Silencity

The Truth About Noise

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Teach yourself to echolocate

Photo of Daniel Kish by PopTech licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Jessica Leigh Hester, Atlas Obscura, writes about how we can learn to navigate with sound. Hester introduces us to Daniel Kish, who, after losing his vision as an infant, taught himself to move around with echolocation. You may be aware that bats use echolocation for navigation, and, apparently, so does Kish. Hester writes that he “uses his mouth to produce a series of short, crisp clicking sounds, and then listens to how those sounds bounce off the surrounding landscape.” By employing echolocation, Kish can then map out his environment.

Want to give it a try? Kish teaches echolocation, mostly to blind students, and he gives Hester an introductory lesson on how to get in tune with your sonic environment. Click the link for Kish’s primer.

WHO recommends quiet

Photo credit: Leif Jørgensen licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

The World Health Organization just issued its new noise guidelines for Europe (pdf). This poster summarizes the 100+ page report which contains the scientific evidence:

The research was done by many of the world’s leading noise experts, and in turn reviewed by more experts who developed these evidence-based noise exposure guidelines.

There can be no rational doubt that noise is a major health problem in Europe and the United States, causing hearing loss, sleep disruption, cardiovascular disease, and death.

We hope the United States will follow the Europe’s example and start dealing with the noise problem, 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.

No one told you drone delivery would be so damn loud

Photo credit: Sam Churchill licensed under CC BY 2.0

But some Australians know firsthand that living next to a drone delivery test site is pure hell. According to Lachlan Roberts, The Riot Act!, residents living near a delivery drone testing site claimed they “were disturbed by the noise and said it was ruining their quality of life.” Said one put upon neighbor, “[t]he drones are unbelievably noisy and they have a really, really loud, high-pitched whining sound.” The situation was particularly galling, the residents point out, because they believe there is no compelling reason for this “service.”

It’s not surprising that the drone operation is attracting complaints. Just last year a NASA study found that “people find the buzzing sound that drones make to be notably more annoying than that of cars or trucks, even when they’re at the same volume.”

The aggrieved residents would likely agree. One of them noted that he had 35 drones fly over his house in one day, adding his concern that there would be many more flights after the trial period ended.

Silicon Valley (or the start-up culture, more generally) rush to impose delivery drones and flying cars and the other shiny objects du jour on the world with the promise of awesome new technology and absolutely no concern about the costs that will be borne by the society at large.

Before imposing the endless whine of delivery drones on the masses, the promoters should be required to answer one question: what compelling need does this technology serve? Because the need should be compelling when a new service or product is launched that will expose the public to unwanted and harmful noise.

Restaurant noise is still a problem

Photo credit: Navjot Singh licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This recent article in the Chicago Tribune discusses the problem of restaurant noise, and what can be done to solve it.

Controlling restaurant noise can be a challenge. There has to be a balance between a reasonable amount of noise, and the ability of patrons to converse each other, but not so much quiet that everyone can hear what others are saying at the next table.

Some restaurant noise is unavoidable, e.g., the conversation of patrons, noise from the street, and the clatter of dishes at the tables, but kitchen noise can be isolated by an interior window if a visible kitchen is desired, and background music doesn’t have to be turned up to rock concert levels.

There is no “one size fits all” solution to restaurant noise. But acoustic science is up to the challenge and quieter restaurants are entirely feasible.

DISCLOSURE. Dr. Fink serves as Medical Advisor to SoundPrint, which is mentioned in 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.

What do ducks hear, and why we should care

Photo credit: Magda Ehlers from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

My focus is on human hearing and especially on finding a quiet restaurant in which to enjoy the meal and the conversation with my wife, but as a noise activist I learned about the adverse impacts of noise on animals, including birds and small mammals and fish and marine mammals.

This report in The New York Times looks at what ducks hear.

Why should we care? Because we should care about all living things on the face of the earth and in its waters.

And they all evolved in quiet.

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.

Weaponized music

This photo is the work the U.S. federal government, so the image is in the public domain in the U.S.

The Noise Curmudgeon  sends us to this Literary Hub piece on the use of loud music as a torture device by the U.S. interrogators in Guantánamo and elsewhere.  Along with blasting music at a damaging 100 decibels, the torturers at Gitmo would play songs by female performers which were “chosen specifically to offend the religious sensibilities of Islamist prisoners,” among other things.

So what does one play to break the will of detainees?  Some Britney Spears (that would break us), Nine Inch Nails, Marilyn Mason, and the Barney and Friends, “I Love You Song.”

And for those who dismiss this awful tactic as torture, consider that the interrogators used loud music as a tool because “[i]t provoked fear, distress, and disorientation, crowding out the thoughts of the detainee and bending their will to the interrogators.”

 

 

 

Noise is killing us

Photo credit: Genaro Servín from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This wide-ranging essay from New Zealand discusses the many ways noise hurts our health, from hearing loss to diabetes and death.

A quieter environment is better for us all, and it shouldn’t take a superhuman effort to make it happen. Lowering the volume of music in public spaces is an easy first step.

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.

Update: FAA reauthorization includes noise provisions

Photo credit: Manfred Irmer from Pexels

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

In an earlier version of this post, I wrote that the recent FAA reauthorization did not mention aviation noise. That was incorrect. The NPR report that I had read and linked did not mention noise, but, as one of the commenters below has noted, Subtitle D of the reauthorization, entitled “Airport Noise and Environmental Streamlining,” contains many community noise provisions.

I agree with the commenters who say that the reauthorization was not a complete failure, and I applaud the efforts of the local Quiet Skies Coalition groups for remaining steadfast in keeping the pressure on the FAA and politicians to address aviation noise.  But it’s also clear that the FAA’s regulation of airplane noise is frustrating to those who live under the NextGen flight paths, and the FAA reauthorization’s noise provisions, while a step in the right direction, has citizen activists wanting much more. Indeed, as the comments below suggest, reaction to the reauthorization’s noise provisions range from “the language was sloppy, divisive, and minimally addressed our needs” to “this bill was a disgraceful sham, indignity and injustice to the American public!”

But for the millions of Americans subjected to airport noise, H.R. 302 is a really big deal because this is the first time in nearly 40 years that Congress has required the FAA to address the airport noise problem.

As this summary shows, Subtitle D (page 3) includes most of what the 36-member Congressional Quiet Skies Caucus and it’s national constituent assembly, consisting of 36 regional advocacy groups known as the National Quiet Skies Coalition, called for in their 2015 demand letter (pdf), and their 2017 national petition.

But they didn’t get everything they asked for, so is the glass half full or half empty?

Frankly, we’re amazed that after nearly 40 years of being ignored this subject got out of the transportation committee, was voted through, sent to the president’s desk, and was signed into law—with no fanfare at all.

We’ll learn soon enough whether anti-noise activists have something to cheer about or not. But in the meantime, what H.R. 302 demonstrates is that it takes a LOT of time, organization and attention to (political) detail to make things happen in Washington DC. But when enough citizens and their representatives put their heads together and commit to changing the status quo, they can, even in times like the tumultuous ones we’re living through, make things happen. Maybe the lesson is: keep your head down, and your voice low, and maybe you’ll get somewhere.

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.

What are the best workout headphones?

Photo credit: CherryPoint licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

What are the best workout headphones? In my considered opinion, none. This review of workout headphones mentions noise-induced hearing loss, but misuses the 85 decibel (dBA, A-weighted decibels) occupational noise exposure as the safe listening limit.

There is a common belief that music improves athletic performance, and the louder the music the better the effort. But I have been unable to find any scientific articles supporting this belief, unless it is music with a particular beat or rhythm which, for example, might help a runner keep a steady pace.

On the other hand, the dangers of noise for hearing loss are supported by decades of scientific work and thousands of articles in peer-reviewed journals.

So skip the headphones–you can be very fit without losing your 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.