Right to Quiet Society Noiseletter
Winter 2016, page 6

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The sound of heavy traffic might take a toll on mental health

A robust new study threatens the link between loud traffic noise and depression

By Linda Poon

Increasingly, health researchers are realizing that noise pollution is more than just a nuisance. A 2012 study found that exposure to the sounds of car traffic can raise the risk of heart attack in people over 50. A more recent study reported that it increases the risk of obesity. Still other work has linked city noise to impaired sleep.

But while these and other studies identify the effects of traffic noise on our bodies, few have looked at how it impacts our minds. New research, published in Environmental Health Perspectives, does just that - providing strong evidence that noise pollution is indeed a mental health problem. The study found that people living in areas with high traffic noise were 25 percent more likely than those in quieter neighbourhoods to have symptoms of depression, even when adjusting for socioeconomic factors.

Using data from an ongoing population study, researchers in Germany looked at 3,300 people who showed no signs of depression when they were first surveyed between 2000 and 2003. All lived in three of the most densely populated cities in Western Germany. After participants retook the survey, five years later, the researchers looked for self-reported depressive symptoms, such as feelings of loneliness or sadness, as well as troubles with sleep or concentration. They also looked at whether the participants were taking antidepressants.

When they compared that data with the noise levels of each participant’s neighbourhood, they found that more than a third of the sample were

exposed to traffic noise at 55 decibels - equivalent to the noise level of an old dishwasher or chatter in a restaurant - or higher 24 hours a day. About a quarter were exposed to these levels only at night. Participants with the most depressive symptoms were exposed to “intermediate” traffic noise 24 hours a day.

The mental health effects didn’t differ between those who experienced loud traffic noise around the clock and those who only heard it at night (partly because researchers didn’t have information about what noises each person was exposed to outside their homes). But they did find that participants who reported the most depressive symptoms were not the ones living in the loudest neighbourhoods. That distinction went to those who were exposed to “intermediate” traffic noise of 60 to 65 decibels for 24 hours a day.

It could be that people living in extremely loud areas are more likely to take measures to block the noise, Ester Orban, an epidemiologist at University Hospital Essen and lead author of the study, tells CityLab.

The groups most at risk of developing depressive symptoms were those who had lower income and education levels, and who were less likely to be employed. It could be that people who fit into those groups are more likely to live in louder neighbourhoods, though the researchers say that particular link needs further study. “Low-income groups, which have been studied before, are more likely to have depression,” Orban says. “But we can’t say why the association between noise and depressive symptoms is stronger in this population.”


Rumble strips driving villagers round the bend

Villagers living in a small hamlet have complained about being kept awake at night by a droning noise after a rumble strip was fitted to a road. Residents living in Claines, Worcs, have recorded noise levels of more than 70 decibels, which is the equivalent of a vacuum cleaner or working in a factory, after the nearby A449 dual carriageway was resurfaced this summer. The noise caused by traffic passing over the strips can be heard more than a mile away.

Residents have complained to Worcestershire county council, which may be forced to remove the strips, installed as part of a £4.5 million roads upgrade. Steven Smith, 64, a retired Highways Agency worker who lives on Claines Lane, which backs on to the road said: “It is a lot of noise.
I actually used my iPad to measure it once the road had the new surface dressing and it was 70 decibels."

- The Telegraph, December 2 - 8, 2015

Cars do go very fast along that road especially as, coming this way, it’s going slightly downhill; it can be incredibly noisy. You could hear noise before but the difference now is ... it’s like a constant droning noise.”

Sarah Stowell, 41, who also lives off the A449, said: “It can drive you bonkers. My sister lives in a property in Claines Lane and it’s a lot worse than before, the traffic used to wash over you. The least the council could do is put a fence up or something.” Lorry driver Gareth Lloyd, 58, who also lives nearby, added: “I haven’t been able to sleep for months because of the constant sound that is coming from the road. It is deafening. The council were supposed to improve the roads, not make them worse. They are making our lives hell.” Worcestershire county council said it was monitoring the noise levels following the complaints.




Next Annual International Noise Awareness Day is Wednesday, April 27, 2016


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