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Long-term measurement study of urban environmental low frequency noise



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.

Impact Statement

  • 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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Fig. 1: Location map of noise monitoring sites.
Fig. 2: Example spectrograms for low-wind conditions.
Fig. 3: Boxplots of 1/3-octave band dB levels.

Data availability

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.

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Authors and Affiliations



Individual contributions of authors to the manuscript are acknowledged as follows: JD contributed to design of study and equipment QA/QC, and draft manuscript editing and revisions; HS contributed to statistical analysis and modeling; BT contributed to noise analytics, MATLAB scripting and manuscript editing and revisions; CR contributed to equipment training and field program design and specifications; DG contributed to manuscript development, editing and project realization. Others acknowledged as contributory to this study include Aaron Hastings, Ph.D., Lawrence McKenna, Ph.D., Saby Ghoshray, Ph.D., Jens Burgert, Ph.D., Neelakshi Hudda, Ph.D., Matthew Simon, Ph.D., Elliott M. Familant, Ph.D., Doug Brugge, Ph.D., Carolyn Talmadge, Wig Zamore, Juan Oscar Azaret, Kyle Monahan, Paul Marcantonio, Steve Doroff, Grace Wang, Jen Welsh, James Ghassibi and Lance Hidy.

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Correspondence to Douglas J. Leaffer.

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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).

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