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 Daniel Fink
The Quiet Coalition PO Box 553 Lincoln, Massachusetts 01773 USA
Ambient Noise Is “The New Secondhand Smoke”
Excessive ambient noise causes hearing loss; disrupts sleep, function, and commu- nication; and causes nonauditory health effects for millions of people.
Ambient noise is the new secondhand smoke (Fetterman, 2018). Like unwanted tobacco smoke, noise doesn’t just bother people but also adversely affects human health and function. Secondhand smoke causes cancer, sudden infant death syn- drome, respiratory disease in children, and coronary heart disease (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC], 2018). Similarly, unwanted single exposures to loud noise can cause hearing loss, tinnitus, and hyperacusis, whereas chronic noise exposure undoubtedly causes hearing loss and tinnitus. Noise disturbs con- centration and interferes with learning. Chronic noise exposure has little known but well-documented nonauditory health effects including cardiovascular disease (Münzel et al., 2018) and increased mortality (Basner et al., 2014; Hammer et al., 2014). The sounds that matter to people are the ones reaching the tympanic mem- branes of the listener or perhaps the cochlear hair cells and associated peripheral nerves and central auditory processing centers.
Noise exposure is a public health problem, with noise levels in everyday life high enough to cause hearing loss (Flamme et al., 2012; Neitzel et al., 2012; Mayes, 2019). Perhaps because of this, the CDC recently reported that approximately 25% of adults aged 20-69 years had noise-induced hearing loss. Of these, 53% showed hearing loss without significant occupational noise exposure (Carroll et al., 2017). Impor- tantly, although the nonauditory health effects of noise are small for each exposed individual, the population health impacts are large because millions of people are exposed to excessive transportation noise.
Figure 1. National Park Service noise maps showing existing conditions (left) and natural conditions (right). Without human activity, nature is generally quiet. Left: dark blue, <20 dB(A); brown, 41-47 dB(A); tan, 50-54 dB(A). Right: brown, <20 dB(A); yellow, 30-31 dB(A); dark green, 38-40 dB(A). Noise levels are average (50%) measurements on a typical summer day, meaning that half of the time noise levels will be higher and half of the time they will be lower than those mapped. From National Park Service, 2017.
  38 | Acoustics Today | Fall 2019 | volume 15, issue 3 ©2019 Acoustical Society of America. All rights reserved.

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