General Health Effects of Transportation Noise

The Federal Railroad Administration sponsored the preparation of the “General Health Effects of Transportation Noise” to support a rulemaking process about the use of locomotive horns and the accompanying environmental impact statement. “General Health Effects of Transportation Noise” reviews select current and past research on the effect of transportation noise on the physiological and psychological health for both people and wildlife, which includes, but is not limited to:

Psychological Effects

Psychological effects include annoyance, speech interference, and interference with recreational activities.

Annoyance with environmental transportation noise is the general adverse reaction of people resulting from speech interference and disturbance to comfort, peace of mind, and sleep.

Speech interference occurs when speech is masked by other sounds occurring simultaneously.

Effects of Noise on Performance in both laboratory and workforce environments, noise adversely affects cognitive task performance.

Interference with Recreational Activities noise affects people at home and at work, but also during leisure.

Physiological Effects

Physiological effects include hearing impairment, sleep disturbance, and startle and defense reactions leading to potential increase of blood pressure.

Hearing Impairment/Loss, hearing impairment is typically defined as an increase in the threshold of hearing. Changes in hearing threshold level, the lowest level a sound signal of a specific frequency can be detected by the ear, of less than 5 dB are not generally considered noticeable. A noise-induced permanent threshold shift of 5 dB or more is considered significant by the EPA.

Sleep Disturbance it is estimated that only 10 to 20 percent of the reported cases of sleep disturbance are for reasons relating to transportation noise.

Muscular Effects of Noise muscular reflex responses to noise involves obvious movements (startle response) of voluntary muscle groups and less obvious electrical activity found in muscle tension.

Cardiovascular Effects of Noise epidemiological and laboratory studies involving workers exposed to occupational noise and general populations (including children) living in noisy areas around airports, industries, and noisy streets, indicate that noise may have both temporary and permanent impacts on physiological functions of people.

Mental Health Effects of Noise, particularly transportation noise, is not believed to be a direct cause of mental illness, but it is assumed that it accelerates and intensifies the development of latent mental disorder. Studies on the adverse effects of transportation noise on mental health include symptoms such as anxiety, emotional stress, nervousness, nausea, headaches, instability, argumentativeness, changes in mood, increase in social conflicts, as well as general psychiatric disorders, including neurosis, psychosis, and hysteria.

Effects Of Noise On Wildlife

In general, some research indicates that extensive or repeated loud noise intrusions interfere with communication and breeding.

Noise Control Act

42 U.S.C. §4901 et seq. (1972)

Inadequately controlled noise presents a growing danger to the health and welfare of the Nation’s population, particularly in urban areas. The major sources of noise include transportation vehicles and equipment, machinery, appliances, and other products in commerce.

The Noise Control Act of 1972 establishes a national policy to promote an environment for all Americans free from noise that jeopardizes their health and welfare. The Act also serves to

  1. establish a means for effective coordination of Federal research and activities in noise control
  2. authorize the establishment of Federal noise emission standards for products distributed in commerce
  3. provide information to the public respecting the noise emission and noise reduction characteristics of such products.

While primary responsibility for control of noise rests with State and local governments, Federal action is essential to deal with major noise sources in commerce, control of which require national uniformity of treatment. EPA is directed by Congress to coordinate the programs of all Federal agencies relating to noise research and noise control.


Federal Railroad Administration — General Health Effects of Transportation Noise

EPA — Noise Control Act