Silencity

The Truth About Noise

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Is noise pollution harming your health?

Photo credit: wp paarz licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Is noise pollution harming your health? That’s the question Prof. Richard Neitzel, PhD, asks in this article for the BottomLineInc. Prof. Neitzel is associate chair and associate professor of environmental health sciences and global public health at the University of Michigan School of Public Health.

Noise pollution is similar to air pollution, except that both the public and health professionals are generally unaware of the non-auditory health effects of noise. These include cardiovascular disease, obesity, diabetes, and increased mortality.

And of course, noise can cause hearing loss. Prof. Neitzel’s research has shown that everyday noise exposure is great enough to cause hearing loss.

Personal hearing protection, i.e., earplugs, can help prevent hearing loss, but making the environment quieter will require government action.

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 restaurant noise a problem?

Photo credit: James Palinsad licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Is restaurant noise a problem? I think so, and I’m not the only one who does. According to the Zagat surveys over the last several years, noise is the first or second most common complaint of restaurant patrons. Washington Post restaurant critic Tom Sietsema also thinks restaurant noise is a problem, and give decibel readings and comments about noise in his reviews.

But New York Times restaurant critic Pete Wells, responding to a blog post that I had sent him doesn’t think so.

I may be making a mistake in writing this–there’s an old adage that one shouldn’t argue with anyone who buys ink by the barrel and paper by the ton–but I feel compelled to reply.

Wells’ argument, in a nutshell, is that he really doesn’t think restaurant noise is a problem and generally likes louder restaurants. Wells says that he doesn’t have trouble conversing in a noisy restaurant, and thinks restaurant noise is a sign of people having a good time.  Wells opines that people prefer livelier restaurants and are uncomfortable with silence. In the end, he thinks the problem may be that restaurants may be the only place in modern life where we can’t control the noise, and that bothers people. But he believes restaurant noise is a feature, not a bug, and restaurant noise is the happy sound of people having a good time sharing a meal with each other.

I disagree, of course. I live in Los Angeles, not New York, so it’s possible that there are differences between the coasts, but I don’t think so. I think restaurant noise is a problem and prefer quieter restaurants where I can talk with my dining companions. Unfortunately, they are almost impossible to find. I have tinnitus and hyperacusis, so loud restaurants are downright painful for me. Restaurants are noisy by design, whether the culprit is an open kitchens, hard surfaces, or tables crowded together in a low-ceilinged room, often accompanied by background music turned up to rock concert levels. Yes, noise can create a sense of action or excitement. and hospitality literature shows that restaurant noise increases food and drink sales and turnover. But Zagat surveys show that many diners find restaurant noise to be a problem. I think many patrons would prefer quieter restaurants. And no, it’s not a control issue, it’s a comfort issue. We don’t want silence, we want enough quiet so we can enjoy the food and the conversation without damaging our hearing.

I usually don’t read the online comments to newspaper articles, but a few of my noise contacts suggested that I look at the comments to Wells’ piece. I’m glad I did. On Thursday morning there were over 876 comments and the overwhelming percentage–approximately 95%–agreeed with me that restaurant noise is a problem. Several commenters raised the same concerns.  Namely, that restaurant noise is a problem for those with hearing loss, especially older people, whether they wear hearing aids or not, restaurants don’t have to be as noisy as they are, European restaurants are much quieter, and going to a restaurant for a meal is about the food and conversation. Others stated that they walk out of noisy restaurants or won’t return to them, and many were aware that noise is used deliberately to reduce time spent at the table and to increase alcohol sales.

Mr. Wells column is titled “Is Restaurant Noise A Crime? Our Critic Mounts a Ringing Defense.” No, restaurant noise is not a crime, but restaurant noise is a major disability rights issue for those with hearing loss and other auditory and non-auditory disorders. If enough of us would complain to elected officials about restaurant noise and quiet restaurant laws are passed–or if a sympathetic plaintiff finds a good disability rights lawyer–restaurant noise could soon be a violation of the law. And for the sake of everyone’s dining comfort and auditory health, I hope that day is very soon.

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.

Preliminary report on the CDC’s review of noise and health

Photo credit: Lukas from Pexels

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

Prof. Richard Neitzel, PhD, University of Michigan School of Public Health, a co-founder of The Quiet Coalition, has published an article that provides a preliminary review of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s systematic review of global literature on the effects of noise on 11 different health conditions.

We eagerly await a final report on this important study.

In the interim, visit Prof. Neitzel’s website and take a look at some of his other work on noise and health, particularly his new project with Apple Inc.

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.

Sound and the city

Photo credit: Ian D. Keating licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This excellent essay by on Curbed discusses urban noise levels. It’s a very comprehensive piece, discussing multiple aspects of urban noise and how it affects people.

Some urban noise is an unavoidable accompaniment to modern life, but much can be done to make cities quieter. These include enacting laws against excessive vehicle exhaust noise, horn use, aircraft noise including helicopter flights, and indoor quiet laws.

Of course, enacting laws isn’t enough. They must be actually be enforced. Crowdsourced reporting using smartphone apps can help with enforcement.

My only quibble with the Curbed article is that the author cites the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as recommending only 85 decibels (dB) for 8 hours to prevent hearing loss, but the link is to the National Instititue for Occupational Safety and Health. While part of the CDC, NOISH is charged with making recommendations for the prevention of work-related injury and illnes, not recommendations for the general public. So NOISH’s 85 dB exposure standard, actually 85 dBA*, is an occupational noise exposure level to prevent noise-induced hearing loss in the workplace–it’s not intended to be a safe exposure threshold for the public.

The NIOSH Science Blog post on February 8, 2016, specifically addressed this concern. And my research revealed that the only evidence-based safe noise level to prevent hearing loss is an average of 70 decibels a day.

Given the general misunderstanding of what is a safe noise exposure level for the average person, Furseth’s article raises important issues that I hope are starting to be taking seriously.  Cities have gotten louder and the effect of increased noise on residents and visitors is something that should be given serious attention.

*A-weighted sound measurements are adjusted to reflect the frequencies heard in human speech

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.

Noise in classrooms interferes with learning

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

After reading Dr. Paul W, Bennett’s article entitled “Are noisy Canadian classrooms hindering students,” I contacted him at the Schoolhouse Institute in Halifax, Canada. I indicated to him how surprised I was to read his article that “excessive classroom noise and disruptions remain largely undiagnosed and understudied in Canadian kindergarten-to-grade-12 education,” in light of the fact that I had conducted research and written extensively on the impacts of noise in classrooms for over forty years. I also added that were other studies similarly highlighting the need for quiet in classrooms.

We discussed his article in which he cited a global student survey conducted in 2018 that found that nearly 40% of Canadian students reported…”noise or disorder in most or all of their classes.“ Dr. Bennett said that this number was far more that that reported by Japanese and Korean students where the figures were low (under 10%). The figure for the U.S. was around 28%. While my writings primarily examined the impacts of noise from external and internal sources–namely, rail, airport, and poor acoustics in schools–Dr. Bennett also wrote about the disciplinary climate of the class contributing to “loudness” in classrooms. He also added that a deteriorating classroom environment can contribute to student bullying, absenteeism, and psychological harassment.

As a former professor of education, author of books on education, and director of an institute interested in improving the quality of education, Dr. Bennett thought it was important that Canadian educators become more aware of the effects of noise classroom disorder on student learning. Dr. Bennett was familiar with my research on the impacts of noise on classroom learning and I offered my assistance as he moves forward with his goal of stressing the importance of a quieter and more orderly school environment.

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.

 

Sociopaths on snowmobiles

Photo credit: Sebastian Voortman from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This report from Ontario’s BayToday discusses the problem of snowmobile exhaust noise there. Specifically, snowmobilers there are modifying exhausts with minimal decreases in weight but maximum increases in noise. Since most of Ontario’s snowmobile trails cross private land, the landowners bothered by the noise are closing down their trails, depriving snowmobilers with unaltered machines of their winter activities.

I’ve gone snowshoeing and cross-country skiing in remote locations, too remote or too steep to have snowmobile trails. The silence of the wintry landscape, broken only by the rustle of the wind in the bare trees and an occasional bird cry, is beautiful.

It’s a shame that sociopathic snowmobilers–winter’s equivalent of motorcycle riders with modified exhausts–are disturbing the forest quiet even more than those without modified snowmobiles.

The solution is simple: enforce existing laws against modifying snowmobile exhausts. Or to really make a change, enact laws allowing for confiscation of modified snowmobiles and the problem will cease.

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.

Readers react to Austrialian piece on restaurant noise

Photo credit: James Palinsad licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

A few days ago the Adelaide InDaily ran a column by food writer Rainer Jozeps about Adelaide “plague of shouty cafes and restaurants.”

And readers have responded.

Both Jozeps’ article and the responses could have been written about restaurant noise in any major city in the English-speaking world. Simply put, restaurants have become too loud and customers actively avoid the noisier ones.

It’s been a while since I’ve been to Australia, but restaurant noise is also a problem in England, Scotland, and Wales, and, of course, the U.S. On the other hand, restaurants in France, Italy, Spain, and Portugal–where food and dining may be more valued–seem quieter to me.

I haven’t seen any scientific studies comparing restaurant noise in different countries, but I would welcome them and anticipate that they would confirm my less than scientific observations.

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 assistive devices shine at Consumer Electronics Show

Photo credit: Gb11111 licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

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

I’ve pointed out in earlier blogs to a once-in-a-generation convergence of technology, deregulation, and finance, that is fueling a boom in new hearing assistive devices. That convergence showed up this week at the gigantic Consumer Electronics Show as a handful of new products worth looking at.

This year’s offerings point to a growing cornucopia of new hearables products aimed at our ears—for the first time in decades. And that is a positive indicator that the long moribund, underinvested space of hearing health is attracting global attention. Which is good news for researchers, manufacturers, and consumers.

You’ve already read here about our partner, Richard Neitzel, PhD, from the University of Michigan’s School of Public Health, who’s working with Apple Inc. on Apple’s new iPhone/iWatch noise-warning app. And you’ve read here about SoundPrint and iHearU and our partner, Antonella Radicchi’s Hush City app and others. We wish them all success!

At this rate it’s going to be hard to keep up! For some of us it’s pure excitement to watch the acoustical/hearing products industry come alive again after forty years in the doldrums!

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.

Dining out is about more than the food on your plate

Photo credit: bruce mars from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This article by Cape Gazette food writer Bob Yesbek discusses the many different aspects of restaurant noise. Yesbek notes that complaints about restaurant noise are among the most frequent he receives, and discusses some of the science behind complaints about restaurant noise. He also reports that some restaurants are concerned enough about their patrons’ dining comfort to try to deal with noise issues.

I believe that if enough people complain to enough restaurant owners and managers, it’s possible that restaurants will become quieter. Based on my experience with getting smoke-free restaurants, though, I think complaining to one’s local elected officials to get quiet restaurant ordinances passed will be quicker and more effective.

Because noise isn’t just a nuisance. Noise is unwanted and/or harmful sound.

And restaurant noise is a disability rights issue for people with hearing loss and other auditory disorders.

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.

American Girl’s 2020 doll of the year

Photo credit: Courtesy of American Girl

by Caroline Masia

On December 31, 2019, Good Morning America announced to the world the American Girl Doll of the year for 2020. Her name is Joss Kendrick, a surfer gal and a cheerleader from Southern California. At first glance, she might look like your typical California girl with beautiful auburn hair, a fit surfer body and beautifully tanned skin. But Joss is different from the other American Girl Dolls. She has hearing aids that you can clearly see circling around her ears and she is proudly showing them off.

When I first saw the Good Morning America annoucement, my heart leapt and I felt proud of the American Girl Doll company for coming out with a doll who has hearing loss. I have hearing loss. I was born deaf and got my first cochlear implant at sixteen months and my second when I was seven years old. Growing up, there was no doll in the market that had hearing aids or cochlear implants. In fact, there was no doll out there that had any sort of differences. Instead, when I returned home from my surgery, I found that my sister had “rigged” up several of her dolls by fashioning “cochlear implants” out of buttons and other materials, so that I could have a doll that looked like me.

It is wonderful to finally have dolls that represent the population more realistically and is also commendable because American Girl is now helping to normalize differences. Everyone faces challenges. And all girls are beautiful. By creating a doll with a hearing impairment, American Girl makes that statement loud and clear!

Caroline Masia is currently in her third year at the University of Central Florida studying exceptional education. She is very active with the Jewish community on campus and is involved with the American Sign Language club. After college, Caroline hopes to teach students who are deaf or hard of hearing and help to make a difference in their lives.

Thanks to Sherilyn Adler, PhD, of the Ear Peace: Save Your Hearing Foundation, an educational nonprofit, for assisting The Quiet Coalition with this piece. TQC is proud to regard Dr. Adler and her group as partners in its work on preventing hearing loss.