Noise Busters

To dissect the din that daily assaults our ears, researchers from the Noise Pollution Clearinghouse are taking to the streets

Les Blomberg is standing on a Manhattan street corner using a sound meter to measure noise levels. At 78 decibels, this corner is louder than most alarm clocks, report authors Joyce and Richard Wolkomir. A moving van's driver hits the brakes. "That's over 90 decibels," Blomberg tells them. It's like putting your ear next to a very loud vacuum cleaner.

 Blomberg is director of the Noise Pollution Clearinghouse in Montpelier, Vermont. He creates CD recordings of ultra-large dump trucks, construction-site air compressors, jackhammers, and other sounds that sufferers complain about. Blomberg's CDs go to noise-beset citizens so they can show officials their precise daily dose of acoustic irritant. He also helps sufferers figure out how to approach officials and how to organize a neighborhood.

Blomberg can cite lots of unsettling noise data. Eighty-seven percent of America's city dwellers are exposed to noise so loud it has the potential to degrade hearing capacity over time. But you will not necessarily find peace in paradise either. Blomberg stands among gray saltbox cottages, blue hydrangeas and yellow sunflowers on Nantucket Island, surrounded by the ocean's rhythmic whoosh. At 6:11 a.m., a plane flies over, and another at 6:12, 6:16, 6:17, 6:18...

Usually people affected by airliner noise have little political clout, Blomberg explains. "But here you can actually talk with aviation officials," he says of the wealthy Nantucket community. "If you can't do it on Nantucket," he adds, "no place can do it."

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