“As sound gets louder, we begin to see the impacts go from annoyance to very serious health impacts,” says Ms. Erica Walker, postdoctoral associate in the Department of Environmental Health at Boston University School of Public Health and creator of the new Community Noise Lab. At only 65 decibels — about as loud as a car going by for someone standing on the side of the road — research has shown that people begin experiencing increased risk of hypertension and heart attack.
But not all sound is equal, Ms. Walker says. Someone’s favorite music could be playing at 120 decibels, and, for that person, the sound is enjoyable. If their neighbor hates hearing that same music — even if only at 65 decibels — it is noise, and may have more of an impact on the neighbor’s health than on the health of the person playing the music, Ms. Walker says.
Because the difference between sound and noise is subjective, the Community Noise Lab is working directly with communities affected by noise pollution in the Boston area: the Fenway, Mission Hill, East Boston, and the nearby town of Andover. Together, they are measuring and taking on not only the volume of sound, but also the irritation of noise.
“In the Fenway, if you ask them what’s really bothering them, they’re not going to tell you it’s road traffic noise or aircraft noise — those aren’t even in the top three,” Ms. Walker says.