The Effect of Noise on Public Health, Part 1: International Congress Explores Global Impact This is the first of a two-part series describing the research presented at the 8th International Congress on Noise as a Public Health Problem. Part Two appears in the Oct. 19, 2004 issue. Since 1968, the International Congress on Noise as a Public Health Problem has convened every five years ... Features
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Features  |   October 01, 2004
The Effect of Noise on Public Health, Part 1: International Congress Explores Global Impact
Author Notes
  • Lawrence S. Finegold, is the principal of Finegold & Co., Consultants, Centerville, OH. Contact him at LSFinegold@earthlink.net.
    Lawrence S. Finegold, is the principal of Finegold & Co., Consultants, Centerville, OH. Contact him at LSFinegold@earthlink.net.×
  • Soames Job, ICBEN chair from 2003–2008, is in the department of psychology at the University of Sydney in Australia.
    Soames Job, ICBEN chair from 2003–2008, is in the department of psychology at the University of Sydney in Australia.×
  • Ronald de Jong, president of the 2003 Congress, is an official at the DCMR Environmental Agency Rijnmond Schiedam, the Netherlands.
    Ronald de Jong, president of the 2003 Congress, is an official at the DCMR Environmental Agency Rijnmond Schiedam, the Netherlands.×
  • Barbara Griefahn, the ICBEN chair from 1998 to 2003, is at the institute for occupational physiology at Dortmund University, in Dortmund, Germany.
    Barbara Griefahn, the ICBEN chair from 1998 to 2003, is at the institute for occupational physiology at Dortmund University, in Dortmund, Germany.×
Article Information
Hearing & Speech Perception / Acoustics / Hearing Disorders / Regulatory, Legislative & Advocacy / Features
Features   |   October 01, 2004
The Effect of Noise on Public Health, Part 1: International Congress Explores Global Impact
The ASHA Leader, October 2004, Vol. 9, 6-13. doi:10.1044/leader.FTR2.09182004.6
The ASHA Leader, October 2004, Vol. 9, 6-13. doi:10.1044/leader.FTR2.09182004.6
This is the first of a two-part series describing the research presented at the 8th International Congress on Noise as a Public Health Problem. Part Two appears in the Oct. 19, 2004 issue.
Since 1968, the International Congress on Noise as a Public Health Problem has convened every five years in nations around the world to report on the full range of the biological effects of noise. The most recent congress-the eighth-took place last summer in Rotterdam in The Netherlands. In 2008, the 9th International Congress, which is sponsored by ASHA, will come to the United States for the first time in 40 years, with ASHA member Jerry Tobias presiding over the event.
The 8th Congress offered a valuable summary of the work over the past five years of nine international “noise teams” and previewed the research that is needed before 2008. A combination of war jitters, fear of terrorism, and world-wide recession cut attendance in half, to about 250. Despite the tense climate, more than 120 papers were presented, representing every continent except Antarctica. The involvement of the World Health Organization (WHO) underscored the global significance of this conference.
The International Commission on Biological Effects of Noise (ICBEN) organizes the event and develops the nine noise teams. Together the teams cover all of the major effects of noise exposure on humans and animals.
The ICBEN’s goal is to encourage international cooperation; to promote communication among research scientists, governmental agencies, industrial workers and managers, and others; and to stimulate the exchange and dissemination of information about the biological effects of noise.
The ICBEN’s nine International Noise Teams and their responsibilities include: Team 1, work on noise-induced hearing loss; Team 2, noise and communication; Team 3, non-auditory physiological effects induced by noise; Team 4, influence of noise on performance and behavior; Team 5, effects of noise on sleep; Team 6, community response to noise; Team 7, noise and animals; Team 8, effects of combined agents (currently inactive); and Team 9, regulations and standards.
Each team is made up of 10 experts in the subject area; no more than two may be from the same country, and terms of service are limited. The team structure ensures positions for younger professionals and aids international dialogue and collaborative research.
Ronald de Jong of the Netherlands served as the 2003 Congress President. Keynote addresses covered both noise research and noise policy.
Findings of the Noise Teams
Noise-Induced Hearing Loss
Continuous exposure to loud noise affects millions of workers, including factory and heavy-industry workers, military personnel, construction workers, farmers, and entertainment professionals. Team 1 produced 17 papers that expanded the list of workers exposed to noise to include daycare-center workers, occupational motorcyclists, styrene-exposed workers, and orchestral musicians. Some subjects explored in papers included a program in Australia that addressed construction-worker hearing, environmental noise at music festivals, and use of headset-based portable music systems.
Guido Smoorenburg of The Netherlands reported work on establishing exposure criteria for impulse noises, based primarily on a series of studies run by the late Dan Johnson of the United States. The result strongly suggested that with an A-weighted sound-level meter, the critical sound exposure level is about 135 dBA. In terms of equivalent eight-hour levels, the exposure should not exceed 98 dBA.
Armand Dancer of France then presented a paper on exposure of military personnel to very high-level noise, including impulse noise produced by weapons, continuous noise in the vicinity of jet engines, and continuous high-level noise in armored vehicles, aircraft, and ships.
Altogether, these noises represent a major cause of acoustic trauma among military personnel. In 1999, the American government spent $291.6 million to compensate for the noise induced hearing loss (NIHL) of 56,792 veterans. Dancer recommended that more research be done to increase the use of active noise reduction (ANR) earmuffs and/or ANR earplugs with digital filtering, which allow customized hearing protection and improved understanding of communications in different noise environments. The use of double hearing protection also needs to be given more consideration.
Donald Henderson of the United States presented two related papers on the biological bases of noise-induced hearing loss and on biological requirements for interactions between noise and other pollutants, such as ototoxic and neurotoxic solvents and industrial asphyxiants such as carbon monoxide and cyanide, which can be found in certain industrial settings. Study results showed that the interaction of noise and drugs/chemicals has important implications for how the potential hazard for hearing loss is assessed. It is not enough to simply measure noise when the environment contains other cochlear stressors.
Noise and Communication
Research has expanded to include intelligibility requirements in more hearing-critical environments such as Coast Guard vessels, fishing boats, and the International Space Station. Advances have been made in active noise control headsets in military operations and air traffic control. Recent research has focused also on effects of prolonged exposure to non-injurious noise levels on communications and performance in noisy environments. Methods also are being developed to enhance listening situations by focusing on acoustic and semantic parameters, speech to noise ratios, overlaps between speech and noise spectra, and the subjective impressions of listeners. Additional research was presented on requirements for audibility of warning signals and public address systems. One research study explored the impact of moderate level noise in the International Space Station (ISS) on astronauts’ hearing and speech communication. The subjects lived and worked in a test environment that modeled the living and acoustic conditions aboard the ISS. The general conclusions were that module noise did not affect hearing or speech communication, although the duration of exposure may have been too short to demonstrate an effect. The team recommended developing new methods to assess a wider range of auditory abilities and identifying measures that model real-world listening situations and task requirements. They also stressed the need to develop creative solutions for hearing conservation, including advances in communication headsets that improve speech intelligibility.
Non-Auditory Physiological Effects
Interest in research on the non-auditory physiological effects of noise has been growing over the last five years, with recent emphasis on the cardiovascular system and on children. More sophisticated epidemiological designs and samples in noise exposure measurements and in outcome measures exist, but there is still considerable uncertainty as to the nature and the size of the effects of environmental and occupational noise on human health. Recent research topics have included the relation between noise exposure and mental health, indices of physiological arousal (including endocrine markers of noise exposure such as cortisol and catecholamines, blood pressure in both occupational and community settings, and hypertension), coronary heart disease, and mortality. There has also been a considerable emphasis on possible moderators, mediating factors, and confounding factors. Although progress has been made, much work remains to be done. Further consideration is needed in assessing environmental stressors such as air pollution, which frequently accompanies noise pollution.
Research on children is beginning to establish a body of evidence on hormonal effects, but less research has been done on child mental health effects. Occupational noise exposure does seem to elevate blood pressure, and although there is also a striking link between noise and mortality, the long-term implications of higher blood pressure in these studies needs to be demonstrated. Studies of environmental noise also seem to predict both hypertension and coronary heart disease, although self-report outcomes are probably insufficient in this area.
Performance and Behavior
Many studies have found links between exposure to aircraft noise and children’s reading comprehension, long-term memory, and motivation. Associations have also been found between aircraft noise exposure and psychophysiological indices of arousal, such as levels of catecholamines and elevated blood pressure. With a few exceptions, most previous studies have compared high- and low-noise-exposed groups and have not examined dose/response relations. Moreover, most studies of children have focused on aircraft noise rather than traffic noise and have not examined the effects of the combination of aircraft and road traffic noise. The last 20 years of research on this area, however, has seen positive trends-a move from laboratory studies to more field studies, fewer studies of continuous broadband noise, more studies of both transportation noise and occupational noise, more studies of the effects of irrelevant speech, more studies on children, and attempts to develop dose/response relations rather than examining only one or a few exposure levels.
A major new ongoing series of studies reported at the 2003 Congress by Stephen Stansfeld of the United Kingdom and his colleagues is called the RANCH Study (Road traffic and Aircraft Noise exposure and children’s Cognition and Health). The work was initiated to extend current research to examine dose-effect relations between aircraft and road-traffic noise exposure and annoyance, school performance, reading comprehension, long-term memory, working memory, prospective memory, psychosocial distress, and sustained attention in children living around major airports in three European countries. In addition, this study included investigations of road traffic noise at home and both sleep and cognition. Preliminary results indicate that reading comprehension, recognition memory, cued recall, and prospective memory are impaired in those exposed to aircraft noise but not impaired by traffic noise.
(Part Two of this series will report on research on the effects of noise on sleep, community response to noise, noise regulations and standards, and the impact of noise upon animals.)
References
de Jong, R.G., Houtgast, T., Fransen, E.A.M., and Hofman, W.F.. Proceedings of the 8th International Congress on Noise as a Public Health Problem. Rotterdam, the Netherlands, June 29-July 3, 2003 (Foundation ICBEN 2003 Congress, Schiedam, the Netherlands, 2003).
de Jong, R.G., Houtgast, T., Fransen, E.A.M., and Hofman, W.F.. Proceedings of the 8th International Congress on Noise as a Public Health Problem. Rotterdam, the Netherlands, June 29-July 3, 2003 (Foundation ICBEN 2003 Congress, Schiedam, the Netherlands, 2003).×
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October 2004
Volume 9, Issue 18