ARLINGTON, Va. 3/30/12 (PennWell) -- The U.S. Office of Naval Research has joined forces with the Bureau of Reclamation and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in an effort to help prevent noise-induced hearing loss loss at the nation's power plants.
The office says it will use its expertise in noise-induced hearing loss to help identify noise sources and propose engineering controls at dams and hydroelectric plants as part of the inter-agency agreement.
"The Navy is leading the curve when it comes to understanding the dangers of noise," says Kurt Yankaskas, a program manager in ONR's Warfighter Performance Department. "It's a serious problem not only in the Navy and Marine Corps, but across modern society."
Thus far, the project has been given US$109,000 in federal funding -- money that will be well spent, Yankaskas says, given the dangers of high noise levels. "Within ONR, we're addressing noise-induced hearing loss from all perspectives -- engineering, audiology, acquisition programs, medical research and more," Yankaskas says. "The American public is starting to learn how pervasive our noise exposures are."
Reclamation's interest in the project stems from the 476 dams and 58 hydroelectric plants it operates in 17 western states. The bureau says the power it produces satisfy the needs of nine million people annually, making them a "national strategic asset."
Maintaining and operating them is not cheap, however, and Reclamation official James Meredith says a healthier workforce can help the bureau's bottom line. "Of our worker's comp costs, about 20 to 25% is due to hearing loss compensation," he says. "That amounts to $1.5 to 2 million dollars per year. Dollar-wise, it's the largest single component of claims that we have."
Meredith says the noise around penstocks and turbines can range as high as 115-120 decibels. By comparison, a study by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration shows concerts usually range between 110-115 decibels.
"For every five decibels, that increases by seven or eight factors of loudness," Meredith says.
ONR says six sites of varying size will undergo an initial round of noise surveys this spring, with additional surveys scheduled for later this year at Corps facilities.
The Corps' infrastructure includes power-generating units and plants that provide 25% of the nation's hydropower capacity, according to ONR.
The office says it will use its findings to propose areas for noise improvement through a range of engineering and technology controls.
ONR says its Noise-Induced Hearing Loss Program will be a multi-pronged approach that ultimately examines the reduction of noise at the source, development of personal protective equipment, development of medical prevention and treatment strategies, and evaluation of incidence and susceptibility.
Reclamation recently awarded a contract to Macnak Construction for work at a fish hatchery in Leavenworth, Wash., while the Corps gave A.W. Schell Electrical Services Inc. a contract for contract work at the Chief Joseph Dam.