When it comes to combating noise pollution, how do U.S. communities take measure of a problem that often does not affect every listener the same way? Samantha Johnson wakes every night at 2 a.m., thanks to the train that barrels behind the house she has lived in for three years.
Her neighbor three houses up says she is never bothered by the train, and has never been woken at night.
“It’s hard for me to believe that any of my neighbors aren’t bothered by the train noise,” Johnson says. “My neighbor says she never hears the trains, and we have never adjusted to them.”
There are two railroad crossings in the downtown area of Johnson’s community, a bustling area with a mix of homes and shops, increasing auto traffic and both commuter and freight trains. After some local residents complained about noise from the train and the train whistle, town officials budgeted a study to determine whether a quiet zone should be created downtown.
To Johnson’s dismay, most of her town’s residents haven’t exactly rallied to the “quiet zone” cause.
“We have received a few complaints from three or four individuals,” said Town Manager Ray Smithson.
“Our residents aren’t gathering en masse to demand we do something about noise, but we try to take the concerns of all our residents seriously, and creating a quiet zone may be a solution.”
Traffic, trains, construction crews hammering first thing in the morning, neighbors with power lawn mowers and noisy heat pumps have all created their fair share of noise.
But what constitutes noise to some people may barely register in the background to others.
John Hammond, an acoustical consultant, has found that noise tolerance is largely subjective. Some people live comfortably in city apartments surrounded by trains, traffic and people, while others living in an isolated country home are kept awake at night by crickets.
Noise is measured in decibels, which Hammond compared to air temperature. Generally, a level of 70 decibels is comfortable, just as 70 degrees is a pleasant temperature. When noise reaches 100 decibels, it hurts.
A soft whisper reaches about 30 decibels, according to the League for the Hard of Hearing. A normal conversation hits 60 decibels, a ringing telephone 80 decibels, a leaf blower 110 decibels and a balloon pop 157 decibels.