BRUSSELS, BELGIUM — Following a busy week of hosting world leaders from the US, NATO and the European Union (EU), the Belgian Prime Minister’s (PM) decision to attend a 20 km run over the weekend in the nation’s capital is likely a choice he now regrets.
While standing next to Princess Astrid of Belgium, the younger sister to the current Belgian monarch (King Philippe), PM Charles Michel was seemingly caught off guard by the sudden loud shot of the starting pistol.
While reports indicate it was initially “laughed off” during the event, shortly afterwards the prime minister had sought a medical examination due to the ringing in his ears (tinnitus). Indicating the significant nature of the injury, the PM’s entire schedule for the week had to be cleared.
“The prime minister must follow a number of treatments within 48 hours after the incident”–Barend Leyts, Spokesman for Prime Minister Michel
The PM is expected to undergo further medical treatment throughout the week.
Incident Highlights Risks of Noise-Induced Hearing Loss
While it may have been initially laughed off to avoid any embarrassment, such incidents of noise exposure can result in significant permanent hearing loss and tinnitus. The OSHA and NIOSH permissible exposure limit for impulsive noise (such as a gun blast) is 140 dB SPL. Without hearing protection, sound exposures exceeding 140 dB can result in lasting damage.
Therefore, even a single exposure to a loud gun blast without hearing protecting can result in permanent hearing loss.
A recent examination of impulse noise by Sondergaard, et al, found that at .5 meters (about 1.5 ft) from the blast, sound levels from a starter pistol reached as high as 166 dB. Based upon the study, the authors concluded the shooter would be required to wear hearing protection and that nearby athletes and spectators could be potentially be at risk for hearing damage based upon current NIOSH and OSHA sound exposure guidelines.