Regarding: GPT project, Cherry Point, WA.
Scoping comment: Please consider and study the significant impacts on sleep from the noise created by 18 trains blowing horns at crossings throughout the night.
My name is Amy Glasser. My husband, 2 dogs and I live on the Custer Spur (at a crossing and across from where the rail yard is proposed to be built) and will be directly impacted if the GPT project is approved. I am also a Social Worker/Mental Health Therapist and I work with children and adults of all ages. I would like the EIS to examine the impact of noise at the crossings next to and near homes, day care centers and hospitals (all locations that entail people sleeping/napping).
I am concerned that the noise pollution from 18 additional trains will result in increased sleep disturbances and the related health consequences associated with sleep deprivation (even if the person does not actually wake up from the train horns).
I have attached many references that identify the expected consequences of this level of disturbance for all people along the train line, from Cherry Point to Montana and Wyoming. Risks include but are not limited to higher risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and a lack of focus at school, on the road, and on the job. As a mental health therapist a good majority of my clients have sleep difficulties which result in increased depression, irritability, lethargy and stress. The additional 18 trains per day will exacerbate the already huge problem.
The emergent consequences that I would like you to evaluate is the cost to society and human life when the driver has a severe crash from being tired because the train kept waking him up throughout the night. Or the parent who cannot get a good night sleep loses patience with his/her child and abuses them. Or the man with a heart condition dies from a heart attack that was induced by a lack of sleep from the noise pollution. All unintended but not unforeseen.
One of the long term unintended consequences can be seen in the financial cost of the increased medical care (both physical and mental health) that will be paid by the people, employees and the government (our tax dollars) when people require increased medical care from sleep deprivation.
I would suggest that the EIS evaluation the mitigation options that will be useful but quite expensive to the county and along the route. We could request that BNSF build overpasses/underpasses throughout the route from Cherry Point to Montana and Wyoming. They could use high technology and have cameras and alert systems that tell conductors when cars are approaching and then the newly installed gates come down and the horn is sounded at the crossing (not hundreds of yards in advance), only if the cameras show that a car is not stopping for the crossing. They can build quiet zones in urban areas. They could close off some low use roads to emergency vehicles only (the gates can only be raised by an emergency vehicle). They could install traffic lights at crossing with cameras on them. The conductors can remotely change the light to red so drivers will stop (like they do at regular traffic lights without a horn blaring) . If they see cars going through the light, then they can use their horns to warn the traffic to stop. All of these options would probably offset any revenue we may get as the railroad is not required to pay for the work on the above mitigation options. But these are ways to mitigate the noise issue. This would also not mitigate the increased noise from screeching train wheels as coal is a lot heavier and causes more noise from the trains in general. This cannot be mitigated at all unless the trains are only half full of coal (possibly less noisy).
I would like to see you consider an alternative to this project all together that will generate revenue and create jobs short and long term. We can build assembly plants for wind turbines and then build a huge windmill farm at the Cherry Point, BP area. Eminent domain could be used if BP won’t agree that there land near Cherry Point should be used for the greater good. We would have clean energy, no noise pollution to people (no homes are there), no other health consequences to people, animals and the environment and maybe become the 1st county in the country to power our own county with wind (community owned perhaps).
Thank you for considering this potential impact when drafting the EIS.
The Relationship Between Sleep and Health
Not getting enough sleep can have profound consequences on a daily and potentially long-term basis for your health and mental well-being.
We all have some sense of the relationship between sleep and our ability to function throughout the day. After all, everyone has experienced the fatigue, bad mood, or lack of focus that so often follow a night of poor sleep. What many people do not realize is that a lack of sleep—especially on a regular basis—is associated with long-term health consequences, including chronic medical conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease, and that these conditions may lead to a shortened life expectancy. Additional research studies show that habitually sleeping more than nine hours is also associated with poor health.
Researching the Link Between Sleep Duration and Chronic Disease
There are three main types of study that help us understand the links between sleep habits and the risk of developing certain diseases. The first type (called sleep deprivation studies) involves depriving healthy research volunteers of sleep and examining any short-term physiological changes that could trigger disease. Such studies have revealed a variety of potentially harmful effects of sleep deprivation usually associated with increased stress, such as increased blood pressure, impaired control of blood glucose, and increased inflammation.
The second type of research (called cross-sectional epidemiological studies) involves examining questionnaires that provide information about habitual sleep duration and the existence of a particular disease or group of diseases in large populations at one point in time. For example, both reduced and increased sleep duration, as reported on questionnaires, are linked with hypertension, diabetes, and obesity. However, cross-sectional studies cannot explain how too little or too much sleep leads to disease because people may have a disease that affects sleep, rather than a sleep habit that causes a disease to occur or worsen.
The third and most convincing type of evidence that long-term sleep habits are associated with the development of numerous diseases comes from tracking the sleep habits and disease patterns over long periods of time in individuals who are initially healthy (i.e., longitudinal epidemiological studies). We do not yet know whether adjusting one’s sleep can reduce the risk of eventually developing a disease or lessen the severity of an ongoing disease. However, the results from longitudinal epidemiological studies are now beginning to suggest that this is likely.
Sleep and Health (0:36)
Dr. Orfeu Buxton describes how animal and human studies suggest that adequate sleep is crucial for a long and healthy life.
Below are some of the studies that look at the relationship between sleep habits and risk for developing certain medical conditions.
Insufficient sleep has been linked to a high probability for weight gain.
Several studies have linked insufficient sleep and weight gain. For example, studies have shown that people who habitually sleep less than six hours per night are much more likely to have a higher than average body mass index (BMI) and that people who sleep eight hours have the lowest BMI. Sleep is now being seen as a potential risk factor for obesity along with the two most commonly identified risk factors: lack of exercise and overeating. Research into the mechanisms involved in regulating metabolism and appetite are beginning to explain what the connection between sleep and obesity might be.
During sleep, our bodies secrete hormones that help to control appetite, energy metabolism, and glucose processing. Obtaining too little sleep upsets the balance of these and other hormones. For example, poor sleep leads to an increase in the production of cortisol, often referred to as the "stress hormone." Poor sleep is also associated with increases in the secretion of insulin following a meal. Insulin is a hormone that regulates glucose processing and promotes fat storage; higher levels of insulin are associated with weight gain, a risk factor for diabetes.
Insufficient sleep is also associated with lower levels of leptin, a hormone that alerts the brain that it has enough food, as well as higher levels of ghrelin, a biochemical that stimulates appetite. As a result, poor sleep may result in food cravings even after we have eaten an adequate number of calories. We may also be more likely to eat foods such as sweets that satisfy the craving for a quick energy boost. In addition, insufficient sleep may leave us too tired to burn off these extra calories with exercise.
Researchers have found that insufficient sleep may lead to type 2 diabetes by influencing the way the body processes glucose, the high-energy carbohydrate that cells use for fuel. One short-term sleep restriction study found that a group of healthy subjects who had their sleep cut back from 8 to 4 hours per night processed glucose more slowly than they did when they were permitted to sleep 12 hours. Numerous epidemiological studies also have revealed that adults who usually slept less than five hours per night have a greatly increased risk of having or developing diabetes.
In addition, researchers have correlated obstructive sleep apnea—a disorder in which breathing difficulties during sleep lead to frequent arousals—with the development of impaired glucose control similar to that which occurs in diabetes.
Heart Disease and Hypertension
Even minor periods of inadequate sleep can cause an elevation in blood pressure.
Studies have found that a single night of inadequate sleep in people who have existing hypertension can cause elevated blood pressure throughout the following day. This effect may begin to explain the correlation between poor sleep and cardiovascular disease and stroke. For example, one study found that sleeping too little (less than six hours) or too much (more than nine hours) increased the risk of coronary heart disease in women.
Sleep Deprivation and Cardiovascular Risk (0:31)
Dr. Janet Mullington discusses how studies suggest a link between sleep deprivation and increased risk for cardiovascular disease.
There is also growing evidence of a connection between obstructive sleep apnea and heart disease. People who have apnea typically experience multiple awakenings each night as a result of the closing of their airway when they fall asleep. In addition to these sleep disturbances, apnea sufferers also experience brief surges in blood pressure each time they wake up. Over time, this can lead to the chronic elevation of blood pressure known as hypertension, which is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Fortunately, when sleep apnea is treated, blood pressure may go down.
Given that a single sleepless night can cause people to be irritable and moody the following day, it is conceivable that chronic insufficient sleep may lead to long-term mood disorders. Chronic sleep issues have been correlated with depression, anxiety, and mental distress. In one study, subjects who slept four and a half hours per night reported feeling more stressed, sad, angry, and mentally exhausted. In another study, subjects who slept four hours per night showed declining levels of optimism and sociability as a function of days of inadequate sleep. All of these self-reported symptoms improved dramatically when subjects returned to a normal sleep schedule.
It is natural for people to go to bed when they are sick. Substances produced by the immune system to help fight infection also cause fatigue. One theory proposes that the immune system evolved "sleepiness inducing factors" because inactivity and sleep provided an advantage: those who slept more when faced with an infection were better able to fight that infection than those who slept less. In fact, research in animals suggests that those animals who obtain more deep sleep following experimental challenge by microbial infection have a better chance of survival.
• Sigurdson K, Ayas N. 2007. The public health and safety consequences of sleep disorders. Canadian J Physiol Pharmacol. 85:179-183.
• Hublin C, Partinen M, Koskenvuo M, Kaprio J. Sleep and mortality: a population-based 22-year follow-up study. Sleep. 2007 Oct 1;30(10):1245-53.
• Patel SR, Ayas NT, Malhotra MR, White DP, Schernhammer ES, Speizer FE, Stampfer MJ, Hu FB. A prospective study of sleep duration and mortality risk in women. Sleep. 2004 May 1;27(3):440-4.
Considering the many potential adverse health effects of insufficient sleep, it is not surprising that poor sleep is associated with lower life expectancy. Data from three large cross-sectional epidemiological studies reveal that sleeping five hours or less per night increased mortality risk from all causes by roughly 15 percent.
Of course, just as sleep problems can affect disease risk, several diseases and disorders can also affect the amount of sleep we get. While an estimated 50 to 70 million Americans suffer from some type of sleep disorder, most people do not mention their sleeping problems to their doctors, and most doctors do not necessarily ask about them. This widespread lack of awareness of the impact of sleep problems can have serious and costly public health consequences.
Guidelines to protect health from night noise pollution
Noise has emerged as the leading environmental nuisance in Europe, and excessive
noise is an increasingly common public complaint. One in five Europeans is
regularly exposed to sound levels at night that could significantly damage health.
The WHO night noise guidelines for Europe provide ground-breaking evidence of
how exposure to night noise can damage people’s health, and recommends
guideline levels to protect health. The new limit is an annual average night
exposure not exceeding 40 decibels (dB), corresponding to the sound from a quiet
street in a residential area. Sleepers that are exposed to higher levels over the year
can suffer mild health effects, such as sleep disturbance and insomnia. Long-term
average exposure to levels above 55 dB, similar to the noise from a busy street, can
trigger elevated blood pressure and heart attacks. One in five Europeans is
regularly exposed to such noise levels
TRAIN HORN NOISE - HEALTH AND WELL BEING IMPACTS
ARLINE L. BRONZAFT, PH.D.
Noise- Unwanted, Unpredictable and Uncontrollable Sound
Early laboratory work in the 1950s had concluded that noise or unwanted sound did not impede mental and psychomotor performance but Glass and Singer (1972) in an extensive survey of previous noise studies, as well as their own studies, found that unpredictable and uncontrollable high intensity noise led to degradation in quality of task performance. Since then greater attention has been paid to the unpredictable and uncontrollable aspects of unwanted sounds. In fact, the research dealing with the health impacts of noise is very much focused on the unpredictable and uncontrollable nature of the intrusive sounds. Thus, noise today is defined as unwanted, uncontrollable, and unpredictable sound.
Auditory and Non-Auditory Impacts of Noise
That loud sounds may be damaging to hearing is sufficiently supported in the literature (National Institutes of Health, 1990). However, sounds that may not be loud to affect hearing and which come in bursts, in a way that is unpredictable and uncontrollable, can have dire consequences for the listener, especially if the intrusive sounds occur over a period of time. If the source of the noise is an agent or agency that has demonstrated little concern for the individual suffering from the impacts of the noise, and, as a result, has done nothing to abate the noise, then the noise becomes even more disturbing to the individual.
What are the effects of noise exposure? Noise acts very much like other stressors and can bring about the following responses: heart rate increases, blood pressure rises, mouth dryness, rises in blood cholesterol levels and excessive secretion of hormones. If the noise exposure is sustained over a period of time, these cited stress reactions can bring about high blood pressure, cardiovascular disorders, or insomnia. There is a body of literature ( Bronzaft, 2002; Kryter, 1985 and 1994; Fay, 1991; Passchier-Vermeer, 1993.) that supports the potential danger of noise to our physiological well-being. Looking at the wide body of literature on the effects of noise on mental and physical well-being, one has to conclude as Passchier-Vermeer and Passchier (2000) did after they examined the literature on noise and health: “Exposure to noise constitutes a health risk.”
Noise has also been linked to mental stress and distress. Recently, a study by Kozo Hiramatusu and others found that people living near an air base evidenced greater mental instability, depression and overall nervousness as expressed in surveys subjects were asked to complete. In a Bronzaft, et al. paper (2000), individuals identified six emotional responses to noise with annoyance ranking first and anger second.
Noise and Quality of Life
In addition to documented physiological health impacts, noise may dramatically affect an individual’s quality of life. Individuals living near a constant noise source may not yet have measurable physiological symptoms but their quality of life may be substantially diminished. In comparing two groups of residents, one living within a flight pattern and one residing in a non-flight area, Bronzaft et al. (1998) found that higher percentages of people exposed to the aircraft noise indicated that they could not open their windows, talk on the telephone, converse with others in their homes, or listen to their radios and televisions, or sleep well.
The subjects of Bronzaft, et al. investigation may not yet manifest serious physical illnesses but they perceived themselves to be in poorer health. This was not an unexpected finding because these people were coping with aircraft noise daily. This finding can be generalized to individuals who are living with other noise sources that are continuously intruding upon their lives. Furthermore, the fact that people coping with noise intrusions perceive themselves to be in poorer health and experience a lesser quality of life, one could hypothesize a future marked by increased health problems. It has been found that a patient’s perception of health in general is a valid indicator that has proven useful in detecting health outcomes (Davies & Ware, 1981; Ware, 1986).
Noise and Sleep
The Bronzaft et al. study (1998) noted that people living in the flight pattern community, identified as being bothered by the noise, reported themselves to have sleep difficulty. While night flights are of special concern in the area of sleep deprivation, the young, the old and the infirm often tend to sleep during the day, and thus day flights may prove intrusive to these individuals. Sleep difficulty as experienced by the subjects in the Bronzaft, et al. study may have long-term health consequences. Furthermore, sleep loss may impair task performance the next day, rendering individuals less productive in the workplace (Pollak, 1991). Dr. Pollak also cautions about a secondary effect for people living near intrusive noises. Their inability to sleep may cause them to turn to tranquilizers and other drugs and these drugs in turn may have harmful health implications.
Even subtle noises at night that may not awaken people may disrupt sleep quality (Heaner, 2004) and Maschke, et al (2004) conclude as follows:
“Noise-induced activations may interfere with normal sleep stages and cause awakenings. Undisturbed sleep brings about health, well-being, efficiency and optimism. Long-term sleep disturbances, however, may induce adverse health effects of various kinds and intensities.”
Effects of Noise on Children
That noise in the home or school affects the mental development of children has been supported by a large body of studies (Bronzaft, 2002). Children’s language development, cognition and learning are impaired by noise. However, one must also examine the impact on the development of children who are reared in homes where their parents are being bombarded by noises. Children’s development depends on good parent-child relationships and parents who are stressed by intrusive noises may not provide the kind of environment for their children that would make for healthy development.
Individuals who are unsuccessful in stopping the noise feel as if they have lost control over their lives. Feeling that you lack “control over your life” brings about a feeling of “learned helplessness” and this adds to the distress and in turn exacerbates the adverse affects on the body. Having promises broken by an agency in control of abating noise contributes to learned helplessness.
Noise: Pervasive and Disturbing
That our society is becoming noisier and that more people are being disturbed by noise is evidenced by the growing number of anti-noise organizations that are being formed around the world. Noise complaints are not restricted to major metropolitan areas but have also been registered in quieter suburban areas and rural communities. Historically complaints have not been a very good measure of noise disturbance because too few people actually complain (Borsky, 1980). Very likely one factor contributing to lower numbers is the fact that local authorities have not been as responsive to noise complaints as they should be. Too many citizens have found that their complaints “fall on deaf ears” and as a result have given up complaining to the authorities. Thus, numbers of noise complaints have been underestimated.
In a recent study, Bronzaft, et al. (2000) found that 62% of the respondents to an international noise survey claimed to be bothered by noises in the neighborhood. This was an unusually high response that might be explained by the fact that people who responded to the survey were more knowledgeable about the dangers of noise. Yet, this study does indicate that a large number of people worldwide are actually bothered by noise. In New York City, the Quality of Life Hotline to the Police Department records noise as its number one complaint, with the second largest number of complaints a distant second. In 2001, approximately 85% of the complaints to the Hotline were about noises. With the voices of so many being raised against noise pollution, one cannot say that anyone complaining about noise is unusual or being unreasonable.
Generalizing from Studies to Particular Cases
Studies on community noise are conducted on populations located near noisy sources such as airports, railroads and highways. In order to get valid and reliable information on the relationship between noise and health, it is necessary to collect data on large populations. However, the results elicited by this research can be generalized to individuals who are living with other types of noises that are similarly bothersome and disruptive, namely in this case, loud train horns.
The residents being asked to live with these loud train horns are very much like their counterparts in the research in that they expect quiet times in their homes so that they can watch television, listen to their stereos, converse, read or relax. They expect even more quiet when they are trying to fall asleep and they expect to get a good night’s sleep, undisturbed by intrusive horns. In homes where there are outdoor areas to be enjoyed, it is reasonable to assume that owners of these homes can best enjoy these outdoor areas without disruptive noises. They are no different from the many community residents in studies whose reactions were examined after they have been intruded upon and exposed to noisy jets or nearby noisy traffic. ( see their comments below) Thus, it is appropriate to apply the findings of the noise research to the case at hand, namely the people reacting against the very loud train horns that are disturbing their ability to carry out their everyday functions in their homes.
A question is frequently raised as to whether individuals bothered by noise are overly sensitive to noise. That is the wrong question to ask. Rather one should ask as to whether a reasonable person would be bothered by the noise. Would a reasonable person find the overhead planes upsetting, or would a reasonable person be bothered by a neighbor’s loud stereo system, or would a reasonable person be irritated by repeated rail horn blasts that are heard day and night? The body of literature on the effects of noise on people clearly addresses the “reasonable person” issue by noting that large numbers of people are disturbed by intrusive, uncontrollable and unpredictable noises and these noises adversely affect their mental and physical health.
Are Noise Meter Readings Always Necessary to Determine if a Noise is Unreasonable?
Must one rely on noise meter readings to answer the question as to whether certain noises would be deemed bothersome? No! From experience alone, one can determine whether certain sounds would be disruptive to ongoing activities or proceedings. For example, audiences in theaters are asked to turn off beepers, cell phones, and to open their candy wrappings before the play commences. Recently, the New York City Council has imposed fines users whose cell phones ring in “places of public performance.” In courtrooms judges request observers to turn off their beepers and cell phones and to refrain from whispering or speaking to each other. Judges are very aware that court proceedings require “quiet in the courtroom.”
Additionally noise meter data and the statistics that they generate often fail to adequately assess noise impacts. The 65 dB DNL that has been used in the United States by the Federal Aviation Administration to determine the level at which residents would be intruded upon by overhead aircraft, is receiving considerable criticism in the United States for a number of reasons. The 65 db DNL average has been set too high in that people living within the 55 db DNL area complain about noise impacts. This measure does not include the low frequency sounds to which people are often exposed. Averages also fail to give fair weighting to the impact of individual bursts of sound, e.g. a single airplane flying or a single train horn in the middle of the night can awaken a person from sleep (Stenzel, 1996). Thus, it would be inappropriate to assess train horn noise impacts using DNL.
Complainants Speak for Themselves
The European Court of Human Rights gave much weight to personal testimony of people who said they were affected by nighttime aircraft noises (Case of Hatton and others v. the United Kingdom, 2001). In Berkeley Keep Jets Over the Bay Committee v. Board of Port Commissioners, 91 Cal. App. 4th 1344, 111 Cal. Rptr. 2d 598 (Cal. App. 1st Dist. 2001), over 1,000 Berkeley, Californian residents registered their concern over the proposed Airport Development Plan and described how jet overflights disrupted their sleep. This court too has given weight to personal testimony. Similarly, the U. S. Federal Aviation Administration in its quest to learn more about how people feel about jets flying over their homes are holding hearings around the country to listen to personal accounts; thus not strictly relying on noise measurements to provide them with pertinent information.
Thus, it follows that the complainants in the train noise case must have the opportunity to express their own feelings and that these expressions be given the weight they most certainly deserve. Below is just a sample of the comments made by individuals adversely effected by the train noise.
E. Z. “...those of us next to the Dyke Road tunnel will continue to suffer day
and night. None of us will be able to secure a proper night’s sleep, our
children’s schoolwork will continue to suffer, babies and shift-workers
will be unable to rest during the day, those of us who work at home will
have our capacity to earn a living affected and our gardens will remain
J. C. “I am a keen gardener and bonsai collector and every evening after work I
like to spend in the garden. My peace and relaxation have been completed
ruined. The train horns are constant, they are sounded early in the morning
before 7 a.m. and late at night, after 10 p.m. There is no respite...I have
also been unfortunate enough to be walking past a new train when the
horn sounded. I was frightened out of my skin and the noise level
actually hurt my ear drum.
J. B. “These train horns have made my life unbearable because:
I cannot go to bed when I choose...I have to get up early as it is
impossible to have any sleep after 6:00...having a door or window
open is out of the question...holding a conversation on the phone -
you have to ask the caller to old on until the train has passed by.”
A. C. “The horn is very emotionally disturbing and causing great stress...I sometimes
find myself getting very emotionally worked up when the horn starts blowing.”
J. A. “However the new trains contain horns that are excruciatingly loud. They
are louder than my alarm clock and they go off approximately very 10 minutes
during the day, and start at about 5:30 in the morning and on Saturday the
last train left at 12:55 at night. Every time the horn goes off it wakes me up.”
J. P. “The effect on our daily lives is considerable...Sleep deprivation is one of the
worst effects...I have been woken up startled in the middle of the night on
D. W. “As someone who often works from home, I find it greatly disturbing. And to
know that there are no moments in the day when one can be free of this
frustrating nuisance is a deterioration in our quality of live. Relaxing in
our garden is confined to minutes rather than hours...”
L.P. “What were the consequences of this type of sleep deprivation and sustained
assault from noise on me and my fellow residents? Headaches. Frayed
tempers. Children’s schoolwork suffered through poor concentration.
Adults couldn’t work effectively. Babies were unable to get their
These statements, the other statements on record, plus the thousands of citizens who have signed petitions to express their distress at a train noise underscore the need for immediate corrective action.
The residents living with these train horns share with so many others similarly inflicted the pain and discomfort from intrusive noises that have robbed them of their right to use their homes in the manner to which they are entitled. They also share with so many others exposed to unwanted noises the anger and distress of being robbed of a decent quality of life. They, like these others, also fear that if the noises continue, they may suffer greater physical and psychological harm. This fear is real in light of the growing numbers of studies warning people about the hazards of noise to health. In my opinion, these residents are reasonable to demand that their peace and quiet be restored. To do otherwise is to subject them to stress, unhappiness, a diminished quality of life, and potential adverse health effects. We should be especially aware of the effects on children - from the noise itself disrupting their activities and their sleep - and from the stress to the parents who may find it more difficult to deal with their children as they cope with the intrusive noise from the train horns.
From what I have learned, it appears that the new louder noise horn was introduced without actually testing the impacts on residents. Furthermore, the highly annoyed estimates used in the Rail Report, rely on the Schultz curve, a work that is over 25 years old and not in keeping with later studies, indicating that those in charge of this report failed to consider the latest research on noise and its effects. Relying on the data that generated the Schultz curve underestimates the amount of annoyance to individuals. Such reliance also neglects the translation of annoyance into stress and then into actual mental and health effects.
In light of the efforts by cities around the world, including the Noise Report recently issued by London’s Mayor and the efforts by the Mayor of New York to update its noise code, it is unthinkable that an agency, such as the present railroad agency, would inflict sounds that are even “noisier than required” on residents living near the railroad without carefully researching the impacts on residents.
Health, Safety and Livability Impacts of Train Horn Noise
Compiled for the HAND Neighborhood 1/30/09
Noise is defined in research literature as “unwanted, unpredictable and uncontrollable sound.”
The negative effects of loud, uncontrollable noise on people’s health and on the livability of a
community are well documented, with some of the major effects listed as follows.1
1. Noise interrupts sleep.
Sleep disturbance is one of the most serious effects of environmental noise. World Health
Organization guidelines say that for good sleep, sound level should not exceed 30 dB(A) for
continuous background noise, and individual noise events should not exceed 45 dB(A). 2
While night noise usually the concern, the young, old and infirm often sleep in the day, and
day-time noise can be intrusive. Even noises that may not awaken people may disrupt sleep
Sleep difficulty may have long-term health consequences. The inability to sleep may also cause
people to turn to tranquilizers and other drugs, which may have harmful health implications.4
2. Interrupted sleep harms health.
Effects as serious as elevated blood pressure are attributed to typical road noise levels. Sleep
disturbance occurs with levels as low as the sound of a refrigerator (40 decibels). Noise can
delay falling asleep, or cause repeated awakening which a person may not recall, but which
affects health by contributing to tiredness and stress-related conditions such as high blood
pressure, coronary disease, ulcers, colitis, and migraines. Chronic interference with sleep can
affect cognitive performance, reading and memory, and elevate stress hormone levels.
3. Loss of sleep decreases community safety.
An estimated hundred thousand car crashes a year occur as a result of drowsiness. Sleep
deprived drivers are equal to drunk drivers as a serious threat to themselves and everyone else
on the road.5
4. Loss of sleep increases the risk of getting sick.
While research has shown that sleep boosts the immune system at the cell level, a recent study
shows that even small sleep disturbances increase the risk of getting sick. People who tossed
and turned as few as 25 minutes a night were five times more likely to get sick from a cold.6
5. Continued exposure to noise constitutes a serious health risk.
Noise acts like other stressors and can result in heart rate increases, blood pressure rises,
mouth dryness, rises in blood cholesterol levels, and excessive secretion of hormones. If the
noise exposure is sustained over a period of time, these stress reactions can result in high
blood pressure, cardiovascular disorders, or insomnia.7 There is evidence that sleep loss may
lead to premature death, cardiovascular disease, and the development of diabetes.8
6. Noise increases mental stress.
Noise has been linked to mental stress and distress. Individuals identify six emotional
responses to noise, with 72% being annoyed, 40% angry, 30 % feeling helpless or upset, and
12% made physically ill.9 These emotions, if sustained, may lead to illness, a fact confirmed by
a growing body of studies linking noise and illness.10
7. Noise affects the whole body.
Women who don’t get seven hours of sleep erase much of the health benefit from exercising
regularly, at least in preventing cancer. Exercise and sleep both affect body systems including
hormone levels, the immune system, and weight. 11
8. Noise increases obesity.
Increasing sleep deficits (or interrupted sleep) brings about physiologic changes in the hormonal
signals that promote hunger and therefore likely contribute to obesity.12
9. Noise damages hearing.
Loud sounds may damage hearing.13 Sounds that come in unpredictable and uncontrollable
bursts can have dire consequences for the listener, especially if the intrusive sounds occur over
a period of time.14
10. Noise has negative effects on children.
Noise in the home or school affects the mental development of children.15 Children’s language
development, cognition and learning are impaired by noise.
11. Noise increases the community-wide burden of disease.
The burden of disease of noise exposure is being studied. Health effects of noise and noiserelated
health outcomes may include cardiovascular disorders, cognitive impairment, hearing
loss, tinnitus, sleep disturbance and annoyance. Considering various types of noise, WHO
§ “There is sufficient evidence for the association between community noise and ischemic heart
diseases, and limited/sufficient evidence for the association [with] hypertension.”
§ “The burden of disease caused by community noise induced tinnitus has probably been so far
§ “There are four components of cognitive impairment related to noise – reading, recall,
recognition, and attention showing consistent relationship with noise exposure.”
12. Noise reduces quality of work.
Unpredictable and uncontrollable high intensity noise leads to degradation in quality of
task performance, health risks, and reduction in quality of life.17 Sleep loss may impair task
performance, rendering individuals less productive in the workplace.18
13. Noise reduces quality of life.
Individuals living near a constant noise source may not yet have measurable physiological
symptoms but their quality of life may be substantially diminished. A higher percentages of
people exposed to aircraft noise indicated that they could not open their windows, talk on the
telephone, converse with others in their homes, or listen to their radios and televisions, or sleep
People coping with noise intrusions perceive themselves to be in poorer health and experience
a lesser quality of life. Perception of health is a valid indicator that has proven useful in detecting
Noise and Noise Pollution FAQ
Learn the answers to common questions about noise and noise pollution. FAQ about noise.
This Noise and Noise Pollution FAQ lists some Frequently Asked Questions about noise.
What is noise?
Noise is defined as unwanted sound. A sound might be unwanted because it is loud, distracting, or annoying.
Read more: What is noise?
How is noise measured?
Literally speaking, noise can't be measured directly, since there is no instrument for objectively detecting how "unwanted" something is. What can be measured is the loudness or intensity of sounds, sometimes called "noise levels." Sound intensity is usually measured in decibels (dB).
Read more: What is a decibel?
What are typical decibel levels of some common sounds?
A whisper is 30 dB, conversational speech is 60 dB, and someone shouting at you from an arm's length away is 85 dB. Noise levels of home appliances range from 50 dB (a refrigerator) to 95 dB (a food processor). Lawn equipment and power tools have noise levels of 80–120 dB.
See more: Decibel comparison chart
How many decibels can the human ear handle?
Immediate and irreversible nerve damage can be caused by sounds at 140 dB or higher (120 dB in young children). However, damage also occurs at lower sound levels, and this harm accumulates over time. Any sound above 85 dB can cause wear and tear on your earsthat reduces your hearing acuity over time.
Read more: Safe noise exposure limits
What is the loudest sound possible?
Sound is normally carried in air as a pressure wave. When the pressure of a sound wave becomes as high as the air pressure itself, the sound becomes a shock wave. Normal air pressure at sea level is 14.7 pounds per square inch (psi), or 101,325 pascals (Pa), which is equivalent to 194 decibels (dB). So 194 dB is the loudest sound possible in air at sea level; beyond that point it becomes a shock wave. (Sound waves that are transmitted through water or other substances would have different limits.)
What are the effects of noise on human health?
Noise has direct physiological effects such as hearing damage (including hearing loss and tinnitus, or ringing in the ears), as well as cardiovascular and hormonal disturbances. Indirect effects include sleep loss,interference with concentration and learning, mood changes and aggression, and social isolation.
Read more: How noise affects you
How does noise affect babies and children?
Because the ear canal of a young child is smaller than an adult's, sound pressure is up to 20 dB greater than that in an adult ear. In addition to the threat to a child's hearing, noise causes physiological and mental stress, and significantly impacts learning and cognitive development. Background noise also interferes with speech perception and language acquisition.
Read more: Hearing protection and children
What is "white noise"?
White noise is a sound similar to radio static, or the sound a fan makes, that is often used to mask unpleasant sounds. Some people find it helpful for sleeping, and it can be a soothing sound for babies.
Read more: What is white noise?
Noise Pollution FAQ
What is noise pollution?
Noise pollution is manmade sound in the environment that may be harmful to humans or animals.
Read more: What is noise pollution?
What are the most common sources of noise pollution?
Worldwide, the most common sources of noise pollution are cars, trucks, and other motor vehicles. Planes and trains also contribute to noise pollution. Other sources include factory machinery, power tools, and construction equipment.
Read more:Examples of noise
What problems does noise pollution cause for people?
The World Health Organizationcites seven categories for the ways noise adversely affects human health:
1. Noise-induced hearing impairment
2. Interference with speech communication
3. Sleep disturbances
4. Cardiovascular and physiological effects
5. Mental health effects
6. Effects on performance of tasks
7. Annoyance and effects on behavior
Read more: How noise affects you
What problems does noise pollution cause for animals?
Wild animals rely on their hearing for detecting predators, finding mates, establishing territory, and recognizing warning alerts. Unnaturally high levels of noise can damage their hearing and can also mask more subtle sounds that they need to hear in order to survive and reproduce. They may also react with a fight-or-flight response to artificial sounds such as aircraft noise, thereby using up valuable energy reserves to flee from a non-existent predator. If noise in an area becomes too intrusive, animals may shift to a new territory or alter their migration patterns, which can create new complications for their mating and survival.
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