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Roadway Traffic Noise Pollution

Killer Traffic: Roadway Noise Linked to Increasing Heart Attack Rates

Noise, normally defined as ‘unwanted sound, has been redefined by the Luxembourg-based  Expert Panel on Noise (EPoN) as such: Noise is audible sound that causes disturbance, impairment or health damage.

I find it to be a pretty profound assertion in light of the many studies regarding the effects of noise on health – particularly heart health – published in recent decades that all conclude in varying degrees that noise is killing us. It reminds me of all the years the tobacco companies were pussy-footing around the dangers of cigarette smoking. For decades they got away with ambiguous public health warnings like “Cigarette smoking may be hazardous to your health,” and suddenly someone put their foot down and made them change the labels.

“Warning: Cigarette smoking causes lung cancer, heart disease and emphysema.”

It looks like researchers just keep finding new information about the adverse health effects of noise, and it’s definitely squirm-worthy.

A new study conducted by physicians from the Danish Cancer Society and published in the Public Library of Science (PLoS ONE) – a scientific journal out of the UK – found a “clear relationship” between noise and escalated risk for heart attacks. The PLoS ONE study of more than 50,000 Europeans produced some grim findings for residents of our noisy planet: with every 10 decibel rise in volume over 60 decibels, the risk of heart attacks to folks exposed to the noise source increases by 12 percent; 80 decibels translates to the sound of an annoying buzzing alarm clock – not as loud as you’d expect from a decibel level capable of contributing to heart disease, right?

So if you’re exposed to noise even louder than an annoying alarm clock for long stretches of time in your day-to-day life, your heart is taking a beating and you may not even realize it.

The link, according to study leader Mette Sorenson, Ph.d., looks to be noise-induced stress causing sleep disturbances – sleeps disturbances play a significant role in the noise-heart attack cocktail.  Sorenson was actually more specific, pointing to high traffic noise as the stress inducer that leads to sleep disturbances, that lead to an increased risk of heart attack.

There have been plenty of studies in recent decades measuring the effects of noise on health. Some studies have already claimed that noise might be a contributing factor to heart attacks, but few were willing to step out on the limb and slap a scary warning sign on noise, until now anyway. Noise is inescapable in too many places. People are so conditioned to living with noise, there hasn’t been an urgency to do something about it until very recently when too many of us realized we were losing our hearing, losing our ability to think clearly in a crowded restaurant, get a good night’s sleep; plus, the anti-noise movement has became more and more visible. In the Danish study, the test group was massive – 50,000 people, and researchers claim they found conclusive evidence of an association between residential exposure to road traffic noise and heart attack risk. Of course it has to be road traffic, the most ubiquitous noise source on earth, instead of something you can avoid, like sonic booms in the Everglades.

Life isn’t always fair, let’s face it.

I worry about the effects of noise on my heart all the time. My father, brother, and sister all died of heart attacks; my brother and sister at inexplicably young ages, non-smokers and seemingly healthy. Just last week, my brother-in-law suffered a fatal heart attack at age 63, and he never smoked a cigarette in his life. He’d had a first heart attack about 10 years ago, and ignored his physician’s recommendations for bypass surgery.

As I’ve said before, writing about the health related ramifications of noise over the past three-plus years has turned me into a bit of a hypochondriac, compounded by the fact that I just moved into a duplex directly under the flight path of a major U.S. air force base. But I feel fine, really.

So, according to Sorenson, this study narrowed the noise-heart attack association to none other than regular residential exposure specifically to road traffic noise, which is the noise source on which she based the 10-decibel increase / 12 percent higher risk to the well being of our tickers.

“It shows a clear dose response relationship,” she was quoted telling a Daily Mail reporter.

And, if that’s not enough to send you searching for an isolation chamber you can cart around with you, according to another recent study by the World Health Organization (WHO), noise from rail and road transport is linked to 50,000 fatal heart attacks every year in Europe and 200,000 cases of cardio-vascular disease.

That bears repeating: 50,000 fatal heart attacks annually, and 200,000 cases of cardio-vascular disease – and these are the numbers that can definitely be linked to noise, accounting for roughtly 10 percent of Europe’s health care budget.

WHO researchers claim that slightly less than two percent of heart attacks in high income European countries can be attributed to traffic noise levels higher than 60 decibels. Still, cardiovascular disease is the largest cause of death in the EU and accounts for approximately 10% of national healthcare budgets.

Sorenson gives us reason to hope though, by stating that sleep disturbances in and of themselves can contribute to cardiovascular disease risk, which would lead to a hypothesis that exposure to noise during the night might be more harmful than daytime exposure. So maybe the answer is to sleep in a quiet place?

Sorenson also pointed out that that changes in lifestyle caused by disrupted sleep could play a role in the heightened risk of heart attack as well. For instance, she says that stress and sleep disturbances can cause changes to lifestyle habits, including increased tobacco smoking, thus a potentially stronger association between traffic noise and heart attack among smokers.

Hmmmmm…

But before we all breath a collective sigh of relief and go back to blaming heart attacks solely on cigarettes and poor sleep habits, Sorensen said her study did indeed find indications of an escalated rate of heart attacks in people subjected to road traffic noise who never smoked. Gotcha!

The population targeted for this study consisted of people who lived mainly in urban areas, and researchers did not rule out that other factors could be at play. But they kept coming back to traffic noise as the real culprit.

“Traffic noise in cities is an important public health issue,” said Ann Stauffer of the Health and Environment Alliance headquartered in Brussels, Belgium.

In addition, evidence shows that noise escalates incidents of stroke, especially in the older population, and affects children’s ability to learn.

New data on the harm noise is reaping on our bodies is surfacing every day it seems. The next step is to raise the awareness flag, get medical professionals in on the discussion, and become activists for establishing effective anti-noise legislation. People need to become proactive about lowering the planet’s decibel levels.

And find a place to sleep that’s quiet, if you can. Go on, save yourselves!

Noise Pollution and New Problems Raised by Silent Electric Cars

California Governor Jerry Brown has opened the door for electric cars to navigate California’s state roads in 2013, which means the remaining U.S. states that haven’t already will be following suit in short order. The widespread use of electric vehicles on American roads is expected to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and noise pollution which is all good news, right?

Yes, but no – one thing about the noise that emanates from gas-powered vehicles and the resulting roadway noise is that drivers and pedestrians have always utilized that noise to gauge the distance and speeds of vehicles for safety purposes. In other words, silent electric vehicles on the road bring with them a new safety hazard – without sound to inform us about where and when another oncoming vehicle is, what safety measures are being put in place to prevent pedestrians and other motorists from potential collisions with these new noiseless vehicles?

Bicyclists have dealt with this conundrum forever, and perhaps more than any other roadwau users understand the inherent dangers. Cyclists face the risks of pedestrians stepping or even running into roadways without looking, having no auditory warning that a bike is heading their way at speeds of 20 mph or better. Of course, auto drivers have no way of knowing a bicyclist is sharing the roadway unless they can see them; bicyclists, on the other hand, depend on hearing autos coming and going, and use sound to gauge their movements.

Of course, the electric car is a welcome instrument in the fight against noise pollution, and like all new things that affect large groups of people in revolutionary ways, the kinks must be worked out before hindsight dictates how we should have planned it.

Remember, car, buses and trucks have brought much of the world health-threatening noise pollution that has disrupted sleep patterns and escalated stress and health problems in humans, animals, and even plant life. Noise pollution rates worldwide are horrendous, effecting everything from health to workplace productivity, academic abilities and real estate values everywhere.

Something had to be done to lower the decibel levels of the world’s roadways, and it’s a relief to know that electric car manufacturers are working on doing exactly that. But electric vehicles and hybrids are actually too quiet – there is no way to know of their presence unless you can see them, and without eyes in the back of our heads the danger of accidents is extremely high.

The only solution, according to the experts, is for all vehicles – electric, hybrid and internal combustion engine powered – to be subjected to the installation of a special audible vehicle alerting system (AVAS) if they are deemed silent or nearly silent. Additionally, plans are in the works for creating different sounds that tell others if a vehicle is at a standstill or backing up. In fact, electric car manufacturers are trying out a variety of warning sounds to replace the polluting kind these new vehicles are eliminating, and they’re testing out everything from sounds that mimic regular car sounds to UFO-style signals.

In the U.K. town of Hitchin, researchers for NoViSim – a partnership team of engineering companies that specialize in the understanding of sound and vibration through interactive simulation data – are using computer simulation technology to replicate the entire town, and then testing all the possible scenarios in which silent electric cars could cause an accident.

Researchers say that getting electric car warning signals just right is actually very challenging, not because they can’t come up with warning sounds that can be heard, but because the warning sounds are more confusing to pedestrians and other drivers than anything. So far, the beep-beep-boop sounds they are devising do little more that elicit looks of confusion.

Will people learn quickly to recognize warning sounds created for electric cars, or should researchers be concentrating on warning sounds that actually replicate traditional car noises? The problem with that, researchers say, is that the sounds we are used to come from the automobile’s internal combustion system, an extremely complex sound that would require expensive hardware and technology to be feasible.

The research also begs the question, will the new auto warning sounds replace the old, traditional automobile noises by adding a new layer of unwelcome sounds to the environment – a space-agey noise pollution, if you will?

The U.S has already passed the legislation necessary to require electric vehicles to make noise when traveling at slower speeds. Europe is following suit, and some auto manufacturers, like Nissan, are already on it. Nissan’s all-electric Leaf, for instance, comes with sounds for both forward and reverse at low speeds. But the Leaf’s high-pitched warning sound is not a familiar one, and certainly not one people expect from a car, so the adaptation period could take some time.

Ironically, electric car buyers are in it precisely for the vehicles’ quiet operations, and the warning sounds undermine that intention to some degree. Still, it’s impossible for roadway vehicles to operate safely without some sort of auditory warning signals.

Others studying the issue are coming up with a variety of ideas – ring tines, for instance, similar to those that identify an incoming cell phone call. The added bonus here would be that people could choose their own ring tone for their car’s warning signals.

How would that work, though, if no one but the vehicle driver understood that “Who Let the Dogs Out woof, woof, woof, woof” signifies that the car next to you in a parking lot is about to back out, when another driver may have programmed the same song to mean they’re slowing down for an upcoming light? In other words, this could never work because of its sheer lack of uniformity, which is critical to something as universal as traffic behavior.

Welcome to the transitional world of noise pollution abatement. Everyone wants quieter roadways, but it’s obvious that traffic noise serves an important role in safety. Although the future of electric cars is here, and it’s not going to go away, it will be a while before all the kinks are worked out, In the meantime, noise barriers are perhaps the number one defense in reducing traffic noise pollution in residential and commercial communities.

Noise Barriers and Noise Abatement Solutions are Becoming a Necessity

We live in an increasingly noisy world.  As population densities increase, buffer space between residences, office parks and recreational public space diminishes. Homes and offices are increasingly built closer to highways and industrial land uses.  Often, noisy activities such as construction, roadway traffic and airline traffic are forced into close proximity with these noise-sensitive areas; not even hospitals and schools are spared.

Noise can degrade our quality of life, affect our health, interfere with sleep and adversely affect property values.

Luckily, more architects, construction managers and homeowners are taking proactive steps toward silencing existing noise problems and preventing new problems before lives are disrupted. Once noise levels are known (either by measurement or forecast) today’s planners and architects can minimize the effects of noise on surrounding areas using noise barriers and state-of-the-art sound proofing technology that didn’t exist just 10 years ago.

Noisy neighbors and activities can create unpleasant noise levels in some of the quietest areas.  Motorcycles, loud music, late night parties and even home equipment such as heat pumps and air conditioning units can disturb the neighborhood peace and quiet that most of us long for when we’re at home.

Traffic noise is determined by the daily and peak-hour volume of traffic, travel speed, number of lanes, terrain, type of vehicles and the location of the highway in proximity to residential properties, hotels, churches, schools, hospitals, and all locations that require a quiet setting.  Noise mitigation on a busy highway or a roadway is often accomplished with a noise barrier designed specifically for this type of setting.  Sound abatement window treatments and walls can also be used to reduce noise levels indoors.  The FHWA Traffic Noise Model (TNM) is used to analyze and predict traffic noise based specific parameters, and is often used to design adequate noise barriers.

Airliners are loudest on take-off, especially for locations behind and under the departure flight path.  Landing aircraft are typically much quieter.  The FAA has published the Integrated Noise Model (INM) and Helicopter Noise Model (HNM).  These computer models are used to generate noise contours or “footprints” of average noise levels based on the number of operations and aircraft types.  Areas exposed to levels above Ldn (Day Night Level) 65 are considered to be “noise impacted,” and nearby homes and buildings would benefit tremendously from noise barriers and other noise abatement solutions.

Light rail train and railroad operations can also raise noise to significant levels.  DOT regulations require that a horn or signal at certain sound levels be used at road crossings.  Diesel locomotives produce a great deal of low frequency noise.  Once the locomotive is past, squealing wheels, air brakes and other track noises remain.  Standard FTA methodology is used to predict railway noise, based on number of trains, track conditions, speed, grade, and similar factors.

The noise levels can make living near train or railroad operations unbearable unless the proper sound abatement solutions are put in place. With light rail train construction on the rise across the U.S., planners have begun incorporating noise barrier systems into existing and new train projects wherever noise is a problem.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and other federal agencies specify acceptable noise levels for residential projects.

For sites exposed to noise above Ldn 60, there is the potential for impact.   Sites exposed to outdoor noise up to Ldn 65 are considered “normally acceptable” for residential development.  HUD requires a noise study whenever the site is within certain distances of major roads, rail lines or airports.  The study must examine both present and future conditions, projected at least ten years out (although twenty years is the standard of practice.)

Noise is fast becoming one of the most pressing public health issues in society today. Noise pollution affects everyone, and long term health projections for people subjected to high noise levels over continuous periods of time are bleak; stress, heart disease, hearing loss and other noise-related maladies are becoming serious problems worldwide. Luckily, there are proven methods of reducing noise and creating healthier living spaces.

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2017-11-09T15:15:52+00:00