Noise as 'the New Second-Hand Smoke'

Some of the public-health challenges of this era are familiar: diabetes, obesity, and of course the opioid epidemic.

Some are less publicized and just beginning to break into public awareness. Among them is what the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) has noted as an incipient epidemic of hearing loss, at much younger ages than had previously been observed. As the CDC said in a report this spring (emphasis added):

“Noise is damaging hearing before anyone notices or diagnoses it,” said Anne Schuchat, the CDC's acting director. “Because of that, the start of hearing loss is underrecognized.”
The study revealed that 19 percent of people between the ages of 20 and 29 had some hearing loss, a finding that Schuchat called alarming....
Hearing damage results from a combination of volume and the length of the exposure. One minute of hearing a 120-decibel siren can damage hearing, the CDC said. So can two hours of exposure to a 90-decibel leaf blower

Now the Pew Trusts have followed up with a report on the increasing toll causes by hearing loss, and the dawning awareness that this is a public-health challenge akin to the second-hand smoke phenomenon of a generation ago. The report is called "Seeking a Quiet Place in a Nation of Noise," and is worth reading in full, here. Some samples:

Noise doesn’t just affect hearing, noise activists say; it can cost your health. A study by the University of Michigan showed a link to cardiovascular disease and heart attacks, according to [Rick] Neitzel, who conducted the study.

“The consensus is that if we can keep noise below 70 decibels on average, that would eliminate hearing loss,” Neitzel said. “But the problem is that if noise is more than 50 decibels, there’s an increased risk of heart attack and hypertension,” he said. “Noise at 70 decibels is not safe.”


Leaf blowers are another noise flashpoint.

Hundreds of cities have leaf blower regulations, but they are difficult to enforce. Regulation has been prevalent in California, Arizona, Hawaii, Illinois, New York and Massachusetts, according to Quiet Communities, a nonprofit that advocates for noise control.

State lawmakers in Hawaii have considered a ban on gas blowers. And cities like Washington, D.C., have been considering a ban for several years, but not passed one.

As chronicled on this site, Washington D.C. is, at last, indeed moving toward action on this front. Stay tuned for updates.