While coronavirus lockdowns have put a halt to transportation, leading to lower pollution levels across the world, the slowdown in traffic in this pandemic has also lowered another big polluter: noise. Yousef Sakieh, who researches land use at the Gorgan University of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources in Iran, emphasized that transportation is key to urban noise. Thus, the world is expected to have lower noise levels during the pandemic.
The World’s Exposure to Noise Pollution
Many of us are well-aware of air pollution, water pollution, land pollution, etc. Noise pollution is equally dangerous. The World Health Organization (WHO) reported that it has affected over 100 million people across Europe. In Western Europe alone, road traffic noise accounts for premature deaths equivalent to the loss of roughly "1.6 million healthy years of life." "Noise continues to be a concern," Dr. Dorota Jarosińska, program manager for living and working environments at the WHO regional office for Europe, said.
The WHO guidelines released in 2018 described noise pollution as very diverse since each source has different characteristics of loudness and consistency, according to the report. Thus, the health impacts of each type vary as well. In general, excessive noise can affect blood pressure, hypertension, and heart disease, which can lead to heart attacks and mortality from cardiovascular disease. Dr. Yutong Samuel Cai, an epidemiologist at Imperial College London, said that there’s consistent evidence that road traffic noise leads to heart attacks.
Previous studies revealed that long-term exposure to traffic noise affects our blood biochemistry. Noise pollution from road traffic has also been linked to instances of type 2 diabetes. The European Environment Agency blames it for 10,000 premature deaths, 43,000 hospital admissions, and 900,000 cases of hypertension a year in Europe. According to The Guardian, an online British site, it is also thought that noise triggers the release of the stress hormone cortisol, which damages blood vessels over time.
The 2017 Worldwide Hearing Index found out that Guangzhou in China had the worst noise pollution, followed by Delhi, Cairo, Mumbai, Istanbul, and Beijing. The sources of noise were commonly found in transport such as road, rail, and air traffic. Other sources include construction and industry, and radios and televisions blaring in shops, restaurants, and bars. On the other hand, the top five quietest cities were all in Europe: Zurich, Vienna, Oslo, Munich, and Stockholm.
According to the World Economic Forum, an independent international organization committed to improving the state of the world by engaging business, political, academic, and other leaders of society to shape global, regional, and industry agendas, the researchers were able to gather the findings after analyzing the hearing test results of 200,000 of their users. The data were combined with data on noise pollution from the WHO and SINTEF, a Norwegian-based research organization.
Noise Pollution During a Pandemic
There are only a few times when streets are quieter than usual: during special occasions, particularly Christmas Eve. However, as one-third of the world's population is placed under some form of lockdown, a reduction in noise was observed.
A recent article published in Nature revealed that the reduction in the hum of daily human activity has led to a decrease in Earth's crust vibrations. According to CNN, an American news-based pay television channel owned by AT&T's WarnerMedia, seismologists are observing a lot less ambient seismic noise across the world. This means that the vibrations produced by cars, trains, buses and people going about their daily lives are a little less.
Thomas Lecocq, a geologist and seismologist at the Royal Observatory in Belgium, reported that the average level of urban noise in Brussels is 30% to 50% lower than it was before self-quarantine measures took effect locally. Much the same is happening in cities globally, including London, Los Angeles, Paris, Auckland, and more. Seismologist Paula Koelemeijer showed a graph with reduced noise in West London after schools and social venues closed.
"It seems quite clear that over the last few days, the increase in noise level at dawn (blue line) is much less steep than over the past few weeks. I guess this is due to a much weaker morning rush hour — fewer people commuting and no school runs,” Stephen Hicks, a seismologist at Imperial College London, said.
According to News Medical, one of the world’s leading open-access medical and life science hubs, Kenmore Square's acoustic environment was about 90 decibels during rush hour before the coronavirus outbreak. After lockdowns were implemented, the reading was just at 68 decibels. The reduced noise pollution in many parts of the world has brought about many realizations. For one, it is a reminder that coronavirus has sickened more than three million people, killed tens of thousands, and brought the normal rhythms of life to a halt. It is also evidence that people are listening to authorities' warnings to stay inside and minimize outside activity as much as possible.
"From the seismological point of view, we can motivate people to say, 'OK look, people. You feel like you're alone at home, but we can tell you that everyone is at home. Everyone is doing the same. Everyone is respecting the rules,'" Lecocq said.
This also presents an unprecedented learning opportunity for geoscientists. According to Interesting Engineering, a cutting edge, leading community designed for all lovers of engineering, technology and science, they can create a baseline model of seismic information. They might even detect new diminutive levels of micro-earthquakes from deep within the planet's crust and also do better research on volcanic and other seismic activities. "You'll get a signal with less noise on top, allowing you to squeeze a little more information out of those events," Andy Frassetto, a seismologist at the Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology in Washington DC, said.
Raphael De Plaen, a postdoctoral researcher at Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, said that the data on reduced noise pollution can also be used to identify where containment measures might not be as effective. "That could be used in the future by decision-makers to figure out, 'OK, we're not doing things right. We need to work on that and make sure that people respect that because this is in the interest of everyone’,” De Plaen said.