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New Haven - Connecticut could become the first state to curb loud movies under proposed legislation that's drawing opposition from the Motion Picture Association of America.
The legislature's Public Safety and Security Committee is considering the bill, which would prevent theaters from showing a film or preview that exceeded 85 decibels. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health recommends noise should be kept below 85 decibels for workers for eight hours to minimize hearing loss.
"Hopefully this will be a wakeup call to the theater owners and the MPAA to get their act together and do something that's good for the public and still will satisfy their needs," said William Young, a Stamford resident and chemical industry consultant who has pushed the measure. "Why they need such loud sounds is beyond me."
Jon Griffin, a policy specialist with the National Conference of State Legislatures, said he believes Connecticut would be the first state to regulate the maximum decibel level at movies. Vans Stevenson, a senior vice president with the MPAA, also said the issue is not regulated.
A New York lawmaker has unsuccessfully pushed a measure that called for preventing trailers and commercials from playing louder than feature films.
Dr. Robert Dobie, a professor at the University of Texas who is an expert in noise-induced hearing loss, said the 85-decibel standard is for workers' prolonged exposure, not occasional loud sounds from a movie.
"The exposure is so brief and intermittent that no one with any expertise would ever say that they have any real risk of hazard or harm," Dobie said. "I feel quite comfortable that the exposures are not anywhere near hazardous. It's the combination of level and duration that matters."
For comparison, the American Tinnitus Association says 85 decibels is the sound of average traffic, 80 decibels is the sound of an alarm clock 2 feet away and 100 decibels is the sound of a blow dryer.
Sen. Carlo Leone, D-Stamford, said he was part of a delegation that introduced the bill at Young's request. That way, a public hearing will help lawmakers determine how to proceed, he said.
"I support the concept moving forward," Leone said. "If there are other corrective measures without legislation and it takes care of the problem, that would be the better choice."
Stevenson told the committee at a hearing this past week that the legislation is unnecessary and undermines voluntary standards adopted by companies and theaters that set appropriate sound levels. A standard was developed at the request of theater owners to address audience complaints about excessively loud trailers and significant steps have been taken to voluntarily reduce volume levels, the association said.
"Certainly no one is going to do anything that would have a hint of being harmful," Stevenson said.
"We've gone to great lengths to make sure that average is in an acceptable range that is not harmful."
Young says the standard doesn't work because it measures the average decibel of an entire preview, so it can have extremely loud portions. Young, who has been working on the issue with his colleague, Arnold Gordon of Greenwich, says their tests of previews found sustained bursts as high as 110 decibels.
Young, who has a doctorate in chemistry, favors setting a peak limit. He says the sound is so loud it leaves his ears ringing.
"Who wants to sit there in pain?" Young said. "These companies shouldn't subject people to harmful sounds."
MPAA says the bill would violate the First Amendment right to free speech by regulating how a movie and trailer is presented and is discriminatory because it applies only to movie theaters and not to other venues such as rock concerts or sporting events.