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The members of the research group Sound environment and health
Photo: Sofie Fredriksson
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Sound environment and health

Research group

Short description

We conduct interdisciplinary research on the importance of the sound environment for human health in a life cycle perspective. Our vision is that people are entitled to a sound environment that contributes to good health and quality of life in all ages. Our research includes epidemiological and experimental studies. A large part of our focus is now on how children are affected by noise during their development. Other important research areas are the impact on hearing and health in female-dominated workplaces and the long-term impact of noise in the living environment. Our unique sound environment laboratory, built in 2006, has well-controlled sound and vibration exposure in a homely environment, which provides good opportunities to investigate the effects of noise and vibration on, for example, sleep.

Research areas

We research sound and noise in four different main areas:

  • Environmental noise: Noise from wind turbines, train traffic and road traffic affect people's health and well-being.
  • Noise in female-dominated occupations: Effects of work-related noise. The focus is on communication-intensive occupations such as school, preschool and healthcare, where the majority of employees are women.
  • Children and noise: How children are affected by noise. Our projects have mainly focused on the sound environment in preschools and schools.
  • Low-frequency noise: Since 1985 the research group has investigated how low-frequency noise affects humans. Among other things, the group has been responsible for the scientific basis for the Swedish limit values for low-frequency indoor noise (SOSFS 1996:7 revised 2005:6) and low-frequency noise in the work environment (AFS 2005:16).

Current research projects

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Microphones and other research equipment for sound measurement in a preschool.
Measurement of sound levels in a preschool.

Equal-Life has been granted 12 million Euros within Horizon 2020. Our research group is responsible for one sub-project and participates in another 6 sub-projects. The project aims to explore the relationship between mental health and the overall exposure of the individual in a life cycle perspective. The intention is also to find out what a health-promoting, recovering environment is for children and young people in different ages and stages of development. The focus is on children and young people from 0 to 21 years. Participants are a total of 20 different partners from twelve countries with expertise in public health, environmental medicine, child psychology, environmental psychology, architecture, epidemiology, environmental and geographical planning, microbiology, neurobiology, medicine, physics, information and communication technology, and statistical modelling.

Financier: EU Horizon 2020

Equal-Life

This project aims to understand the effects of long-term exposure to vibrations, investigating health effects of exposure to vibrations and noise from rail traffic. The project uses two approaches: a quantitative study using a self-reported questionnaire and objective health register data and an interview study. The main study is a quantitative study with questions focusing on disturbance and health to those living along a railway. The health effects will be evaluated both with self-reported questions about sleep and health as well as objective health register data. Outcomes include the effect on sleep, fatigue and cardio-metabolic diseases.

Financier: Swedish Transport Administration, FORMAS
 

Our research group is responsible for a sub-project within ElectriCity (collaboration for electrified public transport in Västra Götaland). The purpose is to provide scientifically based answers to questions about how changed noise exposure from public transport diesel buses during the transition to electric buses affects residents by potentially reduced general noise disturbance, sleep disturbance and increased quality of the home environment. The change is being studied through a socio-acoustic study in collaboration with RISE among residents along bus line 60 in Gothenburg, before and after diesel hybrid buses have been replaced by electrified buses. The results contribute to the work of assessing how electrified public transport can be used in noise-sensitive areas.

Financiers: Västra Götaland Region (Public Transport Board, Regional Development Board), City of Gothenburg (Environmental Administration, Transport Administration).

In many female-dominated human service professions, personnel are exposed to high noise levels from human voices and activity. Our previous studies have shown an increased risk of hearing-related symptoms and noise annoyance is common. In these professions, it can be difficult to protect oneself from loud noises. We are now conducting a longitudinal follow-up of 10,000 women with the aim of clarifying existing connections between exposure to noise and stress and the impact on physical and mental health as well as reduced work function with a focus on preventive factors for maintained health and work function. In qualitative studies among personnel in education and obstetrics care, preventive needs are nuanced, and the applicability of preventive factors is evaluated in order to then, together with staff and management, implement interventions in preschool and obstetrics care.

Financier: Forte

How should preschools be designed to optimise the conditions for the indoor sound environment to support children’s development and facilitate the work children do during preschool? The project wants to answer that question through surveys of about thirty preschools, mainly in the Gothenburg area. We will measure room acoustics, sound levels, temporary effects on the hearing function and evaluate psychoacoustic parameters of recorded preschool sounds. In addition, we will measure children's experiences of their sound environment by questionnaire interviews. The work in SPACE is expected to increase the knowledge that can be used to develop more adequate acoustic requirements and recommendations on preschool design and furnishing. These building-related quality criteria should be based on children's perspective, their hearing, their experiences and the development work they do during their preschool period.

Financier: FORMAS

The sound environment in many preschools is problematic at the same time as the children are in an intensive development period. Children are exposed to such high noise levels that there is a risk that their hearing may be damaged. An inadequate sound environment can mean impaired conditions for learning a language, developing their thinking, becoming emotionally aware, dealing with difficult situations and leaving room for negative social behaviours. The research project is conducted at about thirty preschools, mainly in the Gothenburg area. The project measures children's hearing, language level and emotional expression related to their sound environment. With the help of questionnaire interviews, children's own experiences of the sound environment are also measured. In a parallel project, room acoustics and sound levels are measured.

Financier: Forte

NordSOUND is a Scandinavian research project funded by NordForsk, which runs from 2017-2021. The objective is to study single and joint effects of traffic and occupational noise on development of cardiovascular disease, obesity, cancer, pregnancy complications, low birth weight, perinatal mortality, and congenital malformations. The study will also estimate the burden of disease resulting from noise and the socio-economic inequalities in the distribution of traffic noise and the relationship between noise and health.

Financier: NordForsk

You can find more information on the project's own website

A person has an earplug with tiny cables going into it during a phonometry.

History

Research on the effects of noise has been performed within Occupational and Environmental Medicine at the University of Gothenburg (formerly Environmental Medicine) since as early as 1975. In the beginning the research was mainly focused on effects of road traffic noise, such as general noise disturbance and sleep disturbance, which were highlighted in a series of experimental studies in the previous sound laboratory. The early field studies were conducted both in industrial environments and in residential areas, where both the effects of road traffic and air traffic were highlighted.

Later, the research has been expanded to include other types of noise sources such as train traffic, low-frequency noise and wind power, other types of effects, as well as research on health-promoting positive soundscapes.

The Sound Environment Laboratory

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A man is sitting on a chair and an investigator uses different equipment in a sound measurement experiment.
Photo: Malin Arnesson

 

A unique sound environment laboratory was built in 2006. It is located at the Occupational and Environmental Medicine, Sahlgrenska Academy at University of Gothenburg. The laboratory enables studies on how different sound environments affect us humans, with well-controlled conditions, for example noise from different types of transportation, ventilation noise, interaction between sound environment and visual environment and between sound and vibrations. The effects we assess mainly relate to general noise disturbance and sleep disturbance, effects on speech communication, learning, recovery, emotional states, and work performance.

The lab has two floors. Upstairs is the control room with the sound system and four exposure rooms with very low background noise: three bedrooms and one larger exposure room where the interior can be adapted for the specific project. On the ground floor is a home-like apartment, which is used mainly by participants in sleep studies who live in the laboratory for up to a week.

The laboratory is specially designed with the goal that background noise level should be below the hearing threshold. Each exposure room is built as a separate module, which isolates the rooms from ground borne noise or vibration from the outside. The ventilation system is specially designed with the air coming from a damped, separate fan assembly located elsewhere in the building. In the rooms, the air diffuses silently. The background noise level from the ventilation is very low, about 13 dBA. The acoustic features of the rooms are specially designed to obtain as evenly distributed a sound field as possible. The walls are slanted to reduce regular sound reflections and several hundred speakers are placed in walls, ceilings and corners to be able to produce a sound field that spreads evenly. The sound is controlled digitally from a separate control room and the system provides good conditions for simulating widely differing sound environments.

You can find more detailed information on the acoustic properties of the laboratory (report in Swedish): Sound laboratories - verification of sound fields (pdf)

Three wind turbine propellers.
One of the studies performed by the research group shows that noise from wind turbines affects people's dream sleep and how rested they feel.
Photo: Genrebild Matton images

Collaboration, sound demonstrations and leasing

The sound environment laboratory is also used for audio demonstrations and the laboratory can be leased. For example, employees at the Swedish Transport Administration have visited the laboratory and got to experience how 55 decibels from road traffic noise sounds like in different environments and how vibrations from trains feel like when lying in a bed. We are also open to collaboration in interesting research projects!

Please contact Kerstin Persson Waye for more information. 

Scientific publications

You can find all our scientific publications via each researcher's personal page (links in the box "The participating researchers and their publications").

Key publications

Smith, M. G., Ögren, M., Thorsson, P., Hussain-Alkhateeb, L., Pedersen, E., Forssén, J., ... & Persson Waye, K. (2020). A laboratory study on the effects of wind turbine noise on sleep: results of the polysomnographic WiTNES study. Sleep, 43(9), zsaa046. 

Fredriksson, S., Kim, J. L., Torén, K., Magnusson, L., Kähäri, K., Söderberg, M., & Persson Waye, K. (2019). Working in preschool increases the risk of hearing-related symptoms: a cohort study among Swedish women. International archives of occupational and environmental health, 92(8), 1179-1190. 

Persson Waye, K., Smith, M. G., Hussain-Alkhateeb, L., Koopman, A., Ögren, M., Peris, E., ... & Janssen, S. (2019). Assessing the exposure-response relationship of sleep disturbance and vibration in field and laboratory settings. Environmental Pollution, 245, 558-567. 

Persson Waye, K., Elmenhorst, E. M., Croy, I., & Pedersen, E. (2013). Improvement of intensive care unit sound environment and analyses of consequences on sleep: an experimental study. Sleep medicine, 14(12), 1334-1340. 

Persson Waye, K., Bengtsson, J., Rylander, R., Hucklebridge, F., Evans, P., & Clow, A. (2002). Low frequency noise enhances cortisol among noise sensitive subjects during work performance. Life sciences, 70(7), 745-758.