With the soaring use of portable music players, the European Commission requested a study to be carried out on the risks of what they call "leisure noise". The study found that of the 50 to 100 million who listen to MP3 players on a daily basis, up to 10 million people in the EU are putting their hearing at risk as a result of listening to music at high volume over long periods. As a result, the authorities are considering reducing the current 100dB legal limit on MP3 players even further next year.
According to the EU spokeswoman Helen Kearns, young people may not notice the irreversible damage they are causing until it comes to haunt them later on in life. For example, the report mentioned that just 5 hours a week of music exceeding 89dB would exceed the legal EU limit on workplace noise and would result in permanent hearing loss for between 5% and 10% of those who listen at this sound level over a five year period. The scientists estimate that between 5% and 10% of listeners are in this category.
Over the past four years, an estimated 184 to 246 million portable audio devices were sold, of which MP3 players account for 124 to 165 million of these. With the improved sound quality of recent audio devices, more consumers could be at risk as some listeners may still have the false assumption that they can safely keep turning up the volume as long as they don’t hear the audio distorting.
It’s unclear at this time what the new proposed limit would be. Besides those who are addicted to loud music, the most likely consumers to be affected would be those who listen to louder music to drown out the background noise on public transport and other noisy areas. Noise cancelling headphones can overcome this issue, but are considerably more bulky to carry than earphones and are rather expensive.