Montreal study finds vulnerable populations have more exposure to road noise

By Robbie Webber
The World Health Organization considers road noise a health hazard, and various studies have found that road noise can have a detrimental effect on health and wellbeing, including influencing heart disease, diabetes, sleep loss, and high blood pressure. These effects are especially notable in children under 15 and adults over age 65.
A study by researchers at the Urbanisation Culture Société at the Institut National de la Recherche Scientifique investigated whether these age groups, as well as low-income populations and visible minorities, were more likely to live in areas with high road noise. The researchers found that neighborhoods with high road noise were more likely to have a high percentage of low-income and visible minority residents. They did not find this to be true for the age groups studied
Other studies in Hong Kong, London, and Minneapolis had similar findings of environmental inequity, showing that areas with high road noise had a higher percent of low-income or minority individuals than those with less road noise.
The Montreal researchers point out that the areas with high road noise were also the densest areas of the city and in central city areas that have always hosted a large low-income population. They also point out that a concentration of a population in areas exposed to road noise is not the same as the exposure rate, which would consider the amount of time members of the population spent in the presence of the nuisance.
The readings for road noise were also taken outdoors, and building materials and the arrangement of residential units can change the effects indoors. However, knowing that low-income and minority populations are likely to be at higher risk from road noise could shape public policy or assist agencies in mitigating the effects through building codes, transportation, or land use policies.
Robbie Webber is a Senior Associate at SSTI.