Recent work showing the presence of a new generation of ultrasound (US) sources in public places has reopened the debate about whether there are adverse effects of US on humans, and has identified weaknesses in standards and exposure guidelines. Systems that rely on very high-frequency sound (VHFS) and US include public-address voice-alarm (PAVA) systems (whose operational status is often monitored using tones at ∼20 kHz) and pest deterrents. In this study, sound pressure levels (SPLs) produced by 16 sources that were either publically available or installed in busy public spaces were measured. These sources were identified through a citizen science project, wherein members of the public were asked to provide smartphone recordings of VHFS/US sources. With measurements made in realistic listening positions, pest deterrents were found that produced levels of up to 100 dB SPL at ∼20 kHz, and a hand dryer was found to produce 84 dB SPL at 40 kHz. PAVA systems were found to emit lower levels of up to 76 dB SPL at ∼20 kHz. Pest deterrents measured breach recommended safe listening limits for public exposure for people who are nearby even for relatively short periods.

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