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Sources and effects of low-frequency noise  

Author:  | Noise

The sources of human exposure to low-frequency noise and its effects are reviewed. Low-frequency noise is common as background noise in urban environments, and as an emission from many artificial sources: road vehicles, aircraft, industrial machinery, artillery and mining explosions, and air movement machinery including wind turbines, compressors, and ventilation or air-conditioning units. The effects of low-frequency noise are of particular concern because of its pervasiveness due to numerous sources, efficient propagation, and reduced efficacy of many structures (dwellings, walls, and hearing protection) in attenuating low-frequency noise compared with other noise. Intense low-frequency noise appears to produce clear symptoms including respiratory impairment and aural pain. Although the effects of lower intensities of low-frequency noise are difficult to establish for methodological reasons, evidence suggests that a number of adverse effects of noise in general arise from exposure to low-frequency noise: Loudness judgments and annoyance reactions are sometimes reported to be greater for low-frequency noise than other noises for equal sound-pressure level; annoyance is exacerbated by rattle or vibration induced by low-frequency noise; speech intelligibility may be reduced more by low-frequency noise than other noises except those in the frequency range of speech itself, because of the upward spread of masking. On the other hand, it is also possible that low-frequency noise provides some protection against the effects of simultaneous higher frequency noise on hearing. Research needs and policy decisions, based on what is currently known, are considered.

J Acoust Soc Am. 1996 May;99(5):2985-3002.

Birgitta Berglund
Peter Hassmén

Institute of Environmental Medicine, Karolinska Institute and Department of Psychology, Stockholm University, Stockholm, Sweden
R. F. Soames Job
Department of Psychology, University of Sydney, Sydney, Australia

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