Silencity

The Truth About Noise

Latest Posts

Australians are in danger of hearing loss

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This report from the National Acoustic Laboratory at Australia’s Macquarie University found that 1 in 10 Australians used personal listening devices (PLDs) at dangerously high volumes.

Not surprisingly, those who reported using the devices at high volumes also reported more difficulty hearing things.

Only the abstract is available without a subscription, so I can’t comment on details of the study, which would be stronger if actual hearing tests had been done on the subjects, but the final line of the abstract is one that I agree with entirely:

Although PLD use alone is not placing the majority of users at risk, it may be increasing the likelihood that individuals’ cumulative noise exposure will exceed safe levels.

And that’s the problem with studies focusing just on personal listening device use. They are only one small part of the total daily noise dose. Flamme, et al., found that 70% of adults in Kalamazoo County, Michigan received total daily noise doses exceeding the Environmental Protection Agency’s safe noise limit of 70 decibels time weighted average for a day. That’s why the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recently reported that almost 25% of American adults had noise-induced hearing loss, many if not most without occupational exposure.

As the CDC states, noise-induced hearing loss is preventable. No noise, no hearing loss.

Protect your ears now and you won’t need hearing aids later.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He serves on the board of the American Tinnitus Association, is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’s Health Advisory Council, and 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.

Human noise takes its toll on birds

Sarah Kaplan, The Washington Post, reports that some birds are so stressed by noise pollution that “it looks like they have PTSD.”  Kaplan writes that scientists researching birds living near noisy natural gas treatment facilities in New Mexico discovered from sampling the birds’ blood that they had “the same physiological symptoms as a human suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.” Said Rob Guralnick, associate curator of biodiversity informatics at the Florida Museum of Natural History, “[n]oise is causing birds to be in a situation where they’re chronically stressed . . . and that has really huge health consequences for birds and their offspring.”

And humans?  The researchers took their findings to Christopher Lowry, a stress physiologist at the University of Colorado at Boulder, who was not surprised by the results–“it’s what you would expect in a creature exposed to prolonged, persistent strain.”  So does the study’s findings have implications about the effect of noise on human health?  Kaplan writes:

To Lowry, the fact that humans respond to stress in the same manner as animals as distantly related as birds suggests that this response is ancient and deeply ingrained. And it raises questions about how humans handle exposure to unrelenting noise. The mother bluebird that nested near a compressor and was unable to leave when the sound became unbearable may not be so different from a low-income human family forced to rent an apartment near a flight path or loud industrial site.

Ultimately, being under an aural assault is bad for any living thing’s health and well-being.  Says Lowry, “[t]here’s evidence that being able to have a full auditory experience is essential for optimal health in both species.”

 

Eric Clapton has tinnitus and is losing his hearing

 

Photo credit: Majvdl licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

And so he told BBC Radio while promoting his new documentary, “Eric Clapton: Life in 12 Bars.” Every pop culture site has reported some version of this story, but not one asks why or how he has tinnitus and hearing loss, even as the Variety piece linked above notes:

Clapton isn’t the only musician who’s dealt with tinnitus. The Who’s Pete Townshend has also discussed his own problems with the condition and hearing loss.

Townshend did more than that–he pointed his finger squarely at earphones used in studio as the cause of his hearing loss and expresses concern about earbud exposure among the youth.

Perhaps music and entertainment magazine should look into how and why music icons are suffering hearing loss and educate their audience on how to avoid the same fate.

The importance of the scientific method

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

The New York Times reports that officials at the Centers for Disease control were told not to use certain words, including “evidence based” and “science based.

The Quiet Coalition’s website states:

The Quiet Coalition consists of science, health, and legal professionals concerned about the impacts of noise on health, environment, learning, productivity, and quality of life in America.
We believe an evidence-based approach to noise as a health and social problem, combined with educational outreach and organized action, can lead to meaningful change.
The Quiet Coalition provides a platform for communication, programs, and coordinated action for those trying to bring current medical and scientific knowledge to the process of creating a quieter, more sustainable, and livable world.

The founders and members of The Quiet Coalition believe in scientific evidence and evidence-based policy and decision making.

We urge those in government to make decisions based on sound evidence, not on faith or dogma, and to monitor programs for results.

If something doesn’t work, stop that and try something different.

That’s the scientific method. That’s how Thomas Edison invented so many things. That’s how societies get ahead.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He serves on the board of the American Tinnitus Association, is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’s Health Advisory Council, and 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.

Information is our weapon against noise

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

As this column by Jane Brody discusses, 47 years ago the Center for Science in the Public Interest started informing the public about good nutrition and also influencing public policy about food labeling and nutrition standards.

CSPI’s success has been mixed, but it clearly has had a major impact.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but when I became a noise activist three years ago–after reading this article in The New York Times science section about hyperacusis, which I have–I set out to do the same thing for noise that CSPI has done for food and nutrition.

Everything I do regarding noise is based on scientific and medical evidence. To my surprise, most of the information I have written about has been known since the early 1970s, or even earlier. It just has been forgotten since the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Noise Abatement and Control was defunded (pdf) during the Reagan years. I took me a year to learn what a safe noise level is, as I wrote in the American Journal of Public Health. [Hint: it’s not 85 decibels without time limit, as the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health insists on its website, with the misleading statement “[l]ong or repeated exposure to sound at or above 85 decibels can cause hearing loss.” That’s true, but it’s like the National Cancer Institute saying, “standing out in the sun every day for a long time all summer long can cause skin cancer.”]

So let’s hope that regulators and policy makers will begin to recognize the dangers of noise exposure in the new year. I’m certainly going to do my part to bring this problem to their attention. I hope you will join me.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He serves on the board of the American Tinnitus Association, is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’s Health Advisory Council, and 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.

Lafayette, Indiana’s mysterious hum solved!

And Duke Energy accepts the blame.

Residents of Lafayette, Indiana were hearing a mysterious hum during a recent cold wave, and they were concerned enough to call the local police to report it. Turns out, the reason for the intermittent humming was do to the recent bitter cold temperatures. Says Duke Energy, “it’s nothing but the sound of the simple physics needed to deliver electricity during the coldest weather in the past few years in Lafayette,” adding that “[i]t’s nothing to be concerned about and there’s no danger involved.”

So there’s your answer, Lafaytte. Now get some sleep!

 

Local airports are a problem too

Photo credit: Addison YC licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Local airports are a problem for those who live near them.

Airports big and small–from Logan in Boston and Reagan in Washington to the airports in the Hamptons and Santa Monica–have been in the news recently for noise and air pollution problems.

And now it’s Teterboro Airport’s turn in the spotlight.

I lived under the flight path to the Santa Monica Airport from 1991-2009, so I saw (or perhaps heard) the transition from single-engine Beechcraft, Cessna, and Piper aircraft, with a rare Beechcraft King Air two-engine plane from time to time, to Gulfstream 3, 4, and 5 jets. The single-engine planes didn’t make much noise, but not so for the jets.

A few things happened simultaneously. Thanks to airline deregulation, the number of passengers flying increased dramatically, without a corresponding increase in airport capacity. Because of this, airline service quality declined. After September 11, 2001, things got much worse. The security regulations made it unpleasant and time-consuming to travel on commercial flights, even in first or business class. The rise of the multi-millionaire and billionaire classes, thanks to strong markets and federal tax policies favoring wealthy investors, meant that many more people could afford to charter small jets, purchase fractional jet ownerships, or even buy their own planes.

As F. Scott Fitzgerald is reputed to have said, “the rich are different from you and me.” Why put up with the hassles of going through airport security and waiting for the boarding announcement when your limousine can drop you off and your private jet’s crew will load your bags while your custom-ordered meals are being delivered? Of course, the costs of these luxuries aren’t just borne by the rich. Those living near the airports put up with the noise and pollution.

In Santa Monica, the community finally rose in opposition and after a lengthy legal battle, succeeded in getting the airport to cease operations in 2028. Noise and safety concerns–a Gulfstream jet produces a lot more pollution and noise than a single-engine plane, and if one ever crashes it will cause a lot more damage than a small plane–were the major issues.

I hope I live ten more years to see (and hear) this happen. And I hope that those living near other small airports are successful in their efforts to control noise and pollution problems, too.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He serves on the board of the American Tinnitus Association, is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’s Health Advisory Council, and 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.

How your brain singles out one sound among many

Shilo Rea, Carnegie-Mellon, writes that researchers “have developed a new way to find out how the brain singles out specific sounds in distracting settings.” Why is this significant? Because, writes Rea, “[t]he study lays crucial groundwork to track deficits in auditory attention due to aging, disease, or brain trauma and to create clinical interventions, like behavioral training, to potentially correct or prevent hearing issues.”

This research is important because deficits in auditory attention are associated with social isolation, depression, cognitive dysfunction and lower work force participation. According to Frederic Dick, professor of auditory cognitive neuroscience at Birkbeck College and University College London, once neuroscientists “start to understand how subtle differences in the brain’s functional and structural architecture might make some regions more ‘fertile ground’ for learning new information.”

Click the link to read more about the fascinating study.

Fresh thinking about quiet, space-saving urban transportation

Introducing the URB-E

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

By now we’ve all seen battery-powered Segways, battery-powered bicycles, and battery-powered motorcycles—awkward, cumbersome, big, heavy commuter vehicles that have enough power to get you from home to the train station or bus stop. Then what do you do with it? Granted they take less space than cars and don’t spew exhaust fumes, but their bulk and weight is a problem.

Now comes URB-E, a cleverly designed, small-scale, apparently foldable electric scooter that you can take right onto the bus or train with you. Brilliant! Kudos to the designers in Pasdena who thought this up. Can’t wait to see them on the roads and campuses around here when spring rolls around. Looks like fun.

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.