Silencity

The Truth About Noise

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NYC’s “helicopter season” starts with a fail

This photo of the aftermath of a deadly helicopter accident in 2018 is in the public domain

Patrick McGeehan, The New York Times, writes about a sorry rite of late spring–the onslaught of helicopters ferrying the uber rich and wannabes to the Hamptons or separating tourists from their money in quick and expensive spins around Manhattan. This season started with a helicopter falling from the sky.  Somehow, everyone survived–not a typical outcome–but, as McGeehan reports, “the videos were spectacular enough to set off a debate about helicopter traffic.”

Adrian Benepe, a former city parks commissioner, asked whether the economic benefits or ease of travel were worth it. In fact, the city had reached a compromise with the helicopter companies a few years ago that cut the number of flights in half and banned them on Sundays, but McGeehan writes that some companies avoid the restrictions by flying out of New Jersey and not the city heliports.

Even with the compromise there are more than 30,000 flights a year, and residents and visitors under the flight paths have complained about the noise. Said Benepe, a member of Stop the Chop, “[f]or a city that claims to want to be the most environmentally progressive in the nation to be supporting this industry makes no sense.” That is an understatement.

Let’s hope that with this latest crash the city makes serious efforts to limit or prohibit these unnecessary helicopter flights. There is rarely a compelling need for their use and city residents and visitors shouldn’t be held captive by the wants and desires of tourists seeking an epic selfie or the super rich engaging in acts of self-importance.  It’s time to stop them.

Acoustic vehicle alerts are a problem

Photo credit: Kaboompics .com from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

The Quiet Coalition’s Jeanine Botta presented a paper on acoustic vehicle alerts, also known as horn-based alerts, on May 13, 2019, at the Acoustical Society of America’s 177th meeting in Louisville, Kentucky.

Acoustic vehicle alerts are a problem because they are capable of disrupting sleep and interrupting concentration. In most vehicles, the alerts can be turned off or can be configured to use flashing lights instead of a sound. But not all horn-based alerts are easily reconfigured.

In 2011, the Society of Automotive Engineers recommended that automakers install “an externally audible or visual alert” to warn drivers of an engine that has been left running, as a means of preventing carbon monoxide poisoning. In response, some automakers used horn sounds to comply with the standard. This decision did not consider driver behavior or technical errors, such as drivers starting a car and getting out to brush snow off a windshield, or a passenger with a second key remaining in a car. This paper examined posts in online forums that include those authored by car owners seeking technical advice about turning off this horn-based alert. One frequently cited reason was concern over waking nearby neighbors.

In February 2019, Senator Richard Blumenthal introduced legislation requiring automatic engine shutoff in all vehicles in certain situations. The Protecting Americans from the Risks of Keyless Ignition Technology Act, or PARK IT Act, is supported by Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, Center for Auto Safety, Safety Research and Strategies, and Consumer Reports.

And in California, where I live, where there are 14.5 million registered motor vehicles, it’s actually illegal for a horn to be used other than to avoid an accident or as a burglar alarm.

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.

The design of sound notifications

Photo credit: rawpixel.com from Pexels

Gabriela Barkho, The Observer, writes about the designers who create the “undeniably annoying” sound notifications used in mobile technology. Barkho notes that most of us shut off the noisy notification that tells us someone is trying to call us, replacing the rington with vibrate, but what of other sound notifications?

Barkho writes that “[t]he new age of mobile sound is as much about representing the app’s brand and mission as it is about the user experience.” Ouch. The thought of fighting your way through a crowded room with everyone holding a bleating cell phone is horrifying. Fortunately, however, designers recognize that sounds can annoy. Says Josh Mobley, a composer and sound designer, “[t]he trick is to make a sound that people will hear that isn’t going to annoy the shit out of them every time it plays.” Hear, hear.

While we are happy to learn that designers are aware of the problems posed by annoying sound notifications, what will happen when every app demands sound notifications that brand stand out? Imagine the horrorscape of competing notifications, with each designer trying to make their audio stand out. How will people cope when they can never have an uninterupted moment?

Maybe they won’t have to.

Why? Because according to Chris Kyriakakis, professor of electrical and computer engineering/systems and director of the Immersive Audio Laboratory at Univeristy of Southern California, the next big thing in sound notifications is spatialized sound. Kyriakakis calls spatialized notifications “a great leap forward” that would allow a user to use direction to decipher communication. How? He imagines that “a ding from front and center of your headphones could signal an urgent text, while a softer one from the back-end could be a less important notification.”

If it’s true that sound spatialization is the future, then maybe this brave new world of sound notifications won’t be as horrific as one might imagine. Among other things, Kyriakakis envisions spatialization with headphone use. Sure, city streets may be even more difficult to navigate as we weave our way around battalions of headphone-wearing people meandering in the streets, focused on distinguishing a ping from a beep  But at least we wont have to hear it.

 

 

Why noise pollution is more dangerous than we think

Photo credit: Shawn Carpenter licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

The May 13, 2019 issue of The New Yorker magazine has a wonderful article about noise by staff writer David Owen. Complementing the article is this 8-minute YouTube video in which Mr. Owen talks about what he learned writing the article:

It’s well worth spending the time to watch.

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.

Two thumbs up for noise-canceling headphones

Photo credit: Frans Van Heerden from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Geoffrey Morrision, writing for the New York Times, casts his vote in favor of using noise-canceling headphones when traveling, and I’ll add mine, too. The only downsides of noise-canceling headphones is that the over-ear ones are a little bulky, they are yet another thing to pack and carry, and it can be hard to find a comfortable head position with them on when trying to sleep. But in return, one has much greater quiet when flying.

Aircraft cabin noise is largely low-frequency noise, from engines and airframe, and most noise-canceling headphones do a good job of reducing low frequency noise.

I often use them on longer train rides, too, where again the predominant noises are low frequency ones.

The best noise-canceling headphones are expensive, of course, but if you are a frequent flyer, they are worth it.

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.

The New Yorker asks: Is Noise The Next Big Public Health Crisis?

Photo credit: ŠJů licensed under CC BY 4.0

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

This superbly written piece appeared in the New Yorker magazine online edition May 6 (it is in the May 13, 2019, print edition). Kudos to staff writer David Owen for his second article on the subject of noise–his first, on high-tech hopes for the hard of hearing, was published in March 2017. Owen also has a book coming out this October called “Volume Control: Hearing in a Deafening Worldthat we eagerly await—could this book help tip the scales?

We’re especially proud that Mr. Owen worked with several of The Quiet Coalition’s founders to produce this latest piece: our chair, Daniel Fink, MD, Arline Bronzaft, PhD, Les Blomberg, Bryan Pollard and maybe others. The first three are quoted in the piece and Bryan facilitated contact between the writer and the hyperacusis patient whose story appeared in the article, and assisted with fact checking on hyperacusis.

When we started The Quiet Coalition, our goal was to act as a reliable and accurate source of science stories to major media. The Quiet Coalition has assembled a outstanding group of members who are willing to share their knowledge and noise contacts with editors and reporters. As this and several other articles show, it’s working!

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.

Restaurant noise in the news once again

Photo credit: Franklin Heijnen licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This article by Ellie Violet Bramley in The Guardian discusses the ongoing problem of restaurant noise. Bramley interviews Greg Scott, founder of the SoundPrint app, who discusses the problems those with hearing impairment encounter trying to understand speech in a noisy environment. But as Bramley notes, the inability to clearly hear one’s companions is a problem for those with normal hearing, too.

Apparently some restaurant operators are getting the message, though. As Bramley concludes, people want restaurants in which they can converse easily with their dining companions.

DISCLOSURE: I serve as Medical Advisor to SoundPrint.

Thanks to Arnold Gordon from Cut Absurdly Loud Movie Sound (CALMS) for bringing this article to our attention.

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.

Why you temporarily hear muffled sound after a loud noise

Photo credit: Katie Tegtmeyer licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Noise-induced temporary threshold shift, or NITTS, describes the temporary muffling of sound after a person is exposed to loud noise. This article from the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s Eureka Alert details a report in the prestigious scientific journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, that provides an explanation for NITTS. Namely, researchers in Sweden found changes in calcium ions in the tectorial membrane of the cochlea.

While NITTS is a real and observable finding, the idea that auditory damage from noise is temporary is most likely false. Research by Liberman and Kujawa and colleagues at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary strongly suggests that there is no such thing as temporary auditory damage. And decades of occupational noise exposure studies show that NITTS eventually becomes NIPTS, noise-induced permanent threshold shift, i.e., noise-induced hearing loss. That is, your awareness of muffled hearing following exposure to loud noise is temporary, but the damage caused by the loud noise is permanent.

Noise-induced hearing loss is 100% preventable. Avoid noise exposure and if one can’t avoid noise exposure, use hearing protection devices.

Because if it sounds too loud, it IS too loud!

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.

Lawyer writes about leaf blower hazards

Photo credit: Josh Larios licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition, and Jamie Banks, PhD, MS, Program Director, The Quiet Coalition

It is well known that leading commercial leaf blowers produce deafening noise levels of 100 dB or more at the ear of the operator and that the low frequency sound and vibration affect overall health. These, coupled with toxic and carcinogenic exhaust, put workers at risk for problems ranging from hearing damage, to irreversible neurological damage, heart disease, and cancer. Nevertheless, many workers do not wear protective gear and may not be aware of the risks they face.

Workers compensation law, a subset of tort law, allows injured workers to sue for medical care and compensation.

In this post at Lawyers.com, attorney Brian Allan Wall from McCann and Wall, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, reviews the hazards of gas leaf blower use.  His piece shows that the legal community is aware that leaf blower noise can damage hearing and non-hearing health. If state and federal regulators won’t regulate leaf blower noise, maybe a series of workers comp lawsuits will force land care companies to either use battery electric blowers, reduce the use of gas blowers, or force manufacturers to make quieter machines.

Jamie Banks is the Executive Director of Quiet Communities, Inc. She is an environmentalist and health care scientist dedicated to promoting clean, healthy, quiet, and sustainable landscape maintenance, construction, and agricultural practices.

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.

 

Aircraft noise is a problem inside the plane, too

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This piece in the Wall Street Journal discusses the problem of noise inside the airplane cabin, not just under Federal Aviation Administration’s NextGen flight paths.

Airplane cabins can be made quieter. The Airbus A380, soon to stop production, is the largest passenger airplane and also one of the quietest inside. Maybe other aircraft manufacturers can do more to design quieter planes, too.

Until they do, I will continue to wear my noise-cancelling headphones when I fly.

I recommend that you do the same.

Thanks to Bryan Pollard at Hyperacusis Research, Ltd. for letting us know about this article.

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.