Monthly Archive: December 2018

Canada leads the way

This photo by Bernard Spragg. NZ has been dedicated to the public domain.

First Edmonton, now Calgary: Calgary to pilot a project that implements a “network of real-time noise monitors” to nab noise polluters.

According to Shawn Logan, Calgary Herald, the city has struggled to control noise, “[b]ut thanks to a technology called LoRaWAN — a long-range, low power digital wireless network which now reaches every corner of Calgary — city IT planners are hoping to harness its potential in a number of areas.”  The network will be armed with “a special type acoustic sensor that could precisely determine noise levels in the city.”

For now, the sensors will be used to gather data to allow the team leading the project to “build in the ability to categorize the types of sounds captured, building a catalog of sounds including traffic, construction, drag racing and even gunshots, while being able to accurately determine its time and location.”

Depending on the quality of the data, and whether the technology will hold up in court, could the network be used to target noise polluters? One would hope, but it’s unclear whether the technology will be used to identify and fine them. We will follow Calgary’s and Edmonton’s efforts to deploy technology in the fight against noise pollution.

 

 

 

Is there sound on Mars?

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech (not subject to copyright protection)

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This fascinating article by Kenneth Chang in the New York Times describes Martian winds rattling the solar panels on the recently landed InSight lander. The sounds weren’t picked up by a microphone, Chang writes, rather they were captured by seismometers, instruments “designed for measuring the shaking of marsquakes picked up vibrations in the air — sound waves, in other words.” Said Chang, “[t]he seismometers act as the cochlea, the parts of your ears that convert the vibrations into nerve signals.”

It’s not clear to me if a human could hear the wind on Mars–the atmosphere is very thin, and of course a human would have to be wearing some sort of space suit, unlike in the Star Wars movies or Star Trek television shows–but provides an interesting sidelight (or side sound?) to space exploration.

You can listen to the sound, but Chang suggests that you “hook up a subwoofer or put on a pair of bass-heavy headphones. Otherwise, you might not hear anything.”  We advise that you skip the headphones and opt for NASA’s enhanced version:

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.

Toronto to tackle transportation noise

Photo credit: GTD Aquitaine, who has released this photo into the public domain.

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

That the noise from the commuter trains, passing the homes of David Bosworth and his neighbors living in Upper Toronto, Canada, intrudes on their household conversations as well as their sleep is readily understood by the millions of residents whose household activities and sleep are disrupted daily by the noise from overhead planes, nearby trains, and passing road traffic. Mr. Bosworth, like the millions of others similarly impacted by transportation noise, feels that the noise issue has not been addressed as a serious pollutant. This, despite the abundant literature linking noise impacts to cardiovascular and sleep disorders, learning disruptions, and diminished quality of life. Furthermore, Mr. Bosworth fears that the expansion of the train route near his home will bring even more noise disruptions.

In the Globe and Mail article linked above, Sasha Zeidler writes that the Toronto regional transportation agency Metrolinx is looking to lessen the noise to which residents will be exposed in the future even as it plans to expand the transit line. Toronto, says Zeidler, is a city aware of the effects of noise on its residents and it “is aiming to reduce noise pollution from traffic, transit and other infrastructure projects.”

I, for one, will look to see whether Toronto successfully carries out its mission to reduce noise pollution.

It is interesting to note that in this article, there are references to the World Health Organization guidelines, a study published in a German academic article linking heart attacks to traffic and rail noise, mapping of noise in Florence, Italy and other Canadian noise studies but no references to research in the country south of Canada—the U.S. While the U.S. has not taken the lead in addressing noise pollution, I do not want readers to think that Americans have been lax with respect to noise research and activism. I suggest readers search back on this site for American noise studies and the Americans who are actively working to reduce noise in our society.

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.

Hearing loss associated with depression

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

I’m not sure this new report on the association between hearing loss and depression in older Hispanic people in JAMA Otolaryngology adds much to our knowledge of how hearing loss affects people. It has been known for some years that hearing loss is associated with depression in older people. The report extends the research to Hispanic people in several large cities, but as best as I can tell, that’s the only new information. The authors claim that this study’s importance is that it measured hearing loss rather than relying on reports of hearing difficulties, but some earlier studies did that, too.

In older people it’s hard to tell if the hearing loss was caused by noise or not, because over time changes indicating hearing loss from noise lose specificity as hearing loss becomes worse. But my analysis of the literature suggests that what is commonly called age-related hearing loss, as in the JAMA Otolaryngology article, is really noise-induced hearing loss, which is entirely preventable.

Now that the connection between hearing loss and depression is clear, doesn’t it make sense for government and the medical community to commit resources to educate the public about the dangers of noise-induced hearing loss? A host of health concerns will diminish or disappear if we focus on stopping noise-induced hearing loss.

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.

Hidden hearing loss

Photo credit: Daria Shevtsova from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Hidden hearing loss is the term used to describe nerve damage in the inner ear (cochlear synatptopathy) which causes hearing loss detected only by special research techniques, not by standard hearing testing (pure tone audiometry). That’s why it’s called “hidden.” The clinical manifestation of hidden hearing loss is thought to be difficulty understanding speech in a noisy environment, but auditory training might help improve understanding of speech in noisy places.

This article describes a survey of adults who were asked if they would be willing to participate in auditory training. What’s of interest to me is that 22% of adults surveyed report having difficulty understanding speech in a noisy environment. That fits with other reports I’ve seen, but I think it’s an underestimate.

Many people with hearing loss think their hearing is excellent, and I think the same is true for people asked about difficulty understanding speech in a noisy environment. Due to the stigma of hearing loss, no one wants to admit that he or she has a problem.

More importantly, if people have difficulty understanding speech in noisy environments, it would seem to be much easier to make those environments quieter, rather than offering auditory training to those with the problem.

Quieter environments would make it easier for everyone to converse, and would prevent auditory damage in those without it.

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.

Never underestimate man’s ability to find more obnoxious ways to make noise

Photo credit: ben dalton licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

And oh the irony that this assault on one’s senses (and sensibility) is termed a “silent disco.”  What is a silent disco?  It’s when a bunch of extroverts don wireless headphones playing pop music and dance their way through formerly delightful parts of European cities, stopping occasionally to shout out lyrics together, as a sort of fresh hell ensemble. Here’s a sample:

Fortunately, residents of Edinburgh, Scotland have a city government that understands their concerns and is responding in the only responsible way: Edinburgh to ban “silent discos.”

 

 

Why hospitals should let you sleep

Photo credit: Ivan Obolensky from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This piece by Austin Frakt in the New York Times discusses the need for hospital patients to get more sleep, and the many things that disrupt a patient’s sleep when they are in the hospital. The list of culprits is obvious: alarm noise, carts in the hall, blood draws, vital signs measurements, and so on.

Uninterrupted sleep is important for everyone, not just hospital patients. Anything that interrupts sleep–horns, sirens, road traffic noise, train horns, aircraft noise, horn-based alerts, patrons exiting a nightclub or bar at closing time–is a health hazard.

I have no doubt that if enough people complain to enough elected officials about health problems caused by noise, governments at the local, state, and national levels will take action to make our cities and towns quieter.

It worked for smoke-free restaurants, workplaces, airplanes, and in some states even smoke-free beaches and parks.

Let’s all resolve to work together for a quieter world in the New Year.

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.

Enjoy the natural world in sound

Cities and Memory has launched another fabulous project. This time they explore the natural world in Sounding Nature, “the biggest ever global exploration of the beautiful sounds of nature.” Artists from around the globe have reimagined 500 sounds from 55 countries.

Click the second link to listen to the captured natural sounds and the reimagined sounds they inspired.

My 4th Noise Activist Anniversary

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Anniversaries are special. We celebrate wedding anniversaries. Alcoholics Anonymous celebrates the anniversaries of those who are in recovery. Wounded military veterans celebrate their Alive Day, the day on which they were wounded. And yesterday was my anniversary, the fourth anniversary of my becoming a noise activist.

I developed tinnitus and hyperacusis after a one-time exposure to loud noise in a restaurant on New Year’s Eve, 2007. As midnight approached, they kept turning up the music louder and louder. My wife could tell that the noise was bothering me and suggested that we leave, but I didn’t want to offend our friends who had arranged the dinner. As soon as it was polite to leave, maybe 12:30 a.m., we did. My ears were ringing when we left, and the ringing never stopped.

I also found that noise that didn’t bother others hurt my ears: Movie soundtracks, the grind of a food processor, loud exhausts and sirens, and especially noise in restaurants. I’m a doctor and have always done what I could to stay healthy. But I had no idea that a one-time exposure to loud noise could cause tinnitus and hyperacusis for the rest of my life. When my wife would suggest an evening out, I would ask, “Can’t we eat at home?”

On December 2, 2014, I read an article about hyperacusis in the New York Times science section, written by journalist Joyce Cohen, who has since become a friend. I circled it in red and gave it to my wife, saying, “Honey, this is why I don’t want to go to restaurants any more. They are all too noisy. The noise hurts my ears. Just like it says in this article.” My wife finally understood that while I might have been getting grumpier with age, my dislike of noisy restaurants was caused by an auditory disorder.

So I decided to do something to make the world a quieter place. I reached out via email to the four experts cited in Joyce’s article. One thing led to another, and I ended up serving on the board of the American Tinnitus Association and helping create The Quiet Coalition, where I am the board chair.

I learned that I wasn’t the only person in the world with auditory disorders. Hearing loss, tinnitus, and hyperacusis are all too common. But auditory disorders are invisible, and largely occur in older people, who themselves are largely invisible in our society. Except for congenital deafness, auditory disorders tend to be ignored.

It’s been quite an odyssey. I found that via the internet, I could communicate with experts in various areas of noise, across the country and even around the world. At the urging of one of them, I submitted abstracts to scientific meetings about noise. Those were accepted for presentation, and I spoke at national and international scientific meetings. I have had publications based on my talks appear in peer-reviewed medical and scientific journals, and I have been quoted in articles and have advised national and international health authorities about noise. And I have learned, through the nonprofit Hyperacusis Research, how truly life-limiting noise-induced hearing problems can be. All because I read an article and decided to do something to make the world quieter.

The world is still too noisy, and I still can’t find a quiet restaurant, but apps like iHEARu and SoundPrint are now available.

And as more evidence becomes available about noise as a health and public health hazard, I am confident that an informed public will push legislators and public health officials to eliminate unnecessary 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.