Study suggests noise in the Fenway could be a health risk

A presentation on the Fenway Community Noise study was given at the Fenway Community Center on Feb. 24, where members of the public heard from Dr. Erica Walker, founder and principal investigator at the Community Noise Lab at Boston University, as well as a cardiologist at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), a law student at Suffolk University, and a group of children who conducted their own noise study at some Boston schools.
The need for a noise study stems from the fact that many Fenway residents are concerned with the noise levels that come from Fenway Park during events like ballgames and especially summer concerts. The data presented shows that the noise levels are not only above recommended limits, but can also contribute to health issues. Fenway community activist Kristen Mobilia has also been a spearheaded on this issue.
Dr. Michael T. Osborne, a cardiologist at MGH and an instructor of medicine at Harvard Medical school, said that noise exposure is independently associated with heart disease, and stress activates several important pathways in the brain that lead to heart disease.
Stress in the body releases cortisol, a stress hormone, as well as activates the sympathetic nervous system, (“fight or flight”), and also causes inflammation. “The brain is how noise gets into our bodies,” Osborne said, and can be a source of stress for many.
Osborne explained that the amygdala, a bilateral structure that is part of the limbic system deep within the brain, participates in the emotional and physical response to stress and fear. Additionally, amygdale activity predicts cardiovascular events, he said.
“Noise exposure has been repeatedly associated with heart disease and many other diseases in epidemiological studies,” Osborne said. “Noise exposure increases activation of the amygdala.”
The World Health Organization (WHO) says that “exposure to in excess of 85 decibels for eight hours or 100 decibels for 15 minutes” is considered an unsafe sound level. Osbnorne said that a rock band is double the WHO cutoff.
Dr. Erica Walker explained that in her study, which was funded by an outside grant, she and her team conducted real-time sound monitoring, community noise surveying, and created an app called NoiseScore as a resource.
Additionally, she conducted a community noise survey, where she learned that many residents felt that concert noise was a “significant issue.” She reported that people thought of the concerts as “loud, noisy, and unbearable,” and made people feel “irritated, anxious, frustrated, and angry.”
She said that in gathering an understanding of community sound levels during concerts and games at Fenway Park, she hopes to create a community agreement based off the dada.
Walker and her team measured at 14 sites in the Fenway during four time periods: true background (no events at Fenway Park), in-season background, during a Red Sox game, and during live concerts.
While it is apparent that concerts are loud events, they also emit a lot of low frequency sounds, Walker said, which can also cause damage. “The closer you are to Fenway Park, the more exposed you are to the low-frequency sounds. Distance to Fenway Park matters during concerts.”
Walker said that she feels the best mitigation for this is to have fewer concerts, but there are also other meaningful steps that can be taken to lessen the effect of this noise on Fenway residents. “This is a very serious issue,” Walker said. “We have the data, and now is the time to take action.”
Noise isn’t just affecting Fenway residents. Schools in the city have a higher risk of noise affecting students’ learning, according to a group of students known as the Galaxy Decoders from the Sharon Youth Robotics Association. The students gave a presentation about noise levels in three Boston schools near West Roxbury. The team of students conducted both weekday and Saturday noise measurements and concluded that “most levels are way above the limits,” one student said. “Kids are exposed to this for hours every day.”
The students also created a noise-awareness survey, distributed a pamphlet, and created a blog post about their work as well.
Ian Adams, a Suffolk University law student, talked about good neighbor agreements from a legal standpoint. He said that the agreements’ strengths are that they are highly modular and customizable, as well as “combine reactive and proactive elements.” On the other hand, their negatives include needing good faith negotiating by all parties and require a “continuous commitment of attention, time, and effort,” he said.
“Agreements should be a supplement, not a substitute, for a good body of regulatory law,” Adams said.
Several community members offered input or asked questions about the study and about noise in the Fenway. One resident who lives in the East Fens said she would like that section of the Fenway to be part of the noise measurements as well. Walker said that she could have monitors installed in the East Fens, as well to help collect even more data.
Another question was how the city’s noise ordinance relates to Walker’s data. Walker said she feels like the noise ordinance is an “inadequate document,” as it only talks about loudness, but she said there are more components to sound than that. The ordinance explains when and how loud people can operate equipment, but the effects of noise come from many other factors.
One resident talked about how she has complained to the city’s noise hotline about the commercial aircrafts that circle Fenway Park prior to events there, and Walker said that her NoiseScore app could be used to capture the noise from the planes as a possible start to a solution.
“I think the next step is to take action,” Walker said. All of the data collected will be publicly available for interested residents to look at and analyze themselves. Kristen Mobilia also advised residents to call 311 with noise complaints, and more meetings will be held regarding this issue to talk about a good neighbor agreement.
“Noise is about loss of control over your environment,” Walker said. “Any time you have loss of control over your environment, that in and of itself can be life-altering.”

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