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Getting concert attendees to wear them is another issue, however. Schlauch said some of their participants dropped out of the study after learning they would have to wear earplugs — despite the offer of free concert tickets.
Felsen damaged his own hearing in his youth and now totes a specially wired dummy to music festivals to illustrate the decibels emitted by people’s earbuds.
Modern research on animals also has also shown that even if people don’t lose the ability to hear low-volume sounds when exposed to loud noises, exposure can impact the ability to process loud sounds — like distinguishing a voice in a noisy restaurant. “The risk is more insidious because of that,” Schlauch said.
Jenni Hargraves, executive director of the Miracle-Ear Foundation, said the average noise level at a concert is 115 decibels. But damage can occur after just 15 minutes of exposure to 100 decibels.
She said while hearing damage often occurs gradually, “you can have hearing loss after a one-time exposure to something” extremely loud.
That was the case for Tim Whalen, a 3M employee who attended Game 7 of the World Series at the Metrodome in 1987. Volume levels during that game reached 125 decibels, the equivalent of a 727 aircraft lifting off 900 feet away, according to the U study.
Whalen attributes that game and a hunting-related shotgun blast near his head for the tinnitus, or ringing in the ears, that he has developed. “It’s very hard for me to carry on a conversation in a bar because I can’t hear certain people’s voices very well anymore,” Whalen said.
The ordinance sponsor, Frey, said the issue is only growing more urgent with the proliferation of personal audio devices, which can reach levels above 100 decibels.
“When you look at the combination of some of these kids that walk around with headphones for 95 percent of the day and then go to the club at night and blast their eardrums out again, it’s a problem,” he said.
Eric Roper • 612-673-1732