Environmental low frequency noise (LFN < 125 Hz), ubiquitous in urban areas, is an understudied area of exposure science and an overlooked threat to population health. Environmental noise has historically been measured and regulated by A-weighted decibel (dBA) metrics, which more heavily weight frequencies between 2000 and 5000 Hz. Limited research has been conducted to measure and characterize the LFN components of urban environmental noise.
We characterized LFN noise at two urban sites in Greater Boston, Massachusetts (USA) using dBA and full spectrum noise measurements with aims to (1.) analyze spatio-temporal differences in the two datasets; (2.) compare and contrast LFN metrics with dBA noise metrics in the two sites; and (3.) assess meteorological covariate contributions to LFN in the dataset.
We measured A- and C-weighted, and flat, unweighted noise levels and 1/3-octave band continuously for 5 months using sound level meters sampling at f = 1 Hz and we recorded sound samples at 44.1 kHz. Our measurement sites were located in two urban, densely populated communities, burdened by close proximity to bus, rail, and aircraft routes.
We found that (1.) LFN does not follow the same seasonal trends as A-weighted dBA loudness; there are spatial differences in LFN and its very low frequency noise components (VLFN) between two urban sites; (2.) VLFN and LFN are statistically significant drivers of LCeq (nearly independent of frequency) minus LAeq, (LCeq-LAeq) >10 dB, an accepted LFN metric; and (3.) LFN was minimally affected by high wind speeds at either Site.
Environmental low-frequency noise (LFN < 125 Hz), ubiquitous in urban areas, is an understudied area of exposure science and an overlooked risk to population health. We measured environmental noise across the full spectrum of frequencies continuously for five months at two urban sites located in Environmental Justice communities. We found that LFN did not follow the same seasonal trends as A-weighted (dBA) loudness, and we observed spatial differences in LFN and very low frequency noise (VLFN < 20 Hz) at the two sites. Not characterizing LFN and basing noise regulations only on A-weightings, a poor predictor of LFN, may expose populations to LFN levels of concern.
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The data generated and analyzed during this study are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.
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The authors thank the Volpe National Transportation Systems Center, US Department of Transportation, Cambridge, MA, USA for their equipment loan.
The authors declare no competing interests.
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Leaffer, D.J., Suh, H., Durant, J.L. et al. Long-term measurement study of urban environmental low frequency noise. J Expo Sci Environ Epidemiol (2023). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41370-023-00599-x