Excess noise increases the risk of many health problems, such as hearing loss, stress, disrupted sleep, and cardiovascular disease, as well being generally annoying. But according to a study, it also hurts the national pocketbook to the tune of almost $4 billion because it raises the costs of treating high blood pressure and cardiovascular illnesses.
More than 100 million Americans are regularly exposed to unhealthy levels of noise, often called environmental noise pollution. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends that people limit themselves to an average noise exposure of 55 weighted decibels, with decibels at night counting more than those during the day due to the potential for interrupted sleep.
Researchers at the School of Public Health at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, estimated that high levels of noise in 2013 were the same as they had been in 1981, which is the last time the EPA assessed exposure to noise levels. This is probably an underestimate because the country is more urban now than it was then. They estimated that about 145.5 million Americans in 2013 were exposed to at least 58 decibels, with almost 44 million exposed to at least 65 decibels per day.
The study noted that the risk of high blood pressure and coronary artery disease rises by up to 17% for every 10 decibels of increased noise. About one in three Americans have high blood pressure. At the same time, high blood pressure and heart disease are responsible for 15% of the all U.S. health costs, adding up to $324 billion per year. Therefore, the study estimated that reducing the daily level of noise by 5 decibels would reduce the number of cases of high blood pressure by 1.4% and of coronary artery disease by 1.8%. This adds up to a reduction in healthcare costs of $3.9 billion.
The study was published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.