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Excessive transit noise puts commuters' health at risk, study finds

Last Updated Nov 22, 2017 at 8:06 pm EDT

A subway enters Queen Station in an undated file photo. WIKIPEDIA COMMONS

There’s a laundry list of ways that relying on public transit can rattle even the most stoic commuter’s nerves. But a new study has found physical and psychological risks associated with an often overlooked aspect — noise.

According to the study published in the Journal of Otolaryngology – Head & Neck Surgery, a subway’s grinding gears and grating steel can eventually wear down our hearing.

Study author, Dr. Vincent Lin, suggests the “better way” could be way better for our health with a set of earplugs in tow.

“People should take measures to protect themselves,” Dr. Lin told CityNews on Wednesday. “Something as simple as just using a set of earplugs from the drugstore. Even headphones without having the music on too loudly can protect the ears.

“The concern about these high peaks (of noise) is that cumulatively, repeated exposure could potentially damage hearing in the long term.”

Mental health can also be affected.

“We now are starting to understand that chronic excessive noise exposure leads to significant systemic pathology, such as depression, anxiety, increased risk of chronic diseases and increased accident risk,” Dr. Lin wrote.

Subways may get a bad rap when it comes to noise levels, but the study also measured noise levels from streetcars, buses, cars — even people walking or cycling to work can be at risk.

“We were surprised at the overall average noise exposure commuters experience on a daily basis, especially the peak noise intensity not only on trains but also on buses,” Dr. Lin noted.

The study not only advises commuters to protect their ears, but also suggests city planners take noise pollution into consideration.

“Planners need to be more considerate of noise exposure in future planning of public spaces and public transit routes. Toronto in particular, as the transit network expands, needs to consider ways to reduce noise exposure as a preventative measure for future health risks.”

During the study, researchers collected over 210 noise measurements in a variety of environments.

The loudest noises were captured on the subway, with streetcars not far behind.

The loudest subway stations — Bay, Spadina, Dufferin and Keele — are all on Bloor-Danforth Line 2.