Photo credit: Jim Mullhaupt licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

YourObserver.com, a site focused on coastal Florida, reports that Longboat Key is making permanent limits on noise issued as an emergency ordinance before July Fourth.

One of the residents affected by noise commented that people don’t understand how far noise travels over water. This is because there are no buildings, trees, or hills to block or diffuse the sound energy.

To me, the proposed noise limits seem a little too high, especially the nighttime noise limit. They are:

For residential zones, mixed-use communities, tourism areas, open space, office institutional zones, waterways or public right-of-way:

7 a.m. to 10 p.m.: 60 dBA
10 p.m. to 7 a.m.: 55 dBA

For commercial zones:

7 a.m. to 10 p.m.: 72 dBA
10 p.m. to 7 a.m.: 65 dBA

The hearing sense evolved to help animals find food but also to avoid being eaten. Hearing is a distant early warning system for predators and other dangers.

Sounds as quiet as 45 A-weighted decibels* (dBA) can interfere with thought. We can’t close our ears, so humans and most other animal species are uniquely sensitive to nighttime noise.

Any noise that disrupts sleep is actually a health problem, and sounds as quiet as 30-35 dBA can disrupt brain waves during sleep, causing microarousals that have the same impact on blood pressure, pulse, and stress hormone levels as actually being awakened.

I think lower noise levels would be better, but Longboat Key is trying to deal with a noise problem.

And that’s worth celebrating.

That said, passing a law isn’t enough–the law has to be enforced. We hope that Longboat Key figures out how to do that, too.

*A-weighting adjusts sound measurements for the frequencies heard in human speech.