By and large, the subways are not a very forgiving environment. Filled with rats, garbage and a general lack of cleanliness, it’s too hot in the summer, and too stuffy in the winter. It’s also loud. With a constant barrage of announcement, screeching brakes, and express trains rushing by, we expose our sensitive ears to noise on a regular basis. Just how loud the subways are and how damaging the noise exposure can be is a constant topic.
Today, in The Times’ Science section, the regular Q&A column tackles that question. Linking to a 2006 study (that predates this site by a few months), C. Claiborne Ray explains that constant exposure to the noise of the subway system could pose a threat of hearing loss. Writes Ray, “Guidelines from the Environmental Protection Agency and the World Health Organization set a limit of 45 minutes’ exposure to 85 decibels, the mean noise level measured on subway platforms. And nearly 60 percent of the platform measurements exceeded that level. The maximum noise levels inside subway cars were even higher than those on the platforms, with one-fifth exceeding 100 decibels and more than two-thirds exceeding 90 decibels.”
Recent technology has included sound dampeners on some new rolling stock. It may, then, be time to re-run the study, but in one regard, we’re doing ourselves no favors by shoving headphones into our ears. The NIH study notes that “personal listening devices only increased the total noise and risk.” So there you have it. Or as a certain Twitter account might put it: GUYS, it’s loud in the subway, and The Times is ON IT.