Sound, Stress, and Sound Walls


Photo Courtesy of Valley Sun

One afternoon in an uninhabited region of New Mexico, a bluebird built its nest 75 yards from a natural gas compressor. Shortly afterwards, the sound from the machinery started to wear down on the bird. Unable to relocate with its recently hatched chicks, the bluebird was forced to remain, enduring the continuous noise. The noise muffled the natural sounds that the bluebird was used to hearing, such as those that would warn it of danger. This condition caused the bluebird to be on constant alert. 

Scientists, noting that hundreds of nesting birds had gone to the site, tested the blood of the birds to discover the effects of the noise. The results: the birds were suffering from similar effects to what humans undergo after post-traumatic stress disorder. The incessant noise caused the birds to produce more stress hormones, specifically cortisol and noradrenaline, which affected their metabolisms, resulting in physical damage.

The effects of noise on these birds apply to other animals. Animals such as caterpillars have a faster heartbeat, and whales are unable to rely on echolocation in places with higher levels of din. What about humans? Research done by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine in partnership with Imperial College London and King’s College London found that those constantly exposed to traffic noises or sounds 55 decibels or louder are 25% more likely to suffer from depression than those in quieter neighborhoods. Auditory damage is a process that builds upon itself, as each day’s exposure to constant noise becomes more and more difficult to cope with. There could be daily difficulties with concentration, communication, and cognitive performance. Studies have also found correlations between sound levels and other detriments, such as sleep disturbance, impaired hearing, higher blood pressure, and even higher rates of heart attacks and strokes. In 2020, the World Health Organization estimated that in Europe more than a million years of healthy life were lost due to noise.

While harmful effects from noise are numerous, the solution is simple. Lower the decibel of sound, and the deleterious consequences will diminish.

If the main issue with sound is an outside source, using soundproof material to insulate your house could be a solution to negating portions of the sound. Turning off loud appliances at set times could also give your body a welcome break from the noise. However, if the source of noise is a freeway, a sound wall could be an excellent barrier against sound. Consider sound wall construction along the 210 Freeway, which runs along Flintridge Prep, which is set to be completed early 2023. This three-segment sound wall will be built between the I-210 and residential areas in La Cañada. 

Sound walls have been shown to reduce the effects of highway noises and are generally viewed positively in areas where they have been built. As a result, people can be healthier, calmer, and more productive, helping neighborhoods and businesses in the area. The same could be true of the La Cañada community. We should anticipate the day that the sound wall is finished.,all%20age%20groups%2C%20especially%20children.