Silencity

The Truth About Noise

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Quiet Salish Sea lets scientists study endangered killer whales

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

When I saw this article about scientists studying killer whales in the Salish Sea, the first question I had was, “Where is the Salish Sea?” A quick online search revealed that it’s the complex set of waterways near Canada’s Vancouver Island, including the Strait of Juan de Fuca, Puget Sound, and the Strait of Georga and Johnstone Strait separating the island from the mainland. Increasing noise levels have been harming killer whales there, who rely on sound for communication and for echolocating food.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, however, there has been a 30% decrease in commercial shipping traffic into the Port of Vancouver from China. Decreases in other marine traffic have led to a noise reduction of about 75%.

The Salish Sea is murky due to sediments carried from the Simon Fraser River. Killer whales can see 5-10 meters in the water, but can find prey at greater distances and can communicate with others in their pod for kilometers.

Killer whales are also very social and are in almost constant communication with other members of their pods. But shipping noise, which has been doubling almost every decade for three or four decades, interferes with their communication.

We hope the COVID-19 lockdown’s quiet will allow scientists to learn more about killer whales, and that when marine traffic resumes, steps will be taken to make the waters quieter than they have been.

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.

Do protestors have the right to make too much noise?

Photo credit: Fibonacci Blue licensed under CC BY 2.0

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

Thank you Noise Curmudgeon for bringing our attention to this story about Planned Parenthood filing suit against noisy protestors. When ordinances prohibiting excessive noise are passed, citizens often complain that there is a lack of enforcement and the intrusive noises continue to impact on their health and well-being. This appears to be the case in Spokane where Planned Parenthood claims that demonstrators outside their health clinic engage in hourlong sessions of loud singing and music playing without any noise violations being issued to halt this behavior. The response from the police is that there were no grounds to issue violations. Thus, Planned Parenthood initiated legal action against the anti-abortion protesters who have been conducting religious services outside the health clinic.

Apparently, this legal action in Spokane is not the first involving a dispute centered on the rights of abortion protestors to engage in loud activities in front of health clinics. A noise law protecting an abortion clinic survived a challenge in West Palm Beach, Florida in 2013. Similarly, anti-abortion protesters in Jackson City, Mississippi were prevented from demonstrating loudly near a Jackson Women’s Health Organization. And Charlotte, North Carolina also passed a law in 2019 creating a buffer zone in front of medical facilities, including anti-abortion clinics, and as result, curtailed loud protests near these clinics.

One needs to understand that outside noises may intrude on doctors carrying out medical procedures as well as patients recovering from these procedures and this would be true of hospital facilities in general, not just abortion clinics. Thus, one can readily understand why anti-noise ordinances limiting loud demonstrations near health facilities are necessary. Hospital areas have long employed quiet zones around them and enforcing such zones does not go against the right to free speech.

Thus, recognizing that the city’s noise limits might hold the gatherings outside the Spokane health clinic illegal, a pastor at Covenant Church and the leader of the protestors stated that “[t]hey can keep us quiet with the sound ordinance, but they can’t stop us. So if we got to sing quiet, we’ll sing quiet.”

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.

The CDC says “Protect your hearing”

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

The National Center for Environmental Health at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises everyone to protect his or hearing during July, which is Fireworks Safety Month:

Of course, we agree.

We only have two ears, and unlike our knees, they can’t be replaced.

I’ll go one step further and recommend that fireworks on July 4th be left to professionals and not used at home. Every year, people lose fingers or eyes because they or someone who loves them sets off fireworks at home, with disastrous consequences.

Please stay safe this fireworks season and protect your ears, too.

Thanks to the CDC for helping educate Americans about how to protect our auditory health.

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.

Fireworks noise can be deadly for pets

Photo credit: Nancy Guth from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

My main noise focus has been the adverse effect of noise on humans, but I am aware that noise adversely affects birds, small mammals, and fish and marine mammals, too.

Fireworks noise is especially threatening to pets, and according to this article in the New York Post, can even cause death.

Pet owners should join the chorus of those, in the United States and around the world, calling for quiet fireworks.

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.

Human noise impacts desert animals, too

Photo credit: Ed Dunens licensed under CC BY 2.0

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

Having written about the impacts of noise on health and well-being, I know that noise pollution is experienced beyond large urban cities. A small community may soon find itself exposed to intrusive noises if the motocross raceway proposed for that town is built. If built, a small airport may expose nearby residents to aircraft noise. Jennifer Ibarra, a student at California State University at Fullerton, wondered whether increased use of nearby desert land by human communities would impact desert animals. She was especially concerned about the noises that came along with human encroachment.

She set about studying the effects of noise on the eating behavior of birds and other animals. While birds and other animals found their way to the food study sites in her study, less food was consumed in noise areas than in no-noise areas. She found that in noise areas about 20% less food was consumed, and she considered this a considerable loss in food intake. Ibarra hypothesized that “nearby noise obscured the sounds of approaching predators, and it may have been risky to remain at a site for very long to eat.”  One hopes that additional studies similar to this one could be conducted to validate the findings and lead to suggestions as to how to protect desert birds and animals from harmful noises.

Iberra’s research project on noise, her ecology course, and a visit to the Desert Studies Center have motivated her to seek a career in ecology. She also notes that she was inspired by a most encouraging faculty mentor. As a professor of environmental psychology, I was especially pleased to read about this research project conducted by a college student and know from personal experiences with my own students how extremely talented students are. I wish Jennifer Iberra good luck with her advanced studies and hope to read more articles highlighting noise pollution studies conducted by college students.

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.

Fireworks noise can damage your ears

Photo credit: ViTalko from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This report from KCBD in Texas discusses the dangers of fireworks noise for auditory health. The audiologist interviewed, Leigh Ann Reel, Ph.D., is especially concerned about impulsive noise, as from an explosion. One exposure at close range can cause permanent hearing loss, tinnitus, or hyperacusis.

Fire departments and public health authorities generally recommend leaving fireworks displays to the professionals, but in many states and localities personal use of fireworks is legal and enforcement of fireworks bans is spotty.

I would prefer quiet fireworks, as have been mandated in many parts of Europe, both for people and for their pets.

Please stay safe.

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.

Death of the open plan office?

Photo credit: Peter Bennets licensed under CC BY 3.0

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

If this pair of NPR articles are correct, the pandemic will cause the death of the open plan office. Now there’s reason to celebrate. Goodbye noisy co0workers and endless distraction!

What the articles suggest is the shift to working from home is going to be permanent for many former office workers. And it appears they are happy about it despite the obvious problems, like kids, pets, and so on.

It’s no secret that office workers have watched with horror as their workspace has steadily diminished over several decades so that the most fashionable, cutting edge offices, like those sported by Google and Facebook, now feature no closed offices at all–except for the C-Suite of course. Instead, there are row upon row of tables, often on casters, on concrete floors, just like factories. Even offices with cubicles have seen those cubicles diminish in size and the barriers between them evaporate.

So is working from home a perfect solution for everyone? Well, no. But if offices can’t bring back more than 50% of their staffs at any one time, that means that many
office workers can ditch the commute at least half of the time and work in their pjs (from the waist down, at most, if you do Zoom calls).

Get used to it. The future of office work has come home!

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.

Protesting? Take a mask—AND hearing protection!

Photo credit: Z22 licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

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

Been to a protest rally recently? You may have seen a cop car with a 2ft x 2ft box on the roof….What is it? Likely, it’s a long-range acoustical device, or LRAD, that emits an unbearable and ear-damaging signal intended to induce panic and temporary incapacity. First developed for the military, these devices are now in use by police in some cities to “control”/incapacitate protesters. Lynne Peskoe-Yang, in Popular Mechanics‘ weapons column, wrote an excellent summary of the subject that you should read and circulate to your friends and acquaintances.

Along with tear gas, tasers, flash-bang grenades and rubber bullets, LRADs are serious weapons—sonic weapons—that you need to prepare for because damage to your hearing will be permanent.

How damaging are LRADs? They can inflict serious pain, destroy your hearing, and leave you with permanent hearing damage. But police have been told they’re “harmless.” So expect indiscriminate use.

So be sure to wear or carry good earplugs AND earmuffs when you hit the street to join a protest march or rally. Once your hearing is gone, there’s no way to get it back. And the 16 million Americans who have tinnitus and/or hyperacusis can attest that hearing damage can be very, very painful and disabling.

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 and pollution increase as countries, states reopen

Photo credit: Ion Ceban @ionelceban from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This New York Times article reports that gaseous pollutant emissions are surging as countries and states reopen economic activity.

We have covered several reports about the coronavirus lockdowns causing noise and vibration levels to decrease, but I haven’t yet seen a report about the effect of reopening on noise levels.

I wrote about the eerie nighttime quiet of a curfew beginning at 1 p.m. in the afternoon. A little noise may be reassuring, or at least familiar, but too much noise is a problem.

My own observation is that in the west Los Angeles area, noise levels are definitely increasing. Automobile, truck, and motorcycle exhaust noise can be heard day and night. And there are more airplanes in the sky.

It will be interesting to see what happens with noise levels as the economy reopens more.

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.