The concept of ambient noise as “the new second-hand smoke,” and an increasing public-health problem, is gaining worldwide recognition. Two of the latest, significant illustrations:
1) “Ssssh: As cities surge, some seek a new aim - peace and quiet.“ This is a Reuters report, by Carey L. Biron and Adela Suliman, which includes our Washington-based initiative to phase out gas-powered leaf blowers, but covers developments around the world. For instance:
Efforts to slow the pace of city life range from the literal - with many cities pushing for lower speed limits on their roads - to the imaginative, such as looking for ways to promote mindfulness.
Many of them include a recognition of the rising importance of public spaces that are geared more toward quiet and contemplation than efficiency and technology.
Noise, for example, is the “new secondhand smoke”, according to the The Quiet Coalition, a program of Massachusetts-based non-profit., Quiet Communities, Inc.
“We’re in a noisier and noisier world,” said the group’s executive director, Jamie L. Banks. Finding ways to change that is “urgent”, she said.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has said the health risks of living in noisy cities can include hearing loss, cardiovascular disease and sleep disorders.
2) “Why Everything Is Getting Louder,” by Bianca Bosker, in the new issue of The Atlantic, also discussed mounting public-health challenges. For instance:
Scientists have known for decades that noise—even at the seemingly innocuous volume of car traffic—is bad for us. “Calling noise a nuisance is like calling smog an inconvenience,” former U.S. Surgeon General William Stewart said in 1978. In the years since, numerous studies have only underscored his assertion that noise “must be considered a hazard to the health of people everywhere.”
Say you’re trying to fall asleep. You may think you’ve tuned out the grumble of trucks downshifting outside, but your body has not: Your adrenal glands are pumping stress hormones, your blood pressure and heart rate are rising, your digestion is slowing down. Your brain continues to process sounds while you snooze, and your blood pressure spikes in response to clatter as low as 33 decibels—slightly louder than a purring cat….
Experts say your body does not adapt to noise. Large-scale studies show that if the din keeps up—over days, months, years—noise exposure increases your risk of high blood pressure, coronary heart disease, and heart attacks, as well as strokes, diabetes, dementia, and depression.
Both reports are well worth reading, and acting on.