Monthly Archive: June 2017

Can noise cause fertility problems?

By Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

A report in the New Scientist indicates the answer is “maybe.” Researchers in Denmark conducted a study that found an exposure-response relationship between noise and difficulty getting pregnant. The researchers made their discovery by analysing data from the Danish National Birth Cohort, a project that ran from 1996 to 2002, and focusing on women who had tried to get pregnant during the project “if traffic noise data was available for where they lived.” The study was controlled for factors like poverty levels and nitrogen oxide pollution.

Earlier research had suggested that 80% of women who were actively trying to get pregnant usually did so within six menstrual cycles, but the research team found that “for every 10 decibels of extra traffic noise around a woman’s home, there was a 5 to 8 per cent increased chance of it taking six months or longer.”  The article notes that it “is unclear whether traffic noise may be affecting women or their partners.”

New Scientist quotes Rachel Smith of Imperial College London, who finds the link between traffic noise and health worrying. Says Smith, “[b]ecause traffic noise is common, even a small effect on health could feasibly have a large impact across a population.”

Just as the Danish study was released, a South Korean study was reported that focused on long-term exposure to a noisy environment and male infertility.  The study by researchers at Seoul National University, which ran for eight years from 2006-2013, looked “at male infertility by analyzing data from 206,492 men aged 20-59 and calculating the participants’ levels of noise exposure.”  3,293 of the participants had an infertility diagnosis.

The researchers “found that, after taking into account factors such as age, income, BMI and smoking, men who were exposed to noise over 55 dB at night (a level equivalent to a suburban street or an air conditioner and above the World Health Organization night noise level) had a significantly higher chance of being diagnosed as infertile.”  Dr. Jin-Young Min, the study’s co-author, noted that infertility was becoming a significant public health issue, adding that it was known noise affected male fertility in animals, but his study was the first to show the risk of environmental noise on male infertility in humans.

Both studies’ findings have to be replicated in other countries and by other researchers, but the data keep mounting and show that environmental noise pollution is a ubiquitous, pervasive, and dangerous health problem.

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.

 

Being Hear

 

Photo credit: Michael Gäbler licensed under CC BY 3.0

Watch this excerpt from the new film “Being Hear,” about sound recordist and ecologist Gordon Hempton. The film, “[a]t once a profile, a guided meditation and a call to action,” follows Hempton as he records sounds on Washington State’s Olympia Peninsula, a national park that contains the continental U.S.’s only rainforest. Says Hempton,” Nature is music. I’m not asking you to get all theoretical here — I saying, just listen.”

To hear more of Gordon Hempton’s captured sounds of nature, check out his YouTube channel.

‘Uber for helicopters’ driving Hamptons residents mad

Mary Hanbury, Business Insider, writes about how “[t]he introduction of new ride-sharing helicopter companies, most notably BLADE,” has made air travel to the Hamptons more convenient for Wall Streeters, but a hellscape for local residents.

Uber for helicopters? It must be inexpensive, yes? Not for the average joe, because unlike Uber, Silicon Valley apparently isn’t subsidizing every Blade ride which “costs as little as $695 for a one-way seat to the Hamptons and takes just 40 minutes to travel from Midtown Manhattan to the end of Long Island.”  Just $695 for a one-way seat? It’s a veritable bargain, and no better way to loudly announce to the world that you’ve arrived. Literally.

This is not surprising at all:

Photo credit: Waldo Jaquith licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Super-fast hand dryers in public toilets are ‘as loud as pneumatic drills.’ According to the European Cleaning Journal (yes, it exists), “[m]odern jet air hand dryers have the same impact on our ears as a close-range pneumatic drill.” We at Silencity can’t stand them. Why? Because high-speed hand dryers are abruptly and horribly loud, and then they are placed in rooms with tiled and mirrored surfaces and, often, metal stall dividers and doors. That is, super-fast hand dryers are pneumatic drills fitted into a small live box.

But the problem with the sudden loud noise they create is not just a matter of a temporary discomfort. According to Jonathan Ratcliffe from Audiologist.co.uk, powerful hand drying machines can cause lasting damage to the elderly, those with hearing problems, and children. Why children?  Because “the machines are typically positioned at the same height as their head which means they are getting it full blast,” says Ratcliffe.

We have often seen hand dryers accompanied by a sign suggesting that its use is ecologically sound. And while it is noble to save trees from becoming paper towels, these so-called ecological devices may be worse in the balance if we add in the cost of permanent hearing damage. Perhaps we can have the best of both worlds, however, if manufacturers turn to tackling the most obvious side-effect of these high-speed models and put real resources into developing quieter machines.  Now that would be an ecologically sound investment.

Link via @QuietEdinburgh.

 

 

How sound affects how food tastes

Eustacia Huen, Forbes, writes about  “Charles Spence, a gastrophysicist and Professor of Experimental Psychology who has spent the past 20 years researching on the influence of our four other senses on our assessment of taste at the University of Oxford.” Huen wonders about how “incredibly noisy restaurants in the States (especially in NYC)” affect our ability to taste and enjoy the food.”  So she looks at whether and how sound affects our taste, if at all. And for this she turns to Spence, who shares an excerpt from his new book, Gastrophysics: The New Science of Eating.

What follows is a fascinating discussion about how “the sounds that we hear when a food fractures or is crushed between our teeth generally provide a much more accurate sense of what is going on in our mouths.” Says Spence, “it makes sense that we have come to rely on this rich array of auditory cues whenever we evaluate the textural properties of food.”

Click the first link to read the entire piece. It s short but informative piece.

Enjoying the sounds of nature

 

Photo credit: Bruce Tremper licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

Josh Wennergreen, a recent graduate from the University of Utah’s Environmental Humanities Graduate Program, pens an ode to the joys of nature. Wennergreen is an inveterate hiker who spends weekends hiking and camping in nearby canyons and national parks.  He asks us to “[t]hink of all the human-made noise we hear in a single day: car engines, helicopters, computer pings, phone chirps, pounding construction, cash drawers closing,” lamenting that “It’s endless.”

And he examines the effect of all that noise on the human body, finding, unsurprisingly, that it’s not good for human health. Wennergreen cites a German study of one million people who live near airports that found a whole host of horribles that befalls those “plagued by background noise (jet engines, leaf blowers, cars)….[like] an increased risk of kidney failure, cardiovascular diseases, and dementia compared to people who lived in quitter settings.”

His advice is simple. “Never has it been more vital to re-charge in the mountains, to hear the wild soundscape,” he writes, adding that “[t]his is not some new-age plea, this is an urgent public health crisis.”

So find some time to get away to the mountains or the nearest national park. Just make sure to follow Wennergreen’s advice to “not be the loudest thing around” as you enjoy nature, because “[j]ust as a candy wrapper clinging to branches of a trail-side oak is litter on the natural landscape, loud and boisterous behavior is litter on the natural soundscape.”

What does making money sound like?

Photo credit: BalticServers.com licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

Not very good, apparently, as the Missoulian reports that noise from a Bitcoin data center is disturbing neighbors. Surely it can’t be that loud, can it? Yes, yes it can. According to the data centers exasperated neighbors, it sounds feels like you are “sitting on a tarmac when a jet engine is winding up to take off, but the plane never leaves.”

And so we learn about the unintended consequences of chasing a dollar bitcoin.

A lowly fly may offer hope to hearing loss sufferers

Photo credit: Jpaur licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

And Michelle Pucci, TVO, tells us how in her article, “How a tiny fly on a treadmill could lead to better hearing aids.” Pucci introduces us to the research team studying the ormia ochracea, a small fly that is drawn to “crickets’ singing, but no one quite knows how it manages to pick out that sound amid the cacophony of the natural world and locate it so precisely.” Why is this important?  Because if researchers can determine how the fly “pinpoints individual sounds in a noisy setting,” writes Pucci, “it could help solve the so-called cocktail party problem — the one that makes it tough for your grandmother to hear what you’re saying at family functions (and causes her to shout at you), because her hearing aid picks up too much background noise.”

Andrew Mason, a biologist at the University of Toronto explains that the fly’s “eardrums work like a scale, and incoming noises tip the balance.” Unlike humans, the fly’s “eardrums are connected — which Mason says could explain why the fly tries to interpret the different levels of sound it receives in both ears.”  Humans, on the other hand, can “locate and isolate the sounds they want to listen to, even in noisy environments, if the sources are far enough away from one another.”

The problem hearing aid wearers experience is that “it’s impossible to focus on a single conversation in a noisy room…because hearing aids trick the ear into thinking all those sounds are the same distance away.” That is, the hearing aid amplifies everything, making the task of concentrating on one conversation among many impossible. As researchers learn more about the ormia ochracea’s excellent sound-location abilities, engineers have used that knowledge.  Today, mics in some hearing aid design “mimic the fly’s ear structure,” and “research groups around the world are working on hearing aids that would allow the wearer to home in on different frequencies.”

So why do ormia ochracea search for crickets?  The answer is pretty grim:

[T]he female deposits its spawn inside the crickets, who sing when looking for a mate. Black-striped larvae then hatch inside the doomed cricket and scrape at its innards for 10 days…before “bursting out of the side like in Alien.”

The perils of the “sharing economy”?

 

Party at the neighbor’s place?

Airbnb “all-night rave” drives neighbors mad. The Sun (yes, we know) reports that “[more] than 100 party-goers held a noisy ‘all-night rave’ at an Airbnb flat in a posh London street – even bringing their own sound system and a bouncer to guard the door.” The neighbors, unsurprisingly, were unhappy. In the end, the neighbors won’t likely have to deal with regular raves at the address in question, as both the landlord and Airbnb were contacted. The Airbnb spokesperson stated that Airbnb has “zero tolerance for this kind of behaviour” and that they had “removed the guest from Airbnb,” adding that “[t]here have been over 180 million guest arrivals in Airbnb listings and negative incidents like this are incredibly rare.”

We wonder how the spokesperson defines “incredibly rare,” because while these sort of abuses of Airbnb rentals probably are not common, a Dallas startup exists to address this very situation. NoiseAware came to being because one of the founders, Dave Krauss, was engaged in the (sketchy) business of reletting apartments for short-term rentals on Airbnb. One Airbnb guest threw a loud party that resulted in Krauss getting a cease and desist letter from an apartment manager, which ultimately caused him to lose $30,000 on the apartment. In response, Krauss developed a noise monitor that alerts an owner when the noise in his or her apartment passes a certain level. Apparently investors liked what they saw, because NoiseAware received $1 million in funding.

Perhaps the better way to deter loud raves in residential buildings is to ban short-term rentals via Airbnb and its competitors? After all, it’s easy for people to engage in anti-social behavior when then are only staying the night.

Is man-made noise making desert insects disappear?

Photo credit: Ferran Pestaña licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Veronique Greenwood, The Atlantic, writes about the gas compressors in the San Juan Basin of New Mexico and the effect they are having on desert insects. The San Juan Basin is “the nation’s second-largest natural gas field, [where] for miles in every direction, gas compressors are running more or less constantly, filling the desert with their eerie, broadband roar.” When compressors are near people, Greenwood reports, efforts are made to dampen the sound, but not so when the only thing that can hear them are the creatures that live in the desert.

What do the compressors sound like? Greenwood says that they “create a curiously oppressive noise, with both high and low frequencies at very high volume, running 24 hours a day, seven days a week, nearly 52 weeks a year.” Sounds hellish. And apparently desert insects agree, as ecologists have discovered that many insect groups are disturbed by the compressors “and by high decibel levels of noise in general.” How disturbed? Although some insects groups showed no change, “[t]here were 24-percent fewer grasshoppers in compressor plots, 52-percent fewer froghoppers, and a whopping 95-percent fewer cave, camel, and spider crickets.”

The long-term effects aren’t exactly known–one researcher noted that the study was “is just the very tip of the iceberg”–but as insects avoid the sound of man-made noise, their altered behavior will likely affect the bats and birds that eat them.

Click the link above to read the entire piece.