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The sudden screeches, squeals and clangs that are a regular feature of commuting by public transit in Toronto could be contributing to long-term hearing loss and other health problems, says a new study out Wednesday in the Journal of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery.
Though average noise levels while walking, biking, driving or taking transit fell within safe exposure levels, the study found that sudden bursts of sound that exceed safe decibel levels are a common occurrence while commuting by transit or bike.
To investigate how loud things get on different routes, researchers clipped measuring devices to their collars and fanned out across Toronto over the spring and summer of 2016, gathering 210 sound samples on subways, buses, streetcars, bicycles, sidewalks and in cars.
Researchers concluded that commuters were exceeding their recommended noise exposure levels in nine per cent of the measurements taken in subways and in 12 per cent of the measurements taken in buses.
By contrast, noise exposures were not exceeded in streetcars, cars, or while walking.
They also found that noise is louder on subway platforms than inside subway cars, and that Keele, Dufferin, Spadina and Bay stations have the loudest platforms in the system.
Cycling in particular was singled out as the most potentially damaging to hearing, exposing people to larger amounts of dangerous noise than any other way of getting around, with 14 per cent of measurements exceeding recommended levels.
The hearing loss that results from regular exposures to dangerous sound levels can lead to a host of other health problems, said Lin.
“Even earbuds that you use to listen to music can be used as ear protectors,” said Lin.