Florence Williams writes a cautionary take on noise pollution:
If you're a tree frog or an ovenbird in mating season and you happen to live in the 83 percent of the continental United States that lies within 3,500 feet of a road, bummer for you. Not only are you more likely to collide with an SUV, but you're going to have a harder time finding a mate. Research suggests that human-generated noises also mess with nesting behavior, predator-prey dynamics, and sleep patterns. In other words, wildlife gets stressed out by noise.
So do we, it turns out--and the world is getting louder.
She continues by writing that "anthropophony (a fancy word for the human soundscape) is also contributing to stress-related diseases and early death, especially in and around cities:"
Not only does background noise interfere with our much-needed ability to recuperate, but in the places where we live and play, we have increasingly fewer havens from the onslaught.
Even if you think you're immune to city noise, it may well be affecting your health. The best research on this comes out of Europe. In one study of 4,861 adults, a 10-decibel increase in nighttime noise was linked to a 14 percent rise in a person's likelihood of being diagnosed with hypertension.
Yet another depressing study examined the cognition of 2,800 students in 89 schools across Europe. Published in The Lancet in 2005, it found that aircraft and road noise had significant impacts on reading comprehension and certain kinds of memory. The results, adjusted for family income, the mother's education, and other confounding factors, were linear. For every five-decibel noise increase, the reading scores of British children dropped by the equivalent of a two-month delay, so that kids in neighborhoods that were 20 decibels louder than average were almost a year behind.
She observes that other studies are "finding ... that noise may well be the most pervasive pollutant in America." The study to which she refers, "Aircraft and road traffic noise and children's cognition and health: a cross-national study," indicates that "a chronic environmental stressor--aircraft noise--could impair cognitive development in children, specifically reading comprehension:"
Schools exposed to high levels of aircraft noise are not healthy educational environments. [...] With respect to health effects, increasing exposure to both aircraft noise and road traffic noise was associated with increasing annoyance responses in children.
The study makes a caveat that "we focused largely on exposure to noise in schools, though noise at home might also affect health outcomes"
An effect of aircraft noise on reading is consistent with previous findings. Exposure to aircraft noise has been related to impairments of children's cognition in terms of reading comprehension, long-term memory, and motivation. Tasks that involve central processing and language comprehension, such as reading, attention, problem solving, and memory seem most affected by exposure to noise.