Transportation Noise Pollution is Preventable

Transportation noise pollution is a public health crisis. Noise from airports and airplane flight corridors, traffic, railways, and public transit. Noise pollution hurts everyone, but children, pregnant women, the elderly, shift workers, people with chronic health problems, and noisier low income communities are most at risk. From chronic noise day after day, and night after night. Science proves that noise pollution causes chronic stress that damages physical and mental health leading to unhealthy lifetimes and early death. This is what chronic noise damage does starting from DNA damage to dementia and early death.

  • oxidative stress causes DNA base damage and strand breaks
  • endothelial dysfunction or damage to inner lining of blood vessels
  • stress hormones rise
  • heart rate and blood pressure rise
  • normal sleep disturbed, unrestful sleep, chronic insomnia
  • tired, moody, irritable, nervous
  • problems with thinking and memory
  • babies first words and other development delayed
  • children’s learning delayed
  • poor work performance
  • increased risk of accidents
  • anxiety, depression, psychiatric problems
  • obesity
  • heart disease: high blood pressure, heart attacks, strokes
  • diabetes
  • hearing system damage: sensorineural hearing loss, tinnitus and/or hyperacusis
  • dementia
  • early death

Damaging transportation noise pollution is a root cause of several of the top 10 killers in the world: heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and dementia. What if even some cases could be prevented by ending noise? Based on WHO (World Health Organization) data, 18 million people died of these killers in 2015. Stopping noise pollution would have saved many of them. Yet talk of how to prevent chronic diseases rarely includes ending transportation noise pollution.

Everyone worries about rising healthcare costs. Damaging transportation noise pollution is a root cause of diseases with the highest healthcare costs: anxiety, depression, high blood pressure, heart attacks, stroke, diabetes, obesity, and dementia. People with multiple chronic conditions cost 7x more e.g. diabetes or heart disease plus sensorineural hearing loss or sensorineural hearing loss plus dementia. In 2015, missed work from anxiety and depression cost the Canadian economy 16 billion dollars. In 2014, the UK estimated the annual social cost of urban road noise in England at £7 to 10 billion. In the USA, little is being done about the crippling public health burden of noise pollution, despite science dating back to 1978. Talk on how to lower healthcare costs rarely includes ending transportation noise pollution.

Noise pollution is still much louder than WHO Community Noise Guidelines (1999; 2009).

Indoor WHO (1999; 2009) Chronic Noise Guidelines
Limits are for volume of chronic environmental noise.

Residential Day, Inside = max 35 dBA avg

Residential Night, Inside Bedroom = max 30 dBA avg

Preschools/Classrooms, During class = max 35 dBA avg
Less if any children have hearing loss

Preschools During Nap Time = max 30 dBA avg

Commercial/Retail/Public spaces max 70 dBA avg
Many environments with piped in background music have background noise of 75 dBA avg or louder.

Outdoor WHO (1999; 2009) Chronic Noise Guidelines
Limits are for volume of chronic environmental noise.

Residential Day, Outdoors = max 50 dBA avg

Residential Night, Outside Bedroom = max 40 dBA avg
If night after night noise is louder than 55 dBA avg, it’s a big public health problem.

Schools/Preschools, Outdoors During Breaks = max 55 dBA avg

Parks/Conservation/Nature Areas preserve existing quiet outdoor areas and keep intruding noise as low as possible.

How do you know the dBA avg noise? Many Sound Level Meter mobile phone apps are now available. Internationally recommended noise measurement settings sensitive to hearing and health harm:

A filter
3 dB exchange rate
Fast time weighting
80 dB threshold limit
NIOSH standard if that’s an option (not OSHA!)

After hours of looking, I could only find 1 free sound level meter phone app by a reputable developer that is still free with these required settings: NIOSH Sound Level Meter app. It was developed freely for the general public and workplace community. It works great for measuring community noise. Especially for people who can’t afford to pay for an SLM app.

Damaging transportation noise pollution is slowly killing us; people of all ages from all around the world. No wonder Dr. D. Fink and the team of experts at The Quiet Coalition call noise the next great public health crisis. The time for talk is over. The global science on the public health risk is undeniable.

The EU is using urban planning and government polices to prevent damaging noise pollution. Noise mitigation strategies include quiet asphalt, low-noise tires, traffic curfews, quieter airplanes, noise-optimized airport take-off and approach procedures, and better infrastructure planning. Countries around the world need to take quick action against damaging noise pollution. To stop this public health crisis by preventing chronic mental and physical illness, and protecting vulnerable people in society including children, and the elderly.

The cost of prevention is far less than the billions in current and future healthcare and economic costs of damaging noise pollution. Experts say airplane noise health damage is worse than traffic health damage which is worse than railway health damage. The powers that be need to set priorities. My vote for top 3 are control/end airplane noise, control/end transportation noise pollution in low income, minority and segregated communities, and control/end traffic noise in general.

Cohen, S., Krantz, D.S., Evans, G.W. & Stokols, D. (1981, Sept-Oct). Cardiovascular and Behavioural Effects of Community Noise on School Children. American Scientist. 69(5). 528-535.

Lindley, J.K. (2018). The One Thing Your Kid Needs—and Isn’t Getting Quiet Time

Photo Credit Dominik Scythe at Unsplash

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