Silencity

The Truth About Noise

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Preserving the rainforest’s soundtrack

Photo credit: David Riaño Cortés from Pexels

MIchael J. Coren, Quartz, writes about bioacoustics, a burgeoning field that uses “microphones to capture the aural signature of an ecosystem’s inhabitants from its tiniest creatures to its resident humans.” The goal of bioacoustics is to “monitor biodiversity, on a budget, over vast areas of remote rainforest.” Coren writes about a recent paper in the journal Science, where the authors suggest that bioacoustics “could fill a critical gap for conservation projects” by monitoring the forest’s health after it’s been saved.

Click the link to listen to the recordings that accompany the piece.  Two of them are soundscapes of healthy forests, while the third is clear-cut jungle now worked as a palm oil plantation.  The difference in the range and loudness of sound is apparent.

 

Protecting children’s hearing

Photo credit: Tim Parkinson licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

I’m an internist and was board-certified in geriatric medicine so I’m not sure I’m qualified to write anything about children, but I think being a new grandpa grants me that authority. One thing I have learned is that children’s ears are delicate, and they need to last a lifetime, so it’s important to protect children from loud noise.

At last year’s Super Bowl victory, the world saw Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Nick Foles carrying his infant daughter wearing her cute pink ear muff hearing protection.  Smart move. The Quiet Coalition doesn’t endorse products, but there are now many ear muff hearing protection devices available for infants, toddlers, and young children.

I suggest that parents and grandparents look for products with a noise reduction rating of 22 decibels or greater. The NRR is measured according to standards developed by the EPA, but the actual reduction in noise reaching the ear drum is less than the rated noise reduction. Just remember that the higher the NRR, the greater the hearing protection.

And start using ear protection early. If children get used to ear muffs for noise when they are infants, they are likely to develop lifelong habits of protecting themselves from environmental noise exposures.

Should you allow your child to use headphones to listen to music? I think these are a bad idea. First, parents can’t monitor either content or sound volume. Second, even with volume limits, headphone use is likely to cause auditory damage. That was the finding of a Dutch study that showed auditory problems in children age 9-11 after headphone use. Third, and perhaps most importantly, it’s far better to interact with one’s child or grandchild than to use audio or audiovisual content as a babysitter. Read the kid a book!

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.

For the love of sound, a whole city must keep quiet

Photo credit: trolvag licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This delightful article by Max Paradiso in the New York Times describes an ambitious recording project in Cremona, Italy. Paradiso writes that the project aims to digitally record the violins crafted there centuries ago, preserving “the sounds of the Stradivarius instruments for posterity, as well as others by Amati and Guarneri del Gesù, two other famous Cremona craftsmen.” And to do this, the streets surrounding the auditorium where the recording is taking place must be quiet.

One wishes all cities could make similar efforts.

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 sound of silence

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Penelope Green, The New York Times, writes about using a sound machine to mask nighttime noise for better sleep. In her article she cites a definition of noise that I like and will probably use it again. “Noise,” writes Green, “is defined as unwanted sounds that could have negative psychological and physiological effects.

Green discusses using white noise to mask unwanted sounds that might disrupt sleep. But while that might help with sleep, it’s not clear that white noise is without health consequences itself.

Humans and our primate and vertebrate ancestors evolved in quiet. As Green notes, the perception of sound is a warning mechanism. It allowed us to detect predators or a hungry baby.

I have measured nighttime noise levels near 30 A-weighted decibels (dBA) in remote areas of Wales and Sri Lanka. (A-weighting adjusts measured sound for the frequencies heard in human speech.) That’s at the low end of the noise range from 30-35 dBA where sounds begin to disrupt sleep.

Sadly, it’s impossible to avoid nighttime noise in urban settings, but, as mentioned in the article, even natural sounds from frogs and other animals in rural settings can disturb the listener. Which is unfortunate, because achieving quiet to allow sleep, rather than relying on sound masking devices or apps, is probably better for our 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.

Bikers at risk of profound hearing loss

Photo credit: ajay bhargav GUDURU from Pexels

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

According to this article by Matt Colley for the British Motorcyclists Federation, bikers are making themselves deaf. Not exactly surprising, but the cause of the hearing loss isn’t just from riding loud motorcycles, it’s from exposure to wind noise.

Colley states that “[w]hen riding at 62mph, 95dB of noise turbulence is generated by the airflow within your helmet.” 95 decibels is more than enough to cause permanent hearing loss. The article continues, adding that “even at standards speeds, exposure to wind noise can have significant consequences.” So what happens if a motorcyclist goes faster? “Unsurprisingly, the faster you go the higher the noise level and consequently the higher level of risk,” says Colley, adding that at 74mph the turbulence ratchets “up to 98dB, which can be damaging after only seven minutes of exposure.”

Ironic isn’t it? People ride big, loud motorcycles because they love the sense of freedom and power and yes—they like being noticed. Meanwhile, motorcycle manufacturers–even Harley Davidson–are already developing quiet, battery-powered bikes. But a quiet, electric motorcycle, while clearly an improvement for helpless bystanders, won’t solve the wind-noise problem that the British Motorcycle Federation says is the real cause of hearing loss among motorcycle riders.

As Colley notes, it’s important for riders to hear sounds that are necessary for situational awareness, like horns and sirens. He adds that wind noise causes fatique, requiring rider to concentrate more. So what does he suggest? Something we at The Quiet Coalition have recommended since our inception–always use ear protection when you are exposed to loud noise.

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.

Is the New York Philharmonic dangerously loud?

Photo credit: Shinya Suzuki licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

One usually associates loud music with rock concerts and not classical music played by one of the world’s leading symphony orchestras, but that has changed. This report by Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim, a New York Times music critic, says the New York Philharmonic is playing too loudly. Her concern is the effect loud playing has on the quality of the music, not preventing noise-induced hearing loss.

When I attend a concert, my concerns are about both.

I have hyperacusis, a condition where sound levels not bothersome to others cause discomfort and pain for me. And I know that noise causes hearing loss, tinnitus, and hyperacusis.

When Essa-Pekka Salonen was music director, the Philharmonic’s sound levels weren’t a problem. But under his successor, the wonderful Gustavo Dudamel, they are.

Don’t get me wrong. I love Dudamel’s conducting, and most of the time the orchestra’s sound is exquisite. But he plays some pieces about 10 decibels louder than Maestro Salonen did, e.g., Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite.

Now I make sure to bring a pair of earplugs with me when we go.

Because if something sounds too loud, it IS too loud.

And with louder symphony orchestras, hearing loss and other auditory problems aren’t just a worry for the musicians. They might be problems for the audience, 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.

Hearing loss is no joke: 40% of hearing disabled can’t get jobs

Photo credit: Andreas Klinke Johannsen licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

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

According to Cornell researchers cited in this news item from NPR, fewer than 40% of people with a hearing disability work full time. This startling statistic was uncovered by Cornell’s Yang-Tan Institute’s analysis of 2016 American Community Survey data. Wow!

If you, like we at The Quiet Coalition, are concerned about the burgeoning and long-ignored problem of noise-induced hearing loss in the U.S., that’s a very scary prospect. Even with unemployment in the U.S. currently at an historic low of 3.5%, people with hearing disorders still suffer an employment rate of 10 times that!

Hearing is precious, we all know that. But it’s also an economic necessity, especially if you need to earn a living. So remember: protect your own and your family members’ hearing, because exposure to high levels of noise—at work, at home, or at play—is dangerous, unhealthy, and could also be economically disastrous.

As our chairman, Dr. Daniel Fink says: “If it sounds too loud it IS too loud.”

Carry hearing protection with you, always. It really matters.

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.

 

It’s not just humans who can’t tolerate construction noise

Photo credit: Diana Silaraja

Pandas at the Edinburgh Zoo are being moved to shelter them from construction noise from a nearby site. Turns out pandas are particularly vulnerable to loud noise because they have ultrasonic hearing. And the Scottish government isn’t screwing around–they insisted on being informed if and when plans to move the pandas were approved by the city council because concerns about the pandas “could raise issues of national importance.”

If only U.S. city governments were so diligent in protecting the hearing of humans exposed to nonstop noise.

Fireworks banned on the Galapagos to protect wild life

Photo credit: Simon Matzinger from Pexels

DW.com reports that the government of Ecuador banned sales of most fireworks on the Galapagos Islands shortly before the new year to protect the “archipelago’s unique fauna.” The only fireworks exempted from the ban are those that produce light but not noise.  According to DW.com, conservationists said the sounds of fireworks exploding “cause elevated heart rates, nervous stress and anxiety among animals on the islands, which are home to several endemic species including iguanas and tortoises.”

Congratulations to Ecuador for taking the lead in protecting wild life. One hopes that other governments will follow its lead. But given that the DW.com article adds that Germany’s Environment Agency “urged people to refrain from private fireworks on New Year’s Eve…to help prevent a drastic increase in fine dust pollution,” maybe the bigger goal should be to protect all living things by banning all fireworks. Says DW.com:

The agency estimates that around 4,500 tons of fine dust are blown into the air all over Germany on New Year’s Eve, with levels on January 1 higher than at any other time during the year.

“This corresponds to about 15.5 percent of the amount of particulate matter emitted by road traffic each year,” [agency head Maria] Krautzberger said, referring to the miniscule pollutants that pose the greatest threat to human health.

We need to fundamentally address how we treat our environment and consider the implications of our way of living. Yes, people enjoy fireworks and it seems like innocent fun, but it isn’t. Many people are maimed by mishandling fireworks, the noise frightens animals, and the dust created with each explosion poses a serious threat to human health.

So kudos to Ecuador on its ban of noisy fireworks. Let’s hope it’s just the first of many steps leading to the end of an unnecessary and dangerous practice.

Help for those bothered by airplane noise

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This article in the Los Angeles Times describes a new tool, the Airnoise button, developed to help people report airplane noise. Airplane noise has always been a problem, but airplane noise has been exacerbated by the Federal Aviation Administration’s NextGen program, which uses satellite navigation to guide airplanes on more precise approach paths to their destinations. NextGen increases fuel efficiency and allows closer spacing of planes, but it also concentrates airplane noise over smaller areas. The complaints about the NextGen noise problem has been covered in these pages and in many newspaper reports from around the country.

Due to a phenomenon called “regulatory capture,” the FAA appears more concerned about the profits of the airplane manufacturers, airline companies, and airports than about the health and well-being of the Americans under the flight paths. And the FAA believes airplane noise is “just a nuisance,” even though it has been shown to be a risk factor for hypertension, heart attack, stroke, and death.

One of the things government officials say when confronted about a problem is that “nobody ever complained.” But people are complaining about airplane noise, so the FAA’s response, as noted in the Los Angeles Times article, has been to attribute a large number of complaints to a handful of people. And the FAA might have a point, but the agency fails to acknowledge that their cumbersome procedures make it difficult for people to complain. After all, most people have more important things to do in their busy lives than to hunt down the right online form and file a complaint every time a plane flies over their house.

But the FAA may have to come up with a different excuse soon, as Airnoise makes it simple and easy to file airplane noise complaints–just one simple click of the Airnoise proprietary button, or a click on the Airnoise smartphone app, and your complaint is on its way.

I hope all affected by aircraft noise will use Airnoise to file complaints, so that the FAA and congressional committees that govern and fund them can no longer pretend that only a handful of people are concerned about aviation noise.

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.