A row in Flanders over call for mandatory earplugs at concerts



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A call by academics to make earplugs obligatory at music events has turned up the noise on both sides of the argument in Belgium, following a study showing that 75% of events do not meet noise standards.

Academics from the University of Ghent and the Christian Mutuality took noise samples at almost 40 parties in the East Flanders province, which borders the Brussels-Capital Region of the country. They found that not only that the 95 decibel limits are often passed, but also that 80% of the 250 15-to-20-year-olds questioned about noise do not regard hearing protection as important and think earplugs are uncool. Needless to say, 65% of these youngsters have experienced tinnitus after exposure to loud music, 5% of them at chronic levels, the study reveals.

The Flemish newspaper Het Nieuwsblad reported the leader of the research, Prof. Bart Vinck as calling for earplugs to be mandatory at all events where music exceeds 85 decibels. "The samples show that the noise levels are very high,” said Prof. Vinck. “And they increase the later into the night it gets. I suspect that the DJs themselves are beginning to hear less as well, meaning they start playing their music even louder.”

A lack of awareness was revealed by the study, which shows that organisers of music events have little knowledge of noise standards. “They are certainly willing to apply the law, but only 4% says they are sufficiently informed,” said Vinck. “The vast majority says that they received almost no information on how to safely expose people to noise,” he added.

It took The Brussels Times newspaper just a few days to follow up news of the study by reporting criticism of the idea of mandatory earplugs, quoting a concert organiser and sound industry expert, Jeroen Vereecke's doubts on both the study findings and the suggested solutions.

Vereecke, who took part in the implementation of the noise standards in Flanders, was quoted by The Brussels Times: "I see no reason to make this [earplugs] compulsory everywhere. Moreover, the quality of free earplugs is different. If disposable earplugs do not fit properly, protection is minimal and wearing them can create a false sense of security. It’s not a good idea to make someone who occasionally goes to a party buy custom-made earplugs."

"It’s actually like alcohol or other things that can be harmful to our health. Some people can handle it better than others. It’s not like going to a party is going to kill you," he added.

"I do not think that we can generalise the figures based on this research for the whole of Flanders. It is too simplistic to say that three-quarters of all events in Flanders do not comply with the noise standards," claimed Vereecke.

It is a debate that will go on into the small hours.

Source: The Brussels Times