Hearing is one of the five senses we all possess but may take for granted. According to the American Academy of Audiology, the average person doesn’t start to lose their hearing until 65. That may vary based on how much sound we expose our ears to daily. Erica Walker and her team at the Community Noise Lab are bringing awareness to matters related to sound overexposure, called Noise Pollution. Walker is an RGSS assistant professor of epidemiology at the Brown University School of Public Health. Her research reveals how this affects your overall health and why we must take this subject seriously.
“Noise pollution isn’t just a first-world problem. It is a significant environmental stressor that’s negatively impacting the health and well-being of all of us,” said Walker.
Noise pollution is any unwanted sound that persists in our environment. Items under this umbrella are the sounds that come from major highways, construction sites, travel hubs or any sound that is deemed unwanted. This becomes a concern when too much noise pollution affects sleep quality, mood disruption, and hearing loss. Walker explains that noise is unwanted sound. When we are exposed to unwanted sound, it activates the body’s stress response. Overstimulation of the stress response causes cardiovascular and mental health issues to arise.
“Your stress response triggers the body into flight or fight mode. Imagine if you were walking down a dark alley, and suddenly, a pit bull jumped out and attacked you. Your body is ready to flee or fight in that scenario. At that moment, your heart begins to beat faster and releases stress hormones. Constant stimulation of that flight or fight response over time can lead to severe health impacts,” said Walker.
The research done by Walker and the Community Noise Lab reveals people with lower economic status are affected the most by Noise pollution. The professor elaborates that people living near train stations, airports, transportation hubs, or anything with urban activity would be affected. The research uncovers that bad urban planning contributes to placing Black and brown communities in those areas. Houses and apartments closer to highways, airports, and train stations are cheaper than other areas. This problem trickles down to children as kids exposed to too much noise pollution negatively affect their cognitive development.
What legitimized Walker and the Noise Lab’s work were the stories of those living in these areas. One of the most compelling stories Walker encountered involved a woman told by her city that their tourism dollars matter more than her peace.
“A lady lived in a very touristy part of the city. The city had no intention of mitigating the sound because tourism dollars mean economic activities. Her voice was against the city that didn’t see any problem because tourism brought in money. That situation is the theme of a lot of the stories I hear. Many communities are forced to sacrifice their peace and quiet because of economic activity.” said Walker.
One notable victory Walker and the Lab earned from their work was the City of Boston and the Red Sox Baseball team addressing Noise pollution. Fenway Park is the stadium where the Red Sox play and large concerts are held. Walker partnered with residents near the stadium to collect sound levels for a year. Their data reflects sound levels when there is no activity in the stadium when there is a baseball game, and when there is a concert. The concert shows significantly higher sound levels out of the three.
Walker presented the data to civic leaders of Boston; the Civic leaders and the Red Sox took action about these levels. The baseball team enlisted Walker to help create a sound monitoring system at the stadium. This system captures levels at every event.
“That took a lot of work, but it wasn’t just me; it was community involvement. Thanks to many community advocates going out and fighting, we have an example of how community members and the city can work together to deal with that issue,” said Walker.
If you want to address noise pollution in your area, present it to your civic leaders. Contact the Community Noise Lab to learn how.