, believes that a strong enough political will to reducing noise is still lacking, Razavi and McLean point to a city that is mitigating noise. Barcelona, Spain, a city where traffic noise was overwhelming, undertook a program starting in the 1990s to seal off nine-block areas in the city to all but local traffic. Presently, there are six “superblock areas” with four more planned. Not unexpectedly, there was at first opposition to these superblock areas by retailers and residents but in time these areas became a “magnet for pedestrian traffic, families, street markets and other activities.” To make these changes, Barcelona exhibited the political will that Oaimo and so many of us believe is lacking when it comes to introducing programs that will lessen traffic noise pollution.

In support of Oaimo’s belief that political will is still lacking in many cities is the report he and his co-author issued that found that in Toronto nearly 90% of the city’s population are exposed to noise levels that exceed WHO daytime guidelines. A 2012 study in Vancouver found that an elevation of ten decibels was associated with “a nine per cent increase in death from coronary heart disease.” Oiamo also stresses that lower-income areas, closer to airports, rail yards and industrial sites, tend to be exposed to more noise pollution.

Oiamo, like several people who have written blogs for The Quiet Coaltion, tells us that the COVID pandemic exposed many people to quieter times and, thus, they may have become more aware of noise pollution. He, like the writers of these blogs, hopes this greater awareness of noise may lead to actions to reduce noise. I certainly hope so!

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