by Arline Bronzaft, Ph.D., Board of Directors, GrowNYC, and Co-founder, The Quiet Coalition
That noise is worse in poor and minority communities, especially in cities, is not new. Articles dating back to the sixties spoke to the impacts of noise in poorer communities, not just noises from outside the homes, but noises within the crowded apartments of large, urban cities. It was hypothesized that children whose classrooms were exposed to the noise of nearby elevated trains would suffer cognitively and this would result in poorer reading scores for these children.
Today, however, with modern technology allowing actual measurements to be taken in communities, we can more accurately measure community decibel levels and conduct studies as discussed here that find urban noise pollution worst in poorer, minority areas.
There is now an abundance of studies that have found that noise adversely affects mental and physical health. With better data to identify communities adversely affected by louder sounds, coupled with supportive literature linking noise to adverse mental and physical health problems, one would hope that the authors of the present research would have suggested ways to abate the noise. Sadly, the authors missed that opportunity, stressing instead that further research is required to deal with deleterious effects of noise.
One exception to the results of the research discussed above is a type of noise that tends to be an “equal opportunity offender.” Aircraft noise does not distinguish between poorer and more advantaged communities. Yet, one could say that individuals in more affluent neighborhoods are better organized to combat the overhead noises, though the citizens combating aircraft-related noises would not agree with the authors of this paper who state that “…the most successful U.S. noise reduction efforts have centered on the airline industry.”
The manner in which aircraft noise is measured by the FAA and the decibel level it has established as being intrusive falsely create the impression that far fewer people are affected by aviation noise. True, newer quieter engines are more efficient, but this does not allow one to conclude that aircraft noise is less bothersome. The use of inappropriate determinants to assess impacts, the increase in air traffic, and the new routes that have been deemed by citizens to be more intrusive speak more accurately to the adverse effects of aircraft noise.
In the end, whatever the source of noise or the community affected, one thing is obvious–environmental health researchers should go beyond publishing and seek ways to use their findings to improve the lives of individuals affected by deleterious pollutants such as noise.
Dr. Arline Bronzaft is a researcher, writer, and consultant on the adverse effects of noise on mental and physical health. She is co-author of “Why Noise Matters,” author of “Listen to the Raindrops” (children’s book illustrated by Steven Parton), and has written extensively about noise in books, encyclopedias, academic journals, and the popular press. In addition, she is a Professor Emerita of the City University of New York and Board member of GrowNYC.