Silencity

The Truth About Noise

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Is the New York Philharmonic dangerously loud?

Photo credit: Shinya Suzuki licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

One usually associates loud music with rock concerts and not classical music played by one of the world’s leading symphony orchestras, but that has changed. This report by Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim, a New York Times music critic, says the New York Philharmonic is playing too loudly. Her concern is the effect loud playing has on the quality of the music, not preventing noise-induced hearing loss.

When I attend a concert, my concerns are about both.

I have hyperacusis, a condition where sound levels not bothersome to others cause discomfort and pain for me. And I know that noise causes hearing loss, tinnitus, and hyperacusis.

When Essa-Pekka Salonen was music director, the Philharmonic’s sound levels weren’t a problem. But under his successor, the wonderful Gustavo Dudamel, they are.

Don’t get me wrong. I love Dudamel’s conducting, and most of the time the orchestra’s sound is exquisite. But he plays some pieces about 10 decibels louder than Maestro Salonen did, e.g., Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite.

Now I make sure to bring a pair of earplugs with me when we go.

Because if something sounds too loud, it IS too loud.

And with louder symphony orchestras, hearing loss and other auditory problems aren’t just a worry for the musicians. They might be problems for the audience, too.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He is the founding chair of The Quiet Coalition, an organization of science, health, and legal professionals concerned about the impacts of noise on health, environment, learning, productivity, and quality of life in America. Dr Fink also is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’ Health Advisory Council, and he served on the board of the American Tinnitus Association from 2015-2018.

Hearing loss is no joke: 40% of hearing disabled can’t get jobs

Photo credit: Andreas Klinke Johannsen licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

by David M. Sykes, Vice Chair, The Quiet Coalition

According to Cornell researchers cited in this news item from NPR, fewer than 40% of people with a hearing disability work full time. This startling statistic was uncovered by Cornell’s Yang-Tan Institute’s analysis of 2016 American Community Survey data. Wow!

If you, like we at The Quiet Coalition, are concerned about the burgeoning and long-ignored problem of noise-induced hearing loss in the U.S., that’s a very scary prospect. Even with unemployment in the U.S. currently at an historic low of 3.5%, people with hearing disorders still suffer an employment rate of 10 times that!

Hearing is precious, we all know that. But it’s also an economic necessity, especially if you need to earn a living. So remember: protect your own and your family members’ hearing, because exposure to high levels of noise—at work, at home, or at play—is dangerous, unhealthy, and could also be economically disastrous.

As our chairman, Dr. Daniel Fink says: “If it sounds too loud it IS too loud.”

Carry hearing protection with you, always. It really matters.

In addition to serving as vice chair of the The Quiet Coalition, David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: The Acoustics Research Council, American National Standards Institute Committee S12, Workgroup 44, The Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Working Group—a partner of the American Hospital Association. He is the lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0 (2012, Springer-Verlag), a contributor to the National Academy of Engineering report “Technology for a Quieter America,” and to the US-GSA guidance “Sound Matters”, and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics (LARA) at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. He recently retired from the board of directors of the American Tinnitus Association. A graduate of the University of California/Berkeley with graduate degrees from Cornell University, he is a frequent organizer of and speaker at professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia, and the Middle East.

 

It’s not just humans who can’t tolerate construction noise

Photo credit: Diana Silaraja

Pandas at the Edinburgh Zoo are being moved to shelter them from construction noise from a nearby site. Turns out pandas are particularly vulnerable to loud noise because they have ultrasonic hearing. And the Scottish government isn’t screwing around–they insisted on being informed if and when plans to move the pandas were approved by the city council because concerns about the pandas “could raise issues of national importance.”

If only U.S. city governments were so diligent in protecting the hearing of humans exposed to nonstop noise.

Fireworks banned on the Galapagos to protect wild life

Photo credit: Simon Matzinger from Pexels

DW.com reports that the government of Ecuador banned sales of most fireworks on the Galapagos Islands shortly before the new year to protect the “archipelago’s unique fauna.” The only fireworks exempted from the ban are those that produce light but not noise.  According to DW.com, conservationists said the sounds of fireworks exploding “cause elevated heart rates, nervous stress and anxiety among animals on the islands, which are home to several endemic species including iguanas and tortoises.”

Congratulations to Ecuador for taking the lead in protecting wild life. One hopes that other governments will follow its lead. But given that the DW.com article adds that Germany’s Environment Agency “urged people to refrain from private fireworks on New Year’s Eve…to help prevent a drastic increase in fine dust pollution,” maybe the bigger goal should be to protect all living things by banning all fireworks. Says DW.com:

The agency estimates that around 4,500 tons of fine dust are blown into the air all over Germany on New Year’s Eve, with levels on January 1 higher than at any other time during the year.

“This corresponds to about 15.5 percent of the amount of particulate matter emitted by road traffic each year,” [agency head Maria] Krautzberger said, referring to the miniscule pollutants that pose the greatest threat to human health.

We need to fundamentally address how we treat our environment and consider the implications of our way of living. Yes, people enjoy fireworks and it seems like innocent fun, but it isn’t. Many people are maimed by mishandling fireworks, the noise frightens animals, and the dust created with each explosion poses a serious threat to human health.

So kudos to Ecuador on its ban of noisy fireworks. Let’s hope it’s just the first of many steps leading to the end of an unnecessary and dangerous practice.

Help for those bothered by airplane noise

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This article in the Los Angeles Times describes a new tool, the Airnoise button, developed to help people report airplane noise. Airplane noise has always been a problem, but airplane noise has been exacerbated by the Federal Aviation Administration’s NextGen program, which uses satellite navigation to guide airplanes on more precise approach paths to their destinations. NextGen increases fuel efficiency and allows closer spacing of planes, but it also concentrates airplane noise over smaller areas. The complaints about the NextGen noise problem has been covered in these pages and in many newspaper reports from around the country.

Due to a phenomenon called “regulatory capture,” the FAA appears more concerned about the profits of the airplane manufacturers, airline companies, and airports than about the health and well-being of the Americans under the flight paths. And the FAA believes airplane noise is “just a nuisance,” even though it has been shown to be a risk factor for hypertension, heart attack, stroke, and death.

One of the things government officials say when confronted about a problem is that “nobody ever complained.” But people are complaining about airplane noise, so the FAA’s response, as noted in the Los Angeles Times article, has been to attribute a large number of complaints to a handful of people. And the FAA might have a point, but the agency fails to acknowledge that their cumbersome procedures make it difficult for people to complain. After all, most people have more important things to do in their busy lives than to hunt down the right online form and file a complaint every time a plane flies over their house.

But the FAA may have to come up with a different excuse soon, as Airnoise makes it simple and easy to file airplane noise complaints–just one simple click of the Airnoise proprietary button, or a click on the Airnoise smartphone app, and your complaint is on its way.

I hope all affected by aircraft noise will use Airnoise to file complaints, so that the FAA and congressional committees that govern and fund them can no longer pretend that only a handful of people are concerned about aviation noise.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He is the founding chair of The Quiet Coalition, an organization of science, health, and legal professionals concerned about the impacts of noise on health, environment, learning, productivity, and quality of life in America. Dr Fink also is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’ Health Advisory Council, and he served on the board of the American Tinnitus Association from 2015-2018.

Hearing noise? Here’s how to find out where it’s coming from

Photo credit: bruce mars from Pexels

by David M. Sykes,Vice Chair, The Quiet Coalition

The Quiet Coalition recently received an inquiry from a woman who said she hears “a nearly imperceptible high-pitched sound” in her living space. She states that she can hear the sound, but her partner insists there is no sound. “Could a smartphone-based sound-meter app isolate and identify this sound?” she asked, adding “if so, which one do you recommend?”

First, I must note that the fact that this woman hears noise but her partner does not means nothing at all. Her partner could simply have much less sensitive hearing!

We at The Quiet Coalition agree that the best step is to try to measure the sound. There are free or inexpensive sound meter apps that you can install on your smartphone, so start there. Some are better than others, but thankfully, experts at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have tested and rated smartphone sound-meter apps, which we reported on last year.

But a smartphone app may not be sensitive enough to pick up the sound. What should you do if this is the case? The only alternative could be to find an acoustics engineer to visit your residence and use professional equipment to identify the noise and then help you identify the source. That person can also suggest some ways to address the problem—which could be a neighbor’s electronics. The National Council of Acoustical Consultants offers advice on how to select a professional, licensed acoustical engineer.

There is, however, another possibility that must be considered: hearing a high-pitched sound that no one else hears COULD mean that you have a hearing disorder called tinnitus or an acute sensitivity to sounds called hyperacusis. Tinnitus can be identified by first finding a truly quiet place, such as a library, or on a weekend retreat in the countryside, to see if you still hear the noise when you are away from the circumstances where you are aware of the sound.

40 million Americans have tinnitus (myself included), so it’s quite common. And many of us spent years assuming that the “background noises” we heard were actually coming from the environment and that everybody heard the same thing!

So we recommend that you pursue both of these steps, because exposure to noise can be stressful, can cause sleep loss, and can have other health effects.
First try to determine where an unseen source of high-pitched sound in your environment is coming from. If the sound cannot be isolated, then consider that the cause of the sound could be tinnitus or another hearing disorder that should be attended to.

Frankly, the best result would be that there really is an unseen source of high-pitched sound in the immediate environment. Why? Because that can be fixed once the source is identified. But tinnitus cannot be cured, though there are techniques for managing it—which include avoiding the kinds of exposures that may have caused it in the first place. And know that the onset of tinnitus can be quite sudden.

To learn more about tinnitus check out the American Tinnitus Association‘s website and the Clinical Practice Guideline for Tinnitus published in 2014 by the American Academy of Otolaryngology–Head & Neck Surgery.

In addition to serving as vice chair of the The Quiet Coalition, David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: The Acoustics Research Council, American National Standards Institute Committee S12, Workgroup 44, The Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Working Group—a partner of the American Hospital Association. He is the lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0 (2012, Springer-Verlag), a contributor to the National Academy of Engineering report “Technology for a Quieter America,” and to the US-GSA guidance “Sound Matters”, and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics (LARA) at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. He recently retired from the board of directors of the American Tinnitus Association. A graduate of the University of California/Berkeley with graduate degrees from Cornell University, he is a frequent organizer of and speaker at professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia, and the Middle East.

85 dB is not a safe noise level to prevent hearing loss

This image is in the public domain.

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

The title of my article in the January 2019 issue of The Hearing Journal says it all. No, 85 decibels (dB) is not a safe noise exposure level to prevent hearing loss.

In the absence of a federal guideline, recommendation, or standard for non-occupational noise exposure, the 85 dB (actually dBA, A-weighted to reflect the frequencies heard in human speech) occupational noise exposure standard seems to have become the de facto safe noise exposure standard in the U.S. and around the world.

This misunderstanding might be why the world has gotten noisier over the last four decades.

I hope those charged with protecting the public’s health–including the Centers for DC, FTC, Consumer Product Safety Commission, and state and local agencies–will take steps to protect the nation’s auditory health in 2019.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He is the founding chair of The Quiet Coalition, an organization of science, health, and legal professionals concerned about the impacts of noise on health, environment, learning, productivity, and quality of life in America. Dr Fink also is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’ Health Advisory Council, and he served on the board of the American Tinnitus Association from 2015-2018.

How ASMR is changing food videos

Photo credit: mali maeder from Pexels

What is ASMR? It’s the acronym for “autonomous sensory meridian response,” a tingling sensation on the skin that is “most commonly triggered by specific auditory or visual stimuli,” or, as Matthew Sedacca, Eater, calls it, “brain-gasms.” Sedacca introduces us to the world of ASMR food videos, which range from YouTube favorites who film themselves eating, part of the “alt-food-porn community,” says Sedacca, to other YouTube stars who simply film themselves cooking without dialogue. Cooper Nelson, who started Silently Cooking, “focused his show entirely on meal preparation and made special use of the sounds that occurred naturally as he was cooking.” To his surprise, his channel is a hit with ASMR fans on Reddit.

The Eater article dives deeply into what draws people who experience ASMR to these food videos, but could the reason, in part, be that the viewer can focus on pleasurable sounds without being overstimulated by competing ones? It’s just a theory, but Sedacca tells us that Nelson was motivated to post his videos because he was “[t]ired of cooking shows with egocentric hosts and cheesy music.” We agree.

In the end, perhaps the draw of these videos is that they offer respite In a world oversaturated with sound, and by stripping away the layers they allow us to really hear.

Do we have a right to live in a quiet community?

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Do people have a right to live in a quiet community? Trevor Hancock, of the Times Colonist, thinks so, and so do I.

Hancock’s article discusses community noise, and highlights The Quiet Coalition’s Antonella Radicchi, PhD, who spoke in November 2018 at the Acoustical Society of America’s meeting in Victoria, BC, Canada, about her Hush City app.

In the U.S., the Noise Control Act of 1972 “establishes a national policy to promote an environment for all Americans free from noise that jeopardizes their health and welfare.”

The Environmental Protection Agency was tasked by Congress with the responsibility to make this happen. Unfortunately, in the Reagan era Congress defunded EPA’s Office of Noise Abatement and Control, and the country has gotten much noisier since then.

But it is now clearly known that noise is a health and public health hazard, causing hearing loss and other auditory disorders and non-auditory disorders including heart disease, stroke, and death.

We hope this knowledge will empower the public to demand quiet, just as the knowledge that secondhand smoke was a health hazard empowered the public to demand smoke free spaces.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He is the founding chair of The Quiet Coalition, an organization of science, health, and legal professionals concerned about the impacts of noise on health, environment, learning, productivity, and quality of life in America. Dr Fink also is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’ Health Advisory Council, and he served on the board of the American Tinnitus Association from 2015-2018.

Embracing stillness

NBC Left Field interviews Steve Orfield, owner/operator of an anechoic chamber that the Guinness Book of World Records once named as “the quietest place on earth.”  Orfield talks about the importance of silence, noting that “the more perceptual stimulus you have, the less you are able to think clearly.” In the end, Orfield observes that we spend most of our energy trying to entertain ourselves until we go to bed, and concludes “if you look at all the things we spend money on and all the things we think we need, what’s the cost of peace?”

It’s a fascinating interview and well worth your time: