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Living With Noise Pollution

The world is getting louder, and all that racket can have serious consequences for your health. Here’s how to handle the increase in noise pollution and find a little peace for body, mind, and even soul. 

By Holly Pevzner
Illustration of giant ear surrounded by little caricatures making loud noises on pink backgroundSerge Bloch


The Sound and the Fury

Out of approximately 111.8 million households accounted for in the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2009 American Housing Survey, about 25.4 million reported being bothered by street noise or heavy traffic. The World Health Organization recently published a study of the relationship in Western Europe between environmental noise and health conditions, including cardiovascular disease, cognitive impairment, sleep disturbance, tinnitus (chronic ringing of the ears), and plain old annoyance. According to the findings, about 1,629 heart attacks that occur in Germany each year are caused by traffic noise.

Even hospitals, the places we go to heal, have gotten louder. A 2004 Johns Hopkins University study found that average daytime hospital noise rose from 57 decibels in 1960 to 72 decibels in 2004. Blame the cacophony of PA announcements, beepers, heating and cooling systems, people talking to one another, and people talking into equipment activated by voice recognition.

And of course any discussion of the upsurge in public noise has to include the cell phone, which has made it possible for all of us to converse endlessly, anytime, anywhere. “We spew noise pollution into our phones, and all that noise only makes us noisier,” says Bart Kosko, a professor of electrical engineering at the University of Southern California, in Los Angeles, who has written a book on the scourge of sound, entitled Noise ($25, It’s worth noting that we may be deaf to our personal contributions: In a 2006 Pew Research Center poll, 82 percent of respondents said they had encountered annoying cell-phone chatter in public, but only 8 percent said they had noticed their own phone habits irritating others.

Things aren’t much better underwater. Acoustic scientists at the Pennsylvania State University Applied Research Laboratory, in University Park, have found that North American right whales are calling to one another more loudly. Most likely that’s a result of the commotion produced by commercial shipping.

Read More About:Preventative Health

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