Silencity

The Truth About Noise

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Noise control laws need to be enforced

Photo credit: Brett Sayles from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This editorial from the Toronto Sun makes the point that well-written noise control laws are worthless unless they are enforced.

We agree.

For a variety of reasons, noise control laws are rarely enforced. The noise is often intermittent, and has already stopped by the time enforcement officers arrive. Police officers don’t like to enforce noise control laws.  Depending on how the law is written, enforcement may require sound level meters which they claim they don’t know how to use, or which may not be calibrated to standards that will hold up in court. Low staffing levels for other enforcement officers, e.g., from a Department of Building and Safety, mean that someone may investigate a complaint days or weeks after it is filed, by which time the noise has long since dissipated.

For me the answer is simple: follow the example of Santa Monica, Callifornia, which uses crowd-sourced citizen reporting of leaf blower violations.

We suggest the folks in Toronto implement a system like the one in Santa Monica.  It works.

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.

London searching for ways to quiet the Underground

Photo credit: Skitterphoto from Pexels

by Arline L. Bronzaft, Ph.D., Board of Directors, GrowNYC, and Co-founder, The Quiet Coalition

That the London Underground has been recently cited as producing very loud noises that are disturbing to riders, employees, and nearby neighbors is nothing new to New Yorkers who have complained about New York City’s loud subways and elevated trains for many years.

Over forty years ago, I published a paper that found that nearby elevated train noise impacted adversely on the classroom learning of students in a school next to the elevated tracks.  The findings of this study resulted in the placement of resilient rubber pads on the nearby tracks to lessen the noise and the installation of acoustical ceilings in classes near the tracks.  A second study, after noise abatement, found that children in classrooms near the tracks were now reading at the same level as those on the quiet side of the building. The New York City Transit Authority then instituted a program to install these resilient rubber pads along the entire elevated track system.

After working with the Transit Authority on two occasions on its noise issues, I learned that transit noise is not only disturbing to all those subjected to these sounds but transit noise is often the result of poor maintenance and as a result can lead to potential breakdowns in the system. I wrote a paper linking transit noise to breakdowns in the system and explained that correcting transit noise is not a matter of knowing what to do but rather of not being willing to do it.  This is true for cities other than New York.

In reading that London is searching for technology to quiet its system, I noted that the same procedures that have existed for years to lessen the noise are being considered.

One would think that such procedures should have been examined at the first sign that the system was getting louder.  Actually, that they weren’t should not be surprising because my work on noise issues has taught me that for actions to be taken, those in charge have to be “hit on the head” before something is done to reduce noise.

A group of London campaigners concerned about transit noise has asked Transport for London to put up signs warning people about the noise. One would assume that hearing protection could then be used by transit riders. Transport for London’s response was that the transit system’s noise was ‘highly unlikely to cause long-term hearing damage.”

Really? What about the impacts on the hearing of employees who are exposed to these high sounds for many hours daily? What about the health of people living near the tracks who have been complaining? What about the discomfort to riders who use the system regularly? I would suggest that Transport for London learn more about the impacts of noise pollution which affects more than our ears—noise adversely impacts on our health and well-being. I would also urge that the noise issue be addressed with haste.

Dr. Arline Bronzaft is a researcher, writer, and consultant on the adverse effects of noise on mental and physical health. She is co-author of “Why Noise Matters,” author of “Listen to the Raindrops” (children’s book illustrated by Steven Parton), and has written extensively about noise in books, encyclopedias, academic journals, and the popular press.  In addition, she is a Professor Emerita of the City University of New York and Board member of GrowNYC.

 

Restaurant critic discusses restaurant noise

Photo credit: Lou Stejskal licensed under CC BY 2.0

This interesting piece by San Francisco Chronicle’s restaurant critic Soleil Ho tries to balance all aspects of restaurant noise. I think she does an excellent job discussing various aspects of restaurant noise, including costly technological solutions to the noise problem, except for one thing: ambient noise in restaurants is a major disability rights issue.

The good news is that it’s feasible to make restaurants quieter. If enough people ask restaurant managers to turn down the music, if enough people ask their elected representatives for quiet restaurant legislation, this will happen.

Remember when almost all restaurants were filled with secondhand smoke?  Now we enjoy pleasant, healthier, smoke-free restaurants. And in the future, I am confident we will be able to dine in quieter restaurants, enjoying both the meal and the conversation with our dining companions.

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.

Is Japan really the world’s noisiest country?

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

If you’ve been to Japan, you’re likely as astonished as I am to learn that the World Health Organization recently reported Japan to be the world’s noisiest country.

Chiara Terzuolo, Japan Today, writes:

[T]he WHO recommends avoiding being exposed to noise over 53 decibels. The legal average limit in Japan is about 70, a number based on data 50 years out of date, according to Prof Matsui of Hokkaido University who spoke about the problem in an NHK feature on noise pollution in Japan.

Personally, I found major cities in Japan, like Tokyo and Hiroshima, much quieter (and more polite) than American cities like New York or Chicago. And their bullet-train stations are eerily quiet—the trains make NO noise at all, the station PA system speaks in polite whispers, and there are white-gloved attendants around urging people to stand back from the tracks because you might not notice an arriving train. So if Japan is noisy, I don’t remember it that way at all.

In fact, Japan and other Asian nations, like Korea, are far ahead of the U.S. in adopting and enforcing ‘quiet’ ordinances. Visiting there, I’ve seen noise barriers around highways that are 65 feet tall and they’re better at blocking noise from radiating into nearby neighborhoods and more attractive than the crude prison-like fences installed along U.S. highways by the Department of Transportation at a cost of millions of dollars per mile.

Nevertheless, if the World Health Organization’s report is right, it’s interesting proof that noise pollution is a very difficult problem to solve, as difficult as smog and second-hand smoke.

If that’s the case, then it will be a long, long time before we see much improvement in America—because we’ve barely begun to think about this problem.

David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: QCI Healthcare Acoustics Project, ANSI Committee S12-WG44, the Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Committee. He is lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0” (Springer, 2012), a contributor to the NAE’s “Technology for a Quieter America” and the GSA’s “Sound Matters,” and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics at Rensselaer Polytech. A graduate of UC-Berkeley with advanced degrees from Cornell, he is a frequent organizer of professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

Noise affects mountains, too

Photo credit: Ron Clausen licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This fascinating piece in the New York Times reports that vibrations from natural and human sources can affect geological structures. Vibrations from vehicles and helicopters may be responsible for the collapse of fragile natural arches. And one geological feature in Utah may vibrate at approximately the same frequency as the human heartbeat. Who knew?

Sound is a form of energy transmitted by vibrations in the atmosphere, water, or solid materials.  If sound can destroy geological structures, imagine what it can do to our ears.

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.

Lindbergh Foundation interviews “The Ruth Bader Ginsburg of noise”

Photo credit: Photo credit: Susan Santoro

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

The Lindbergh Foundation is run by aviation pioneer Charles Lindbergh’s grandson, Erik, a prominent and outspoken activist for quieter, more efficient electric aircraft. It was my privilege several years ago to introduce Mr. Lindbergh to The Quiet Coalition co-founder, Dr. Arline Bronzaft, when we invited both to speak at a public outreach workshop on community noise.

If you know anything about Dr. Bronzaft, you know that she is a forthright, courageous, no-nonsense spokesperson who speaks truth to power and is passionately concerned about the effects of noise on people. So we’re thrilled to hear, in this interview, Mr. Lindbergh describe her as “the Ruth Bader Ginsburg of noise.”

Well-deserved and absolutely appropriate. Congratulations, Arline, for a well-deserved compliment! And thank you, Erik Lindbergh, for recognizing the contributions of this remarkable woman!

David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: QCI Healthcare Acoustics Project, ANSI Committee S12-WG44, the Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Committee. He is lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0” (Springer, 2012), a contributor to the NAE’s “Technology for a Quieter America” and the GSA’s “Sound Matters,” and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics at Rensselaer Polytech. A graduate of UC-Berkeley with advanced degrees from Cornell, he is a frequent organizer of professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

The world’s most accessible museum?

Photo credit: David Samuel licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This article in the New York Times describes the new Wellcome Museum in London, which was specifically designed to be accessible to those with visual, auditory, and mobility issues. The piece also mentions an exhibit at the Tate Museum that was inaccessible to those in wheelchairs because it had two steps at the entrance, and of a public monument to a century-old labor dispute that was also not accessible to those who couldn’t climb steps. The main idea is that those in the UK who design museums, art exhibits, and public monuments are now aware that these places, designed for the public, should be accessible to as many people as possible.

The same principle of universal access should apply to restaurant design and other public spaces. Ambient noise in restaurants makes it difficult if not impossible for those with hearing loss to understand speech. And designing restaurants and public spaces with a goal toward reducing noise levels will make it easier for everyone to converse with their dining companions, not just the hard of hearing.

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.

Real angry birds

Photo credit: Thet Tun Aung from Pexels

Country File magazine reports on recent research by Manchester Metropolitan University with Manchester Airport that found birds living near airports “are exposed to extreme noise levels from jet engines” which interferes with communication during breeding season. Interestingly, not only is communication affected, but the researchers found that common chiffchaffs living near loud aircraft were five times more likely to attack a speaker playing bird song than chiffchaffs who lived further away from airports. That is, the noise made the birds more aggressive.

We were not entirely surprised that noise would cause aggression in animals, as some studies show that noise causes or exacerbates aggression among humans.

Just another reason to lower the volume, everywhere.

 

 

Listening to the crickets

Photo credit: Beckie licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This wonderful essay in the New York Times discusses listening to the sounds crickets make at night.

We have crickets where I live, and they can be noisy. I knew that their sounds were made by male crickets rubbing their wings together in hopes of finding a mate, but who knew that crickets have strategies to amplify their sounds?

The main reason to protect our ears is to be able to hear speech, but being able to hear nature’s wonderful sounds is another good reason.

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.