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Study of NYC transit system noise levels finds daily rides can result in hearing loss

In a new survey of noise levels of the New York City transit system, researchers at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health found that exposure to noise levels in subways have the potential to exceed recommended guidelines of the World Health Organization (WHO) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). According to the research, as little as 30 minutes of exposure to decibel levels measured in the New York City transit system per day has the potential to result in hearing loss. The findings have just been published in the September issue of the Journal of Urban Health, a publication of the New York Academy of Medicine.

"Noise exposure and noise-induced hearing loss is a global health problem of significant magnitude, especially in urban settings, yet published data are extremely limited," said Robyn Gershon, DrPH, professor of Sociomedical Sciences at the Mailman School of Public Health and lead author of the study. Dr. Gershon and co-authors report that the findings suggest that, "Daily exposure to noise on subway platforms and subway cars has the potential to cause hearing loss. At the highest level obtained on the platform (106 decibels), the allowable limit under WHO and EPA is only 30 seconds. More than 1 in 10 of the platform measurements exceeded 100 decibels -- which translates into an allowable limit of only 1.5 minutes."

Further, Dr. Gershon notes that "maximum levels inside of subway cars were even greater, and could lead to serious exposures, although more research is needed to determine exactly how much exposure that frequent, long distance, long-term riders experience." This research by safety experts at the Mailman School is the first scientific subway noise assessment in over 30 years, and believed to be one of only two papers published on NYC subway noise; the last one was in the 1930s.

Average and maximum noise measurements were made using a precision sound level meter on subway
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Contact: Stephanie Berger
sb2247@columbia.edu
212-305-4372
Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health
10-Oct-2006


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