After many a summer dies the swan


How loud does something have to be to kill someone? I heard once on BattleBots that it took 150 decibels to stop the human heart. Is this true? If so, I’m afraid, since I work in a VERY loud job environment (I assemble 747 engines). So is there a fatal decibel level? And if so, is it really 150 decibels? Please tell me. I’m scared.

A 150-decibel noise isn’t loud enough to kill you, and even if it were, the immediate cause of death in most cases wouldn’t be direct trauma to the heart. But the TV show was right in the big-picture sense: if a noise were loud enough, you’d die.

What we’re talking about here is high-energy-impulse noise, also known as blast overpressure or air blast, which is “the sharp instantaneous rise in ambient atmospheric pressure resulting from explosive detonation or firing of weapons” (N.M. Elsayed, “Toxicology of Blast Overpressure,” Toxicology, 1997). What, you say this isn’t noise in the usual sense? Nonsense. It’s no different from a thunderclap or a sonic boom. It’s true you might not hear a truly titanic air blast, but that’s because your eardrums would shatter, and worst case you’d be dead.

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photo { Esther Mathis }

quote { Aldous Huxley! }