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YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – The results of a study from the U.S. Department of Transportation show what noise pollution looks like and how it impacts communities.
The study looked at highway and airport noise across the United States and mapped out the areas impacted.
It found close to 800,000 people live in places with a daily highway noise level of 70 decibels or higher. That’s equal to a vacuum cleaner running every minute, every day for their entire lives.
Route 46 in Howland is a busy two-lane stretch with thousands of cars constantly driving by each day. Laura Blagaich has been living there all of her life.
“It was a very quiet road back in 1972. It was a very quiet road,” she said.
Her father built the house. The road was less traveled. There were trees along the edges.
The Eastwood Mall would come later and the development over the years changed everything.
“It’s pretty quiet in the mornings. It gets noisy late afternoons when everybody is getting off work, and school and everything. Then, of course, there’s a lot more noise,” Blagaich said.
Route 46 can be noisy — it’s even on part of the flight path to the Air Reserve Station. But the constant noise can’t compete with a vacuum cleaner or garbage disposal.
Most of the loudest transportation noises are close to airports, interstates or railroad tracks.
“Then we need to make sure, as realtors, that we disclose that and inform our clients that could be a negative of them buying a home or living there,” said Steve Ferrebee, with Northwood Realty.
Constant loud noises can impact hearing. Dr. Susan Herr, with the Centers for Hearing Care, said the best thing to do if you live in an area with a lot of noise is to get a basic hearing test.
Noise exposure is one of the easiest types of hearing loss to prevent. It’s cumulative over a period of time, rather than sudden from an extreme noise like a firework or gunshot.
Herr said common noises from the workplace or recreational noises like those from motorcycles, dirt bikes and four wheelers — among others — can have an impact.
“Exposure over that 86 decibel level over a period of time will start to have a negative effect on your hearing.”
Several studies have linked road and airport noise exposure to higher blood pressure and heart disease. Airplane noise is also linked to poor learning among kids.
Noise walls on interstates can be erected, but there are criteria that need to be met in order to have them installed. The first is that a road construction project must be in the works that would be adding a lane to the highway. The second is that the homes that would be impacted by the noise must have been built before the widening project. The wall would also have to reasonable or feasible, which would be determined by the Department of Transportation.
“What reasonable means is that we have to look at the noise levels on the roadway. Is there enough noise out there to truly justify a noise wall? And we also look at — through modeling, of course — that if we put up a noise wall, how much would the noise decrease?” said Brent Kovacs, ODOT spokesperson.
Kovacs said for a wall to be feasible, it must impact several homes.
There’s been talk about widening parts of Route 46 to four-lanes, which would increase the traffic.
Blagaich told me she only really notices the noise when she opens windows in the summer. A little noise isn’t going to scare her away, though.
“You know, it’s my family home,” she said. “I’ve always lived here. I’m not going to move because of the noise or traffic. I mean, I may not like it, but you learn to live with it.”