Juan P. Bello and Charles Mydlarz discuss “SONYC: A System for the Monitoring, Analyzing, and Mitigating Urban Noise Pollution,” a Contributed Article in the February 2019 Communications of the Association for Computing Machinery (CACM) Magazine.
Noise is unwanted or harmful sound from environmental sources, including traffic, construction, industrial, and social activity. Noise pollution is one of the topmost quality-of-life concerns for urban residents in the U.S., with more than 70 million people nationwide exposed to noise levels beyond the limit the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) considers harmful. Such levels have proven effects on health, including sleep disruption, hypertension, heart disease, and hearing loss. In addition, there is evidence of harmful effects on educational performance, with studies showing noise pollution causing learning and cognitive impairment in children, resulting in decreased memory capacity, reading skills, and test scores.
The economic impact of noise is also significant. The World Health Organization estimates that, as of 2012, one million healthy life-years in Western Europe were being lost annually to environmental noise. Other estimates put the external cost of noise-related health issues in the E.U. between 0.3%-0.4% of GDP and 0.2% of GDP in Japan. Studies in the U.S. and Europe also demonstrate the relationship between environmental noise and real estate markets, with housing prices falling as much as 2% per decibel (dB) of noise increase. Noise pollution is not merely an annoyance but an important problem with broad societal effects that apply to a significant portion of the population. It is clear that effective noise mitigation is in the public interest, with the promise of health, economic, and quality-of-life benefits.