Noise at Grand Prix exceeds Baltimore's health code

Vehicles are exempt from city law designed to protect hearing

  • Drew Williams, 28, of Manassas, Va. was at the race course on Friday with his daughter Zoe, who just turned 2 and was wearing bright pink, noise-canceling headphones in her stroller.
Drew Williams, 28, of Manassas, Va. was at the race course on… (Baltimore Sun photo by Kevin…)
September 01, 2013|By Kevin Rector | The Baltimore Sun

The noise levels created by the IndyCars racing through downtown streets for the Baltimore Grand Prix this weekend go well beyond those generally deemed acceptable under the city health code, reaching volumes considered unsafe for people to endure beyond a few minutes.

The noise obviously didn't stop the race from occurring these past three years; motor vehicles are exempt from the city rules that govern noise.

Councilman Bill Cole, who represents the downtown area, acknowledged that the event is “really loud,” but said in an interview that city officials studied the issue before the first Grand Prix and determined it wasn't a major problem.

Many big events receive permits to go beyond normally accepted noise levels, he said.

Decibels generated by Grand Prix cars exceed the heightened limits for noise allowed under special permits, according to multiple estimates of how loud the cars are, including from the Health Department itself.

In commercial zones like downtown, a decibel reading of 61 is the limit along a property line. A slightly lower decibel reading of 58 is the limit along boundaries with residential property.

If a permit is granted, operators of a loud event are allowed to raise those levels by another 25 decibels, bringing the limit to 86 generally and 83 along residential property lines.

According to Health Department spokesman Michael Schwartzberg, the Grand Prix was granted a “temporary exemption from the maximum permissible sound levels” for all activities, including concerts.

The city Health Department, in a news release on Monday warning racegoers to wear earplugs, said a single IndyCar “can reach almost 130 decibels, or the equivalent of a thunderclap or a chain saw.”

Combined with other race day sounds, noise at the event can reach “about 140 decibels, about the same level as the noise on the deck of an aircraft carrier or being 50 feet behind a jet airplane at takeoff,” it said.

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