Noise exposure is becoming "the new secondhand smoke"

Noise is “the new secondhand-smoke issue,” said Bradley Vite, who pushed for regulations in Elkhart, Ind., that come with some of the nation’s steepest fines. “It took decades to educate people on the dangers of secondhand smoke. We may need decades to show the impact of secondhand noise.”

The Environmental Protection Agency has said that noise below an average of 70 decibels over 24 hours is safe and won’t cause hearing loss. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health says anything below an 85 won’t cause hearing loss for workers exposed to loud machinery.

But those levels are way above recommendations made by the European Union. In 2009, the E.U. set noise guidelines of 40 decibels at night to “protect human health.” And it said steady, continuous noise in the daytime — such as the noise on highways — should not exceed 50 decibels.