Noise and the City, Community Noise Lab, Herb Singleton at Cross-Spectrum Acoustics , and pioneering noise researcher, Arline Bronzaft, are all so PROUD of the innovative work undertaken by a group of super intelligent and highly motivated young students in Sharon, MA. Their research project involved measuring sound levels in and around local schools and this blog post highlights their fascinating findings!
Hear the Noise! A study of noise levels in and around public schools
By Govind Velamoor, Nandana Kumar, Vybhav Velamoor, Aarush Raj and Namitha Devulapalli
People have been studying noise inside of cities for a while, and despite our knowledge, little is done inside of schools to protect children from noise pollution. A team from Sharon MA wanted to see how much noise kids are actually exposed to when inside schools. The team decided to research noise pollution in and around schools. They looked at 125 schools inside the Boston area and used the noise mapper http://noiseandthecity.org/the-noise-mapper/ to see how loud they are. After doing this research, they settled on 3 schools that were in especially loud areas. A field study was conducted in each of these 3 schools to identify how loud they were. Over the course of October and November, measurements were taken during weekdays and Saturday. In this paper, the results of the study and other solutions researched are presented.
Noise Pollution in inner city schools is a problem because it can reduce the ability to learn and teach and also have many other side effects. Some of these side effects are hearing loss, hypertension, impaired cognitive functioning (difficulty learning new things, remembering, and making decisions in everyday life), heart attack, stroke, chronic stress, and vasoconstriction (smaller blood vessels). Major sources of noise pollution include roads and highways, airplanes, communication, construction, loud music, household appliances such as a washer, a dryer, and a blender.
The team looked at several websites, videos, and articles, to further their understanding of noise pollution in inner city schools. These resources are listed under the references section. Using the noise maps from http://boston.noiseandthecity.org/a-weighted-sound-levels-by-dba-day and Google Maps, a database of Boston Public School noise levels was created. Experts were interviewed to get an understanding of the problem space, and to propose solutions. Some of the notable experts that the team reached out to are Arline Bronzaft (PhD, Awarded 2018 Presidential Citation, and Psychologist), Erica Walker (Founder of Noise and the City, Postdoctoral researcher at Boston University School of Public Health in the Department of Environmental Health, an ScD in environmental health from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health) and Herb Singleton (President & Founder, Cross-Spectrum Acoustics Inc.).
Ms. Walker helped with formulating a scientific study. Dr. Bronzaft explained the role of psychology when attempting to find solutions to the problem. Herb Singleton helped the team understand the viability of their solutions. After further discussions, a decision to do street measurements was taken to get a better understanding for what the students had to deal with when trying to learn, and what the teachers had to deal with when trying to teach.
For the study, the schools in some of the loudest neighborhoods in the Boston area were chosen. These schools had to be in different areas, so that different sources of noise would be present. The schools chosen were Beethoven Elementary school, in West Roxbury, Charles Sumner Elementary School in Roslindale, and the Reverend Dr Michael E Haynes Early Education Center in Roxbury. There were two devices used, an app on a smartphone and a TackLife Decibel Meter. The advantage with the app was that it also gave an average, while the decibel meter was more accurate because it was a specialized device. Mean (average), minimum, and maximum noise levels were measured on every day of the work week, and Saturdays. The graphs below were created with the data. All measurements were in dBA.
The green line represents a safe level of noise. Most of the points are above the green line, meaning that staying there for an extended amount of time can permanently damage hearing. In the words of a crossing guard, “I have to speak very loudly so that people can hear me, and they say that I’m yelling, but I can’t hear myself.” The next graph shows the minimum sound levels:
The maximum is almost always above the safe level. This means that over the time period of a minute, the background volume will consistently reach above the safe level of noise.
- Acoustic panels: A reliable solution to noise pollution as they reduce echoes, thereby reducing noise.
- Noise canceling speakers: Noise canceling is hard to achieve in a large area such as the classroom according to experts.
- Making a wall: Making a wall might work, but not aesthetically pleasing.
- Reinforcing and fixing walls: This would work, covering up holes to reduce the noise. Thickening the ceilings and floors will also help.
- Fixing Ventilation: Ventilation is a significant source of noise, and newer ventilation systems have a lot less of it.
These above solutions were reviewed with the experts Arline Bronzaft, Erica Walker, and Herb Singleton.
When talking to these experts the most important solution was spreading awareness. If more people knew about noise pollution the world would become more aware of the noise around them and take action. One action taken is the noise awareness survey created below. Another action was to distribute a “Be Noise Aware” pamphlet.
Noise Awareness Survey
The team created a survey and passed it out to thirty students in the Elementary and middle schools in Sharon. The survey helped the team understand if the students noticed the noise. It also helped spread awareness of the survey group about the existence of noise pollution.
Noise Awareness Survey Results
Below are some graphical displays of our survey results:
Here are some conclusions that were drawn from the survey results:
- Over ⅔ of the students could hear the noise coming from outside.
- 17% found the noise annoying.
- 60% thought that the noise level in the school fell on a 6 or above on a scale of 1-10.
- 47% thought they were affected by varying levels of noise.
- 52% thought the loudest place in the school is the cafeteria
Noise pollution impairs learning in children and affects schools in city neighborhoods. After consulting experts, we validated our solutions and found that:
- Sealing cracks will work
- Acoustic panels will work
- But the best solution is…Being Noise Aware!