Noise pollution – who makes the most noise for us?

People living in cities live surrounded by sounds 24 hours a day. From alarm sirens, to car horns, the whirr of lawnmowers, the roar of jet aircraft engines, the clatter of trains, the list can be extended depending on the city and neighborhood you live in. It is relatively easy for the brain to get used to a constant level of background noise, filtering out the most monotonous of sounds. Nevertheless, noise is a highly underestimated factor that negatively affects not only the comfort of life, but most importantly, health.

To realize the magnitude of the phenomenon, it is worth traveling at least for a while to a place where artificial sounds do not occur. Due to increasing industrialization, finding such an idyll is increasingly difficult. Until recently, a popular destination for thrill-hungry tourists was a trip to the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. In addition to the obvious “qualities” of the place, many visitors (including my friends) remark on the eerie, almost piercing silence that prevails in the vast, enclosed area.

Who makes the most noise for us?

According to a study published by the European Environment Agency, the number of people in Poland exposed to continuous noise above 55 dB, or noise that has health implications, is 7,076,600 (2017 data). As a result of constant exposure, they also estimate that Poles collectively lose more than 11,000 years of life each year, and just over 800 people die prematurely due to the health implications of being in urban noise. The main culprit, accounting for 93% of the health-threatening noise in Poland, is road transport, followed by railroads, and then air transport and industry.

According to 2010 data, within the European Union, about 40% of the population experiences constant traffic noise exceeding 55 dB, and 20% exceeding 65 dB.

Noise, and my health

A case that has proven to be quite media-savvy and emphatically demonstrates the impact of constant loud sound on humans is the story of Public School No. 98 in New York City, one of the cities whose residents suffer the most in the world from noise. The building, located in the northern part of Manhattan, is bordered on its eastern side by an above-ground railroad line. When trains passed over the viaduct, the noise level rose from 59 to 89 dB, and teachers had to shout every few minutes with the clatter and roar coming from outside the window.

The researchers compared test scores in classrooms on the east that the west side of the building, where there was relative silence. They found that students in the east wing lagged behind their peers by four months in reading skills and received consistently worse grades in classes. After interventions by The New York Times newspaper, among others, transportation administrators decided to install rubber pads on the tracks, and classrooms were equipped with sound-absorbing materials. After these measures, the school’s performance evened out.

WHO warns that sounds higher than 65 dB cause elevated blood pressure, heart rate and emission of stress hormones into the bloodstream. In the long term, this leads to very serious and chronic conditions that, in addition to partial or total hearing loss, lead to heart attacks and diabetes.

“You can get used to it.”

Due to the seemingly rapid adaptation and getting used to urban noise, objective assessment without measuring tools is difficult. A difference of a few decibels, although for a person who spends most of the day in an office, will be inaudible, but the body will react negatively to it. This can manifest as irritability or headaches, which in the long term can develop into more serious problems.

A multifaceted solution that makes it unnecessary to invest in several or a dozen separate devices to measure environmental quality is the Espirio system. Designed by Polish engineers and using high-precision sensors from the Swiss company Sensirion, it measures in real time some of the most important parameters affecting air quality, its temperature and humidity, illumination levels and color temperature, as well as noise levels and silence disturbances. In addition to the color LEDs on the front of the small device, the user can access via a computer or smartphone an easy-to-read panel from which he can read the exact values of all measurements, but also access historical records. This allows you to check the sound level in your apartment, classroom or office and take steps in ensuring your comfort and health for yourself and your loved ones.

Source: – data taken from tables published by the European Environment Agency.