© 2023 St. Louis Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

With a new noise ordinance in Town and Country, what do different decibel levels do to our hearing?

Alan Grinberg | Flickr, Creative Commons | http://bit.ly/1ShK7QX

A new noise ordinance in Town and Country prohibits continuous noise higher than 55 decibels from 10 p.m. to 7:30 a.m. and higher than 65 decibels during other hours of the day.

But what do those decibel levels actually mean? And how is hearing impacted by such noise in our lives?

On Wednesday’s “St. Louis on the Air,” host Don Marsh heard from Town and Country’s Chief of Police Patrick Kranz about the reasoning behind the ordinance. Then, K.B. Frazier, a Doctor of Audiology and Chief Audiologist with the Center for Hearing and Speech, discussed what actually impacts our hearing, hearing loss and the increase in noise in our modern world.

There has been an increase in the noises that impact our hearing, Frazier said. “Mainly because we are inundated with sounds from MP3 players, speakers in our cars and being outside with all of the traffic, more people are driving, and just walking around listening to the noise on the street.”

The reasoning behind the ordinance

“I think what we’ve seen over the past two to three years is that there’s new technology when it comes to stereo systems, bigger homes are being built, and people are just incorporating inside stereo system to the outside,” Kranz said. “Over the years, we’ve had repeat calls to the same houses over loud music. We send police officers over and tell them that their music is too loud but that’s subjective. Too loud based on what? We were looking for a way to address that objectively.”

So, the municipality created an ordinance that measures decibel levels from a “point of annoyance” at the property line from where the sound is emanating. Town and Country police officers will be equipped with a decibel meter to measure noise levels.

The ordinance is aimed at reducing disturbance from music, as it has exceptions for lawn mowers, leaf blowers, and snow blowers from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Air conditioners are exempt all the time.

"Imagine me stopping you for speeding. I tell you that you are going too fast and you say 'what is the speed limit?' and I say'I don't know, but you're going too fast.' How likely are you going to comply?"

Kranz said the decibel levels, which fall between the sound of rainfall (50 decibels) and conversation (60 decibels), are not set too low because they are measured at the property line. Decibel levels reduce over distance and property lots in Town and Country are no less than one acre. That means a property line could be 400 feet away from the point of origin for music and the decibel levels should drop off if it is being played at a reasonable level.

The point of the ordinance is to produce compliance from residents, which the police department had trouble with before when noise complaints had to be filed as “peace disturbance,” which required a complaining witness.

“Imagine me stopping you for speeding,” Kranz said. “I tell you that you are going too fast and you say ‘what is the speed limit?’ and I say ‘I don’t know, but you’re going too fast.’ How likely are you going to comply? If I can tell you what the speed limit is, I think we’re going to gain compliance.

Frontenac already has a noise ordinance in place.

Do noise disturbances in our neighborhoods impact our hearing?

Credit Kelly Moffitt | St. Louis Public Radio
K.B. Frazier

Frazier said that the noise ordinance in Town and Country would likely have little impact on preventing hearing loss in neighborhoods.

“It is more about annoyance than it is about saving anyone’s hearing, simply because the noises that could create hearing loss are the ones that are exempt, like snow blowers and lawn mowers. Those things that create lots and lots of noise over loud periods of time create more of the noise issues we might see than someone playing a radio.”

Loud noises do have an impact, though, when they hit the cells in the inner ear, which become damaged or die. Consonant sounds such as “f”, “s”, “sh,” and “k” begin to disappear from the beginning and ends of words.

Frazier said that loud noises, ones that exceed 120 or 140 decibels in one burst, such as a gunshot, can create long-lasting damage to your ears. However, loud noises coming from a concert or loud music should not be as much of a concern unless you are exposed to them for many hours at a time.

“OSHA standards say that for anything over 85 decibels for eight hours, you need to protect your ears,” Frazier said.

How should we protect our hearing?

Frazier said that dampening prolonged noise is a good way to prevent hearing loss. Squishy earplugs you might find at a Walgreens or other pharmacies would give you about a 15-20 decibel reduction in sound.

For most noise damage, cells in the ear are resilient, Frazier said. If you go to a concert and find yourself turning up the radio on the drive home because you can’t hear it, that’s normal. By the next morning, cells in the ear should have regenerated and brought your hearing back to normal.

"If you are in an environment where you are three feet from someone and you have to yell: get out, it is too loud."

“But, if you continue to go to concerts for 20 years, your hearing will not recover,” Frazier said.

At that point, people might want to look into cochlear implants or hearing aids.

His No. 1 advice for preventing hearing loss?

“If you are in an environment where you are three feet from someone and you have to yell: get out, it is too loud,” Frazier said. “Also, turn the volume down on the TV, the radio and that kind of thing.”

Frazier recommended hearing check-ups at least once a year to screen for hearing problems.

St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Mary Edwards, Alex Heuer and Kelly Moffitt give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region. 

Stay Connected
Kelly Moffitt joined St. Louis Public Radio in 2015 as an online producer for St. Louis Public Radio's talk shows St. Louis on the Air.
Ways To Subscribe

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.