Seattle Seahawks Fans Set Crowd Noise Record, But Experts Say 138 Decibels Is Dangerously Loud

By Ben Wolford on December 4, 2013 8:53 AM EST

Stadium Noise
Experts say crowd noise past 100 decibels for too long can be dangerous. Pictured here, a crowd in Barcelona celebrates a soccer title. (Photo: Photo: Shutterstock)

The Seahawks football fans at CenturyLink Field in Seattle really shouted and screamed this past Sunday. Collectively, the 68,387 of them were so loud that they set a new Guinness World Record for crowd noise, stealing that claim back from the Kansas City Chiefs fans who broke the record earlier this season.

The Kansas City crowd, according to the Seahawks, cranked out 137.5 decibels of noise. The Seattle crowd on Sunday hit 137.6. If you were in the stadium, the sound would have been as loud as if you were standing about 100 feet from a jet plane. Another example to give you some perspective: the decibels you hear standing on the platform of a New York City subway with a train rolling by is only about 81. On Sunday, the Seahawks Twitter account posted a photo of the decibal reader, and former defensive end Joe Tafoya tweeted, "We are once again #LOUDEST."

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But is that safe for anybody's ears? NBC News set out to answer that question in September when the back and forth contest was gaining momentum and the world record was held by soccer fans in Istanbul. The Turkish crowd reached 131.76 back in 2011, and the title stuck until Seattle beat it against the San Fransisco 49ers. NBC News asked Alison Grimes, director of audiology at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, whether listening to more than 130 decibels was safe.

"If you're literally talking about 130 decibels," Grimes said, "nobody should ever be exposed to that. There isn't a safe amount of time for 130 decibels. It's physically painful as well as acoustically damaging." According to Yahoo! Sports, "the level at which pain begins is 125 decibels." At 150 decibels, which is about how loud a jet taking off sounds from 25 meters away, your eardrums rupture, according to Purdue University. Get up past 200 decibels or so, and you're playing with your life; the vibrations can kill you.

Anil Lalwani, of NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center, told NBC News that every fan heading into one of those Seahawks games should by over-the-counter ear plugs. "Those will lower the sound level by about 15 to 20 decibels," he said. "Wearing those with headphones can bring it down by a total of 40 decibels." The difference of 15 decibels can be dramatic. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a person should not listen to 100 decibel noise longer than 15 minutes. For each three decibels increase, the recommended exposure decreases by half. So for 130 decibels, exposure is only considered safe for a fraction of a second. Past that, hearing loss occurs.

"Hair cells in your ear don't grow back," Grimes said. "There is no Rogaine for your inner ear. While hearing aids work really well, there is no substitute for natural hearing." Another expert said some people in the stadium on Sunday may have experienced permanent damage. To give you a better sense of how loud is loud, here's a list, courtesy of DangerousDecibels.org:

  • Rice Krispies in milk: 30 dBA
  • Quiet room: 40 dBA
  • Birds: 48 dBA
  • Normal speech: 60 dBA
  • A random baseball game, Cincinnati Reds vs. St. Louis Cardinals in 2006: 89 dBA
  • Chainsaw: 100 dBA
  • Santana concert: 105 dBA
  • Air raid siren: 135 dBA
  • 12 gauge shotgun blast: 165 dBA

Also, the loudest sound ever might have been the Tunguska Meteor explosion over a remote area in Russia in 1908. Most people put the blast at around 300 decibels.

Above photo courtesy of Shutterstock / Christian Bertrand 

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