Traffic noise can be silent killer
Even when you don’t notice it anymore, the presence of noise can make you sick. Noise nuisance is an underestimated problem. Some people are so used to the noise in their surroundings that they don’t even hear it anymore.
According to the most recent measurements from 2016, more than 142.000 inhabitants of the Antwerp agglomeration are exposed to an average noise level of more than 55 decibels. More than 45.000 even have to stand more than 70 decibels. That noise is almost exclusively produced by road traffic; only part of it is caused by trains. Noise reports show that the situation is not better in other Belgian cities, like Ghent or Brussels.
But similar noise levels are not exceptional outside city centers either, which means that hundreds of thousands of Flemish citizens are exposed to harmful noise nuisance. And harmful the noise is. According to the standards of the World Health Organization, noise is ‘too’ loud when it exceeds an average of 53 decibels per 24 hours. That’s a healthy limit.
Other European cities struggle with the same problem. In Paris, for instance, a study showed that people living in and around the French capital were getting sick more rapidly than other French citizens due to noise pollution.
A higher noise level immediately makes the human body react: your blood pressure rises, the body produces more adrenaline and stress hormones, and your heart rate accelerates. People living and sleeping in a noisy environment have an increased risk for cardiovascular diseases or a heart attack. And even those who say they’re “used to the noise” and who don’t seem to bother cannot escape from the health risks.
“Our body acts like a sensor, capturing all external influences, even when we don’t see or hear them consciously,” says Bart Vinck professor audiology et the University of Ghent. “Most harmful hearing problems are even caused by tones that we cannot hear.” And he refers to the noises with a frequency of 20 hertz, produced by road traffic. “They have an immediate impact on the heart, veins, and even lungs.
So, whether or not we notice the noise, the hidden effects are just as bad, and not only during the day but also by night. “On top of that, you have to take into account the consequences of a disturbed night’s sleep, fatigue, stress, loss of concentration, a weakened resistance, and, in the long term, the risk for diabetes. That is why the WHO’s standards for noise are more severe for nocturnal noise.
The ‘extra auditive’ consequences of noise, however, are seriously underestimated, according to Vinck. “The criteria we use to measure noise are usually based on decibels, but they don’t take into account the frequency of noise and the number of vibrations, and that has to change. People should be better protected against vibrations.”