Monthly Archive: April 2019

NYU celebrates International Noise Awareness Day

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

April 25 marked the twenty-fourth annual International Noise Awareness Day—now a global event originating in New York City in the mid-1990s that has gained significant momentum.

On April 24, New York University’s Bobst Library, facing Washington Square Park in NYC, was the locus of this year’s INAD festivities. Superbly organized by Quiet Coalition co-founders Dr. Antonella Radicchi and Dr. Arline Bronzaft along with NYU researcher and technologist Prof. Tae Hong Park, the program featured six speakers, a “sound-walk,” and a discussion group.

Congratulations to the organizers for a superbly organized event and a beautiful spring day in NYC!

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.

Urban noise is “the absolute scourge of our time”

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

The Guardian recently published a fascinating article by Thomas McMullan in which he said that cities are louder than ever and noted that the poor suffer the most. That article got an enormous amount of attention and “prompted a huge response,” so there was a follow-up piece in which the newspaper shared some of the best responses.  While one of the respondents embraced urban noise saying that “cities are people and life and they make noise,” every other commenter disagreed, with one exclaiming that “[n]oise pollution is the absolute scourge of our time.”

Some noise is a necessary accompaniment to urban living, but excessive noise isn’t. And solutions are available if the political will exists. Namely, enforcement of existing noise ordinances, especially for vehicle exhaust noise, revision of building codes to require sound insulation and double-paned windows, and quieter sirens would be good first steps.

I believe that if enough people complain to their elected officials about urban noise, something can be done about it.

And something must be done about noise, because urban noise isn’t just a nuisance–in many cities it is loud enough to damage hearing, and the World Health Organization recognizes is as a major health hazard.

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.

NPR on misophonia

Photo credit: Barney Moss licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

There are three main auditory disorders: hearing loss, tinnitus, and hyperacusis. But there’s a lesser-known fourth one, misophonia. Of these, only hearing loss is well understood, with the others understood in decreasing order as listed. And misophonia is often dismissed as a mood disorder.

This piece by NPR sheds some light on misophonia, the little-known and least understood auditory disorder that’s marked “by intense emotion like rage or fear in response to highly specific sounds, particularly ordinary sounds that other people make.” High on the list of hated sounds are mouth sounds like slurping and chewing, which makes life difficult for people with misophonia.

One hopes that other media pay attention to disorders like misophonia and approach the topic as thoughtfully as NPR has.

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 scourge that is electric hand dryers

Photo credit: Travis Wise licensed under CC BY 2.0

Llyod Alter, the design editor at Treehugger, recently asked whether Dyson electric hand dryers were “the world’s worst design object.” In his post, Alter quotes Mark Lamster, architecture critic for the Dallas News, who called the Dyson Airblade “the most abhorrent work of design in recent memory.”  What drove Lamster to this conclusion?  Noise was first and foremost. Said Lamster:

For starters, the Dyson Airblade is deafening. Running a Dyson Airblade is the aural equivalent of standing on an airport runway while a 747 throttles up for takeoff. That’s because the machine works not by using heat, but by blowing air at such velocity that it “scrapes” the water off your hands. (This is its supposed advantage over conventional, hot-air hand dryers, which are also awful.)

Alter eventually disagrees with Lamster after doing an analysis that compares the global warming burden of electric hand dryers versus paper towels. Not surprisingly, the hand dryer over its life time produces a smaller burden than using paper towels over the same period. Of course, we think one should also weigh the consequences of having “aerosolized fecal matter” spewed about, but maybe we are just a bit too sensitive.

So, is the Dyson the world’s worst design object? We say no.  Why?  Because that title belongs to the Xlerator, our hand drying nemesis.

Can’t hear well? There’s an app for that!

Photo credit: Courtesy of App MyEar

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This article in the University of Rochester’s Rochester Review alumni magazine discusses a new app to translate personal conversations into text. The developer, Brandon Isobe, got the idea for the app because his father is deaf. The app, App MyEar, is pretty straight forward: you open the app, speak into the phone and the app translates the words into text. It’s “essentially closed captioning for personal conversations,” says Isobe.

It’s great that innovators are looking for ways to help people with hearing loss.  Of course, for those of us who can hear, preventing hearing loss by avoiding noise exposure and using hearing protection if we can’t remains the best option.

DISCLOSURE: I am a graduate of the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry.

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.

How to block noise and get good night’s sleep

Photo credit: Ivan Obolensky from Pexels

Until we can compel our government to properly regulate noise, a little self-help is the only way to get a good night’s rest. Sadly, not everyone is comfortable wearing ear plugs while they sleep.  For them, NoisyWorld has come up with a list of ear plug alternatives to help you get through the night.

The impact of hearing loss

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

I usually don’t listen to podcasts or watch documentaries–they take too much time to transmit the information that I can read in a fraction of the time–but this discussion of the impact hearing loss by Michael Wilkes, MD, isn’t available in a print version.

I heard the tail end of Dr. Wilkes’ weekly radio segment in the car, and looked online to find the rest.

It clocks in at under 4 minutes, and it’s well worth listening to.

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.

Consumer Reports continues to focus on noise and health

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Consumer Reports continues to cover issues of noise and health, which is a good thing. The only problem with this Consumer Reports article is that falls into a common trap and cites the occupational recommended exposure level of 85 A-weighted decibels for application to the public. This is a misuse of the occupational exposure recommendation that is sadly all too common.

Noise is different from other occupational exposures, e.g., ionizing radiation or toxic solvents, because exposure continues outside the workplace, all day long, all year long, for an entire lifetime.

In 1974, the Environmental Protection Agency adjusted the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health recommended exposure level for the additional exposure time–24 hours a day instead of 8 hours a day at work, 365 days a year instead of 240 days in the factory, to calculate that the safe noise exposure level to prevent hearing loss was a time-weighted average of only 70 decibels.

The EPA did not adjust for lifetime exposure, probably because in 1974 the life expectancy of a man was only 67 years.  But with people living on average to near 80, the additional years of noise exposure may account for the very high prevalence of hearing loss in older people.

The NIOSH Science Blog post on February 8, 2016, covered this topic, and I wrote about it in the American Journal of Public Health in 2017. In a requested blog post, I explained additional reasons why the real safe noise exposure level to prevent hearing loss has to be lower than 70 decibels.

I recently had this insight: the World Health Organization recommends only one hour of 85 A-weighted decibel noise exposure daily because after only one hour it is impossible for the listener to achieve the only evidence-based safe noise level to prevent hearing loss, which is the EPA’s 70 dB daily noise dose.  An occupational noise calculator shows this calculation. So, 85 decibels isn’t safe for workers’ hearing, and it certainly isn’t safe for the public.

Our ears are like our knees–we only have two of them–but unlike knees, our ears can’t be replaced. So protect what you have and remember: it is sounds too loud, it IS too loud!

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.

Does chocolate prevent hearing loss?

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This story in the Daily Mail says that chocolate may help prevent hearing loss, due to chemicals called polyphenols in chocolate. I’m not going to waste any time tracking down the original scientific article.

Over the last few decades, powerful computers and better statistical methods have made it easy–in the opinion of many scientists, too easy–to sort through large amounts of data to find interesting correlations or associations that in many cases are only random, even if they meet statistical significance and have some theoretical basis to explain why the association may be a causative one. I would put this “study” in that category.  Junk science about junk food.

I know that many people think chocolate is a health food, but too much chocolate will cause obesity, diabetes, and dental caries.

And to prevent hearing loss, why not just avoid loud noise or use hearing protection if you can’t avoid the noise. Because that’s actually safe and effective.

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.

What’s the best ear plug?

Photo credit: Your Best Digs licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

What’s the best ear plug? The best ear plug should be easy to use, convenient to carry so it’s always available when needed, and effective. It’s the same approach as recommended for birth control, except that instead of preventing pregnancy (and sexually transmitted infections if condoms are used), the goal is preventing hearing loss.

This article at NoisyWorld discusses the advantages of inexpensive foam, wax, and silicone earplugs, including information about noise reduction ratings. These fit in pocket or purse, so they are always available if needed. And they are inexpensive, so can be replaced when no longer effective, or if lost.

In the end, the best ear plug is the one that you will wear. Find hearing protection that works for you, because if it sounds too loud, it IS too loud!

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.