“Turn Down That Music.” You can almost hear an older – and by older we mean over 40-ish – person yelling it. And you can almost laugh at it. But maybe you shouldn’t. Noise pollution – including loud music and yelling – isn’t something you should just shrug off.
The federal Bureau of Transportation Statistics thinks noise is a serious-enough problem to track it. Its new interactive map of transportation noise is increasing awareness of noise pollution throughout the United States. Among those who should take notice: People who are considering a move.
Noise mapping and sound pollution
The new map won’t help you with the loud music thing – it focuses entirely on transportation-related noise. This includes noise created by road traffic and aviation noise throughout the U.S., including Alaska and Hawaii. The interactive features of the map allow users to point and click to zoom in or out and inspect different areas.
There is also a search feature that allows users to enter a city to examine – or home in on a specific address. The latter feature is enlightening.
For example, one would expect New York City to be filled with noise. But those who have experienced a relatively quiet summer day in Central Park might be surprised to learn the noise level in that area is still significantly higher than in many other parts of the country.
How do you measure noise? IAC Acoustics’ Comparative Examples of Noise Levels assigns decibel values to common noises such as a running chain saw, a garbage disposal and a jet taking off. Given those values, much of the U.S. isn’t as noisy as you might would expect.
The white areas of the bureau’s map, for example, indicate spaces that have a background noise level that is less than 35 decibels – quieter than a bird call or library. The yellow that makes up the majority of the map is between 35 and 40 dB, which is considered the lowest limit of ambient sound in an urban area.
The dark red specks scattered throughout the map are between 50 and 70 decibels. Between 50 and 60 decibels, the ambient sound is equivalent to a moderately quiet office – is there such a thing?
A small jump produces a big result: Between 70 and 79 decibels, the constant sound is more like being near a vacuum cleaner or 50 feet away from a freeway.
But within those darker red spots are some that are purple and blue. Ominous, right? The purple locations have a decibel rating of between 85 and 90, which is like standing near an active garbage disposal. The blue areas have a consistent noise level between 90 and 95 decibels, more like being next to a power mower that is never turned off.
The scientific case for silence
Back to music. Most people know going to a loud concert has the potential to damage one’s hearing. What they may not realize is that the level of noise they are exposed to on a routine basis can have a similar effect.
A study published in the Ear and Hearing, the journal of the American Auditory Society, discussed the potential of prolonged exposure to excessive levels of noise directly affecting the way the brain processes speech. Here’s the thing, though; lower levels of noise pollution also have been connected to health problems.
Stay with us on the science thing: A 2016 study shows a significant increase in anxiety and depression in populations suffering high levels of noise annoyance. The researchers evaluated individual responses to noise generated by road traffic, railways, neighborhood factors, aircraft, and industrial sources. The worst results came from those who had high levels of exposure to aircraft.
How to handle noisy neighborhoods
But could the power to identify locations that will be quieter and better for one’s health mean that these areas will become more popular and – gulp – noisier. Fortunately, technology might provide relief for those who find themselves in noisy neighborhoods.
For example, many manufacturers now offer refrigerators, dishwashers, washers, and dryers that are substantially quieter than previous iterations. A quieter interior can help mitigate the overall level of noise from the neighborhood.
Noise canceling headphones and earbuds are another must-have to create a peaceful environment regardless of the surrounding sound. There are dozens of high-quality options at multiple price points.
Decorating tricks also can cut the din. Rugs, carpets, and thick curtains absorb sound. Hollow interior doors and more traditional exterior doors can be replaced doors specifically designed to reduce noise pollution. There’s even paint that’s designed to lower noise levels.
A checklist of things to research before choosing a new home, city, or state doesn’t usually include noise levels. But now that you’re armed with this new map, maybe it should be.