Community Response to Multiple Sound Sources: Integrating Acoustic and Contextual Approaches in the Analysis

Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2017 Jun 20;14(6):663. doi: 10.3390/ijerph14060663.


Sufficient data refer to the relevant prevalence of sound exposure by mixed traffic sources in many nations. Furthermore, consideration of the potential effects of combined sound exposure is required in legal procedures such as environmental health impact assessments. Nevertheless, current practice still uses single exposure response functions. It is silently assumed that those standard exposure-response curves accommodate also for mixed exposures-although some evidence from experimental and field studies casts doubt on this practice. The ALPNAP-study population (N = 1641) shows sufficient subgroups with combinations of rail-highway, highway-main road and rail-highway-main road sound exposure. In this paper we apply a few suggested approaches of the literature to investigate exposure-response curves and its major determinants in the case of exposure to multiple traffic sources. Highly/moderate annoyance and full scale mean annoyance served as outcome. The results show several limitations of the current approaches. Even facing the inherent methodological limitations (energy equivalent summation of sound, rating of overall annoyance) the consideration of main contextual factors jointly occurring with the sources (such as vibration, air pollution) or coping activities and judgments of the wider area soundscape increases the variance explanation from up to 8% (bivariate), up to 15% (base adjustments) up to 55% (full contextual model). The added predictors vary significantly, depending on the source combination. (e.g., significant vibration effects with main road/railway, not highway). Although no significant interactions were found, the observed additive effects are of public health importance. Especially in the case of a three source exposure situation the overall annoyance is already high at lower levels and the contribution of the acoustic indicators is small compared with the non-acoustic and contextual predictors. Noise mapping needs to go down to levels of 40 dBA,Lden to ensure the protection of quiet areas and prohibit the silent "filling up" of these areas with new sound sources. Eventually, to better predict the annoyance in the exposure range between 40 and 60 dBA and support the protection of quiet areas in city and rural areas in planning sound indicators need to be oriented at the noticeability of sound and consider other traffic related by-products (air quality, vibration, coping strain) in future studies and environmental impact assessments.

Keywords: air pollution; annoyance; combined effects; environmental health impact assessment; mixed sound sources; railway noise; road traffic noise; soundscape; vibration.

MeSH terms

  • Acoustics
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Austria
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Environment*
  • Environmental Exposure*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Models, Theoretical
  • Noise, Transportation*