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Noise & Health, 2004–2006: Health consequences of noise and low-frequency noise annoyance 

Author:  | Health, Noise

Low-frequency noise and annoyance

HG Leventhall
Noise and Vibration Consultant, Ashtead, Surrey, United Kingdom

Noise Health 2004;6:59-72

Low-frequency noise, the frequency range from about 10Hz to 200Hz, has been recognised as a special environmental noise problem, particularly to sensitive people in their homes. Conventional methods of assessing annoyance, typically based on A-weighted equivalent level, are inadequate for low frequency noise and lead to incorrect decisions by regulatory authorities. There have been a large number of laboratory measurements of annoyance by low-frequency noise, each with different spectra and levels, making comparisons difficult, but the main conclusions are that annoyance of low-frequencies increases rapidly with level. Additionally the A-weighted level underestimates the effects of low-frequency noises. There is a possibility of learned aversion to low-frequency noise, leading to annoyance and stress which may receive unsympathetic treatment from regulatory authorities. In particular, problems of the “hum” often remain unresolved. An approximate estimate is that about 2.5% of the population may have a low-frequency threshold which is at least 12dB more sensitive than the average threshold, corresponding to nearly 1,000,000 persons in the 50-59 year old age group in the EU-15 countries. This is the group that generates many complaints. Low-frequency noise–specific criteria have been introduced in some countries, but do not deal adequately with fluctuations. Validation of the criteria has been for a limited range of noises and subjects.

Effects of low-frequency noise up to 100 Hz

M Schust
Federal Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, Berlin, Germany

Noise Health 2004;6:73-85

This review concentrates on the effects of low-frequency noise (LFN) up to 100 Hz on selected physiological parameters, subjective complaints and performance. The results of laboratory experiments and field studies are discussed in relation to the thresholds of hearing, of vibrotactile sensation and of aural pain. The effects of LFN may be mediated trough different ways. Temporary or permanent hearing threshold shifts seem to be due to acoustic stimuli above the individual hearing threshold. However, non-aural physiological and psychological effects may be caused by levels of low-frequency noise below the individual hearing threshold. The dynamic range between the thresholds of hearing and of aural pain diminishes with decreasing frequency. This should be taken into account by the setting of limits concerning the health risks. Sufficient safety margins are recommended. The use of a frequency weighting with an attenuation of the low frequencies (e.g. G-weighting) does not seem to be appropriate for the evaluation of the health risks caused by LFN up to 100 Hz. It may be proposed to measure third-octave band spectra or narrow-band spectra. A comparison with the known human responses caused by the measured levels and frequencies could help to evaluate the health risks. Some proposals for further investigations are given: (1) experimental methods to discover the ways mediating the effects of low-frequency noise, (2) consideration of the individual hearing threshold or hearing threshold shift and of the vibrotactile threshold in the low-frequency range to be able to judge the effects, (3) consideration of combined body vibration caused by airborne low-frequency noise or by other sources, (4) modelling to analyse the transmission of the acoustic energy from the input into the body to the structures containing sensors, (5) consideration of probable risk groups such as children or pregnant women.

Noise annoyance in Canada

DS Michaud, SE Keith
Consumer and Clinical Radiation Protection Bureau, Health Canada, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
D McMurchy
Dale McMurchy Consulting, Norland, Ontario, Canada

Noise Health 2005;7:39-47

The present paper provides the results from two nation-wide telephone surveys conducted in Canada on a representative sample of 5,232 individuals, 15 years of age and older. The goals of this study were to gauge Canadians’ annoyance towards environmental noise, identify the source of noise that is viewed as most annoying and quantify annoyance toward this principal noise source according to internationally accepted specifications. The first survey revealed that nearly 8% of Canadians in this age group were either very or extremely bothered, disturbed or annoyed by noise in general and traffic noise was identified as being the most annoying source. A follow-up survey was conducted to further assess Canadians’ annoyance towards traffic noise using both a five-item verbal scale and a ten-point numerical scale. It was shown that 6.7% of respondents indicated they were either very or extremely annoyed by traffic noise on the verbal scale. On the numerical scale, where 10 was equivalent to “extremely annoyed” and 0 was equivalent to “not at all annoyed”, 5.0% and 9.1% of respondents rated traffic noise as 8 and above and 7 and above, respectively. The national margin of error for these findings is plus or minus 1.9 percentage points, 19 times out of 20. The results are consistent with an approximate value of 7% for the percentage of Canadians, in the age group studied, highly annoyed by road traffic noise (i.e. about 1.8 million people). We found that age, education level and community size had a statistically significant association with noise annoyance ratings in general and annoyance specifically attributed to traffic noise. The use of the International Organization for Standardization/Technical Specification (ISO/TS)-15666 questions for assessing noise annoyance makes it possible to compare our results to other national surveys that have used the same questions.

Noise-induced annoyance and morbidity results from the pan-European LARES study

H Niemann, K Hecht, C Maschke
Technische Universität Berlin, Interdisciplinary Research Network Noise and Health, Germany
X Bonnefoy, M Braubach, C Rodrigues, N Robbel
WHO European Centre for Environment and Health, Bonn, World Health Organisation Regional Office for Europe, Germany

Noise Health 2006;8:63-79

Traffic noise (road noise, railway noise, aircraft noise, noise of parking cars), is the most dominant source of annoyance in the living environment of many European countries. This is followed by neighbourhood noise (neighbouring apartments, staircase and noise within the apartment). The subjective experience of noise stress can, through central nervous processes, lead to an inadequate neuro-endocrine reaction and finally lead to regulatory diseases. Within the context of the LARES-survey (Large Analysis and Review of European housing and health Status), noise annoyance in the housing environment was collected and evaluated in connection with medically diagnosed illnesses. Adults who indicated chronically severe annoyance by neighbourhood noise were found to have an increased health risk for the cardiovascular system and the movement apparatus, as well as an increased risk of depression and migraine. Furthermore adults with chronically strong annoyance by traffic noise additionally showed an increased risk for respiratory health problems. With regards to older people both neighbourhood and traffic noise indicated in general a lower risk of noise annoyance induced illness than in adults. It can be assumed that the effect of noise-induced annoyance in older people is concealed by physical consequences of age (with a strong increase of illnesses). With children the effects of noise-induced annoyance from traffic, as well as neighbourhood noise, are evident in the respiratory system. The increased risk of illness in the respiratory system in children does not seem to be caused primarily by air pollutants, but rather, as the results for neighbourhood noise demonstrate, by emotional stress.

This material is the work of the author(s) indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

The copyright of this material resides with the author(s). As part of its noncommercial educational effort to present the environmental, social, scientific, and economic issues of large-scale wind power development to a global audience seeking such information, National Wind Watch endeavors to observe “fair use” as provided for in section 107 of U.S. Copyright Law and similar “fair dealing” provisions of the copyright laws of other nations. Queries e-mail.

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