Most Americans think of cities as noisy places — but some parts of US cities are much louder than others. Nationwide, neighborhoods with higher poverty rates and proportions of black, Hispanic and Asian residents have higher noise levels than other neighborhoods. In addition, in more racially segregated cities, living conditions are louder for everyone, regardless of their race or ethnicity.
As environmental health researchers, we are interested in learning how everyday environmental exposures affect different population groups. In a new study we detail our findings on noise pollution, which has direct impacts on public health.
Scientists have documented that environmental hazards, such as air pollution and hazardous waste sites, are not evenly distributed across different populations. Often socially disadvantaged groups such as racial minorities, the poor and those with lower levels of educational attainment experience the highest levels of exposure. These dual stresses can represent a double jeopardy for vulnerable populations.
Our research shows that like air pollution, noise exposure may follow a similar social gradient. This unequal burden may, in part, contribute to observed health disparities across diverse groups in the United States and elsewhere.
Mapping City Sounds
In 2015 we stumbled across a Smithsonian Magazine post about the National Park Service sound map. The sound estimates are meant to represent average noise levels during a summer day or night. They rely on 1.5 million hours of sound measurements across 492 locations, including urban areas and national forests, and modeling based on topography, climate and human activity. National Park Service colleagues shared their model and collaborated on our study.
By linking the noise model to national US population data, we made some interesting discoveries. First, in both rural and urban areas, affluent communities were quieter. Neighborhoods with median annual incomes below US$25,000 were nearly 2 decibels louder…