We are bombarded with sound even when we live in rural areas. From crop dusters to large farm equipment, we have plenty of sound in the country. In the urban areas, we not only have sound that is produced at unnatural decibel levels, the sound is reflected from hard surfaces that form at every kind of angle. We go to theaters and concerts where the ability to magnify sound has developed in incredible ways. We listen on headphones, where sound is not only concentrated, but the waves pound the eardrums with persistent and unnatural force.
Living next to airports, anywhere in the flight path of departing planes, and near maintenance facilities where engine run ups can blast sound for miles, is another source of unnatural and massive sound. Freeways, busy streets, moving trains, even the noise levels in hospital intensive care rooms, where a patient should be able to expect some peace and quiet are insane.
Sound pollution has resulted in days where there is virtually no period of time when some sound is not expected to intrude into our homes and lives.
The decibel measurement system is a very complicated matter, so for acoustic measurement, the amount of pressure on the eardrum is the important factor.
A decibel level of 225 is considered to be deafening. The most common source of that much sound is an aircraft taking off.
At a level of 130, pain begins. level 130 is also considered to be deafening. Close proximity to pneumatic concrete drills is the most common experience.
At level 110-120, fireworks displays, close proximity to trains, leaf blowers, music concerts, and thunder are recognizable sounds. 110 is the lowest level that is considered to be deafening.
Between 90 and 110, we have far more common items: some sirens, passing trucks, trucks without mufflers, car horns, and lawn mowers. The category is “Very Loud”.
Between 70 and 90, noise is “loud”, and includes noisy restaurants and offices, vacuum cleaners, flush toilets, food processors, radios, alarm clocks and regular street noise.
Between 45 and 70, noise is “moderate”, and includes conversation, streams, television on a moderate sound level, and most ambient noise that catches our attention.
Faint noise between 30 and 40 decibels, and very faint noise, between 10 and 20 is the threshold of good hearing.
Amazingly, the home contains many of the loudest components of our hearing day, especially with the kitchen, yard maintenance, and laundry appliances. The second most persistent source of sound pollution is in the ways that we listen to music in our cars, on our personal stereos, and even over our cell phones, when we use ear devices. When we spend the bulk of our day in downtown urban centers, the buildings can reflect sound, even if it does not amplify it.
Even restaurant noise is getting attention. Many local restaurant reviews have added reviews of noise levels during peak dining hours.
Amazingly, emergency vehicle sirens were found to be between 64 and 94 decibels, depending on distance from the vehicle. There are new technologies in directionality and functionality of these sirens that makes for a highly variable sound experience. But other siren systems still crank out sound at deafening and painful levels.
As we can see, noise pollution at levels that are considered to be painful and or deafening is far too common and is experienced far too frequently for us to not be aware and ready to do something about it.
Specific levels for common noises (PDF)
Decibel levels for common sounds