Monthly Archive: September 2017

How to reduce the risk of noise-induced hearing loss

Photo credit: Rex Roof licensed under CC by 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Reducing the risk of noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) isn’t rocket science. It’s actually quite simple: avoid loud noise exposure and if you can’t do that, wear hearing protection.

This piece from Hear It Now, which claims to be the world’s #1 website on hearing and hearing loss, has a nice summary of practical tips. Click the link to see the full list of tips. Your ears will thank you!

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.

Researchers confirm cheaper hearables work as well as hearing aids

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

Several Johns Hopkins researchers reported some research in the Journal of the American Medical Association that tested the notion that a cheap ($200-$400) unregulated “hearable” (also known as a personal sound amplification product or PSAP) may be a convenient and inexpensive alternative to a hearing aid.

The researchers tested a handful of the new hearable products just coming on the market and, sure enough, they perform as well as, or nearly as well as, expensive ($2000-$5000 per ear) hearing aids made by the “Big Six.” The Big Six are six companies that have controlled the hearing aid industry; their products are regulated in the U.S. by the Food and Drug Administration.

Recently legislation passed by Congress and signed into law just before the August recess, about which we have written earlier, requires the FDA to de-regulate, i.e. to take a hands-off approach to this new class of high-tech hearing devices. As a result, these new products can be sold over the counter, without a prescription.

Will you need to take them to an audiologist to get them fitted? Certainly you may choose to do so, and that may be the best option, particularly if you are concerned that improper use might endanger your hearing. But with a conventional hearing aid, patients were required to pay professional fees to an audiologist for fittings, etc., resulting in a bundled price that made the hearing aids unobtainable for many people who needed them. You can certainly expect to read articles claiming that these new devices pose a danger. Henceforth, it’s up to the consumer to decide—as he or she already does with regard to many other healthcare products, including over-the-counter drugs that formerly required a doctor’s prescription.

We say caveat emptor (buyer beware), but welcome these new products that cost 1/10th the price of conventional hearing aids. They are suitably priced to be able to meet the needs of 48 million Americans with noise-induced hearing loss, many of whom cannot afford the $4000 to $10,000 price tag for conventional hearing aids. Voters seem to want de-regulation—this is it!

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.

 

Tracking those noisy airplanes flying over your house

Photo credit: Edith Peeps

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

As The Quiet Coalition has reported, people living all over the country have complained about airplane noise in the last few years. This is a result of flight path changes promoted by the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) NextGen program, which guides airplanes on more direct flight paths, saving time and fuel and making flying safer. Unfortunately, the FAA forgot to consider what happens to the people living below these newly concentrated flight paths, who are subjected to a barrage of aircraft noise.

The screenshot above shows the concentration of aircraft over the Los Angeles, California area.  Not surprisingly, newspaper and television reports have documented these problems in Washington, DC, Baltimore, Boston, Phoenix, San Francisco, and several cities near Los Angeles, and Orange County, California. I’ll stop there, but there are many more complaints in and around the 86 major airports in the U.S. In fact, the FAA just reported that it has received over 40,000 complaints of airplane noise from residents living near Washington DC airports.

In dealing with government agencies and elected officials, I have found that the best way to get someone to act is to document a problem as completely and as often as possible. For aircraft, that means reporting the date and time of the overflight, and ideally identifying the airline and flight number of the plane. I didn’t know that was possible until I was walking with a friend who pulled out her cell phone as an airplane flew far overhead, pointed it at the plane and said, “that’s the Qantas flight from Sydney.”

Photo credit: Edith Peeps

She showed me the Flightradar24 app that she had downloaded to her phone (a screenshot appears above). It identifies planes flying overhead, including the carrier, flight number, and type of airplane. There are several different levels of technology that can be purchased, obviously with more features costing more, but the basic app is free. There also are other flight tracker apps, but Flightradar24 appears to be best for this purpose.

If airplane noise is a problem in your neighborhood, get the app, start collecting data, and report it to your local council representative, congressional representative, local Quiet Skies organization, the FAA (contact them online here), and your local airport. Include the date and time, airplane identification data, and a decibel reading, if possible, using a sound meter app. At busier airports, flights depart every few minutes from early morning until almost midnight. Enlist a group of neighbors to take designated time slots to document the aircraft noise problem, or make documenting the problem a school science project. It’s hard to argue with the data.

Aircraft noise is a major health hazard, causing hypertension, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, hospitalization, and death. Fighting aircraft noise will require accurate data, and Flightradar24 may be the way to get it.

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.

A small but not insignificant noise victory

Polly wants some quiet!          Photo credit: Julie R licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Brad Chacos, PCWorld, reports that “Google Chrome will start blocking noisy autoplay videos in January.” Why? Because Google acknowledges that “[o]ne of the most frequent user concerns is unexpected media playback, which can use data, consume power, and make unwanted noise while browsing.” “Unexpected media playback” being business-speak for crappy and annoying ads.

Chrome will also stop showing ads that are not compliant with the Better Ads Standards.

And the world heaved a sigh of relief.

 

 

Technology may improve your sleep (but quiet is natural and better)

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

A good night’s sleep is important for health and normal daily function.

Humans can’t close our ears, and sound as quiet as 32 to 35 decibels–there is some individual variation in how deeply one sleeps–can disturb sleep, measured by microarousals (brief mini arousals from sleep) on electroencephalography.

This piece from the UK discusses new gadgets that purport to help you sleep better. So if you are looking for sleep headphones, a bodyclock that simulates a natural and gradual sunrise, or a device that stimulates alpha waves while limiting “sleep-affecting delta waves,” click the first link and get out your credit cards.

But we think the best thing for a good night’s sleep is a comfortable bed and pillow, and quiet.

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.

Sounds like Russian psyops to us

Zaria Gorvett, BBC.com, writes about “[t]he ghostly radio station that no one claims to run.”  Gorvett tells us that the radio station, located outside of St. Petersburg, Russia, has been on the air 24/7, seven days a week, for the past 35 years. So what does it broadcast? Not your typical radio fare. Says Gorvett:

[I]t’s been broadcasting a dull, monotonous tone. Every few seconds it’s joined by a second sound, like some ghostly ship sounding its foghorn. Then the drone continues.”

Once or twice a week, a man or woman will read out some words in Russian, such as “dinghy” or “farming specialist”. And that’s it. Anyone, anywhere in the world can listen in, simply by tuning a radio to the frequency 4625 kHz.

Apparently the radio station has its fans–thousands of them–even though they don’t know what they are listening to. Gorvett writes that “[t]here’s no shortage of theories to explain what the [radio station] might be for,” including the theory that it is operating as “a ‘Dead Hand’ signal. That is, in the event Russia is hit by a nuclear attack, “the drone will stop and automatically trigger a retaliation. No questions asked, just total nuclear obliteration on both sides.”

What follows is a long discussion of other theories, along with an explanation of “numbers stations,” i.e., “radio stations that broadcast coded messages to spies all over the world.” Gorvett tells us about one famous number station that was known as the “Lincolnshire Poacher,” which was the name of the English folk tune that would play at the beginning of the hour (the first two bars repeated 12 times). After the music finished playing, it was followed by “the disembodied voice of a woman reading groups of five numbers – “1-2-0-3-6” – in a clipped, upper-class English accent.”

In the end, we wonder if the station exists just to play with our heads. Or maybe it’s partly a jobs program, partly performance art? Gorvett says that many believe it’s a different type of hybrid, with the constant drone serving to keep other people from using the frequency, but in the event of a crisis, such as Russia being invaded, the station would become a numbers station. In which case, she concludes, “let’s just hope that drone never stops.”

And for once we hope the noise does not end.

 

 

 

 

 

Airplane noise isn’t just a problem near airports

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Aircraft noise can travel far if there are no natural boundaries to stop it, and a few thousand feet in elevation can make a big difference in how loud a plane sounds on the ground.

Most people may assume that airplane noise only affects those who live near airports, but that isn’t accurate. In fact, airplane noise can affect those living many miles away. In the western Los Angeles suburb of Thousand Oaks–approximately 40 miles from LAX–changes made by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) rerouting planes arriving from the Pacific are creating problems for residents. Like those in other cities across the country affected by FAA flight path changes, the residents have appealed to their elected officials, in this case Rep. Julia Brownley, for help*.

The main impact on residents of Thousand Oaks is sleep disruption. Uninterrupted sleep is important for good health and normal daily function. We evolved from our vertebrate, mammalian, and primate ancestors in nature’s quiet. Sound was used to find food, avoid danger, and communicate. Humans cannot close our ears. Even small sounds were a warning of possible danger, e.g., the snap of a twig indicating an approaching predator or enemy. Because of this, sounds as quiet as 32-35 decibels–quieter than in a library–can cause microarousals as measured by EEG changes. These microarousals are in turn accompanied by increases in blood pressure and stress hormone levels.

I spoke about the adverse health effects of transportation noise on June 12 at the Institute for Noise Control Engineering meeting in Grand Rapids, MI, and then I flew to Zürich to speak at the 12th Congress of the International Commission on the Biological Effects of Noise. My talks there were about different topics, but I attended several sessions about the adverse health effects of transportation noise. In Europe this body of knowledge is well known. The World Health Organization’s European Office wrote about this many years ago. The European Commission has directed member states to take remedial action. And in London, a draft Environmental Strategy deals with transportation noise.

Perhaps one day that research will be understood and accepted on this side of the Atlantic Ocean.

*NOTE: Data-gathering serves a purpose when individual citizens share their data and concerns with organized groups that are already working on this issue. Here is the joint website of the Congressional Quiet Skies Caucus and the National Quiet Skies Coalition. This pair of groups are large, national, well-organized and are taking meaningful actions in Congress to address aircraft/airport noise by working directly with the FAA. Among the myriad members from many states, this caucus and coalition includes 12 members of Congress from California and 10 California community groups. Check these two sites to see if your member of Congress is involved and if there is a community group in your area. And click here to file a complaint with the FAA.

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.

Noise as a weapon, the bad neighbor edition

What happens when an entitled someone moves to the countryside next to a neighbor who has chickens? This: Skynews reports that a neighbor dispute over a noisy ‘foreign’ cockerel led Millionaire ‘harassed lesbian neighbours by blaring ‘When a Man Loves a Woman’ when their new cockerel crowed.’

If you move to the country, you will hear chickens and roosters and other livestock. What you don’t expect to hear is a cranked up sound system being blasted by a monied asshole. Fortunately the story has a happy ending, because in the UK they take this sort of anti-social behavior very seriously. While the miscreant was not found guilty of harassment, he is barred from any contact with the two women, directly or indirectly, for two years. Added the judge, “[y]ou have to live as neighbours, you need to behave and stop being stupid or petulant.” Hear, hear!

 

What is a normal noise level for humans?

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

What is normal noise for humans? That probably depends on whether you are asking about modern life or about our pastoral past life. In the 1960s, researchers measured excellent hearing and very low ambient noise levels in the nomadic Mabaan population in the southern Sudan and the Kalahari Bushmen in South Africa. But modern life is much noisier.

On an alpine hike in the Austrian Tirol in September, I strolled through the meadow behind me in the photo. I pulled out my iPhone 6 and measured the sound with the Faber Sound Meter 4 app, which has been shown to be almost as accurate as a certified sound meter. The reading was in the low 40-decibel range. That noise came from the wind, distant road traffic noise, and an occasional distant airplane.

This is what humans, including those living in agrarian regions until agriculture was mechanized in the twentieth century, experienced. No motorcycle exhausts, no diesel engines, no helicopters. And restaurants didn’t have amplified music, either.

Humans didn’t evolve in noise. We evolved in quiet. We don’t have protective mechanisms against chronic loud noise exposure. And in an answer to the question at the top of this piece, the normal noise level for humans is quiet.

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.

Sometimes it pays to be a Luddite

Photo credit: Nick Amoscato licensed under CC BY 2.0

And Nicole Kobie, New Scientist, tells us why in her article on how “Siri and Alexa can be turned against you by ultrasound whispers.” Kobie tells us that hackers have successfully “hijacked” voice assistants by “using sounds above the range of human hearing.” Ok, so someone can annoy you by hijacking your voice assistant and have it play death metal rock without end. Not fun, but no big deal, right? Wrong. For reasons we cannot understand, some people apparently connect their voice assistants to sensitive services, like their smart thermostats or even their internet bank (what??). Suddenly someone breaching Alexa or Siri via secret voice commands is no laughing matter.

So what can we do? We at Silencity suggest you not use Alexa or Siri or whatever to manage your household or your bank account. And really, is it necessary? Is it too much of a bother to program a thermostat or type your password at your banking site rather than imploring a hunk of metal and motherboards to do it for you?

Tavish Vaidya, a PhD candidate at Georgetown University studying computer security, disagrees, saying that “[w]e should focus on protecting against unauthorised commands rather than limiting what assistants can do.”

Our response is this: just because a robot can do a task doesn’t mean that it should. And since there will always be people who are looking for vulnerabilities to exploit, maybe we should continue to master our thermostats and manage our finances the (somewhat) old-fashioned way. Adding that security breach aside, we aren’t sure if we’re more concerned about the future skills our robot assistants will acquire or the current skills that humans are losing.

Link via Institute of Acoustics UK.