Monthly Archive: July 2019

NPR covers hand dryer noise

Phot credit: Peter Baron licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

I have already written about the wonderful report by a young scientist, Nora Keegan, on the dangers of electric hand dryers, but NPR also covered the story so we’re sharing that with our readers, too.

As Nora realized at age 9, if something sounds too loud, it is too loud. And what followed was her study, over a couple of years, on just how loud and dangerous restroom hand dryers are. What she discovered is that “Xlerator hand dryers and two types of Dyson Airblade hand dryers posed the greatest threats to children’s hearing” because they “exceed[ed] 100 decibels — a volume that can lead to “learning disabilities, attention difficulties, and ruptured ear drums.”

Kudos to Nora for her dedicated study, and to NPR for bringing her story to its listeners.

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.

NYC council considers helicopter ban

Photo credit: Matthis Volquardsen from Pexels

In a move that is sure to delight those of us who want sensible limits on unnecessary noise, three New York City council members have proposed a ban on helicopter flights over the city. Specifically, Council members Mark Levine, Helen Rosenthal, and Margaret S. Chin have introduced legislation that would ban all nonessential helicopter travel over the city. The proposal followed a frightening helicopter crash that occurred in June 2019, in which the pilot, who was not authorized to fly in limited visibility, was killed while attempting to land his helicopter during foul weather.

While the linked story suggests the council members’ focus is on safety concerns, group such as Stop the Chop have advocated for the end of unnecessary helicopter flights for security and health concerns, asserting that the flights are bad for the environment, bad for public health, and bad for New Jersey and New York residents who live in and around the flight paths. Making matters worse is that the vast majority of the flights are absolutely nonessential–Stop the Chop states that 97% of the 58,000 flights per year originating out of the city-owned Downtown Manhattan Heliport are tourist flights.

We hope that the full council votes in favor of banning nonessential helicopter flights, saving the lives of unsuspecting tourists and the health and sanity of every person who is exposed to the fumes and noise this unnecessary activity creates.

Another app to help people with hearing loss

Photo credit: Daria Shevtsova from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Gadgets360 writes about Google’s Sound Amplifier app, which enhances the volume and clarity of sound for people with partial hearing impairment. The app was formerly available only for the latest smartphones, but now can be used with older devices.

A quick Google search didn’t find any peer-reviewed scientific articles describing how well Sound Amplifier works in real life, but there were multiple links describing Google’s new commitment to help those with auditory disabilities.

Of course, preventing a disability is much better than treating a disability. Preserved normal hearing is better than any hearing aid or smartphone app, and noise-induced hearing loss is 100% preventable.

So avoid loud noises and use hearing protection if you can’t. Because if something 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.

Philadelphia deploys sonic weapons to harass loitering teenagers

“The Mosquito” | Photo credit: Sunmist dedicated this photograph to the public domain

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

According to this report on NPR, the city of Philadelphia is one of several cities that have been deploying “sonic weapons” in public parks to deter loitering by teenagers, who, because they’re young enough to have unimpaired hearing, are keenly sensitive to the high-frequency noise emitted by the devices.

The devices were developed by a Vancouver BC-based company called Moving Sound Technologies. The company’s president is quoted in the piece describing the product, which he calls “the Mosquito.” Also quoted are young people who say the noise is loud, and, in one instance, causes headaches.

There are quite a number of sonic weapons available on the market, often developed for military use, but now in the hands of police forces too. The 40-year-long refusal in the U.S. to understand that noise can—like second-hand smoke–be harmful to health has led many to assume that sonic weapons are harmless and merely annoying. That’s fundamentally wrong. In the meantime, city councils and neighborhood associations need to be vigilant about local police forces adopting such crowd-control methods that could be harmful to public health and just bad policy.  As Philadelphia councilwoman Helen Gym notes, “[i]n a city that is trying to address gun violence and safe spaces for young people, how dare we come up with ideas that are funded by taxpayer dollars that turn young people away from the very places that were created for them?”

We live in a noisy world—an unnecessarily noisy world—for the simple reason that most people, including our local and national leaders, have no idea that noise really is “the new second-hand smoke.” Until we get them to understand that the public is being harmed by environmental noise, we need to look after ourselves and our neighbors.

David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: QCI Healthcare Acoustics Project, ANSI Committee S123-WG44, the Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Committee. He is lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0” (Springer, 2012), a contributor to the NAE’s “Technology for a Quieter America” and the GSA’s “Sound Matters,” and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics at Rensselaer Polytech. A graduate of UC-Berkeley with advanced degrees from Cornell, he is a frequent organizer of professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

Quieter equipment aids landscape sustainability

Photo credit: Peter Dutton licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This article in the Westerly Sun discusses a presentation The Quiet Coalition’s Jamie Banks, PhD, MSc, made to a group in Weekapaug, Rhode Island, on the environmental impact of gas-powered equipment, its effects on human health, and what can be done about it. Banks also serves as executive director of Quiet Communities, Inc.

In her presentation, Banks explained that commercial gas-powered lawn and garden equipment, like mowers and leaf blowers, not only produce “stressful noise pollution,” but also spew a rich mix of toxic chemicals and project particulate matter into the air.

So what can be done?

Banks suggests that quieter battery-powered landscape care equipment can aid landscape sustainability and prevents auditory damage and disruption of human activities. Says Banks, “battery-powered lawn and garden equipment, including equipment for use by professional landscapers, offers a solution to many of the hazardous side effects of gas-powered machines.”

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.

Animal study may have implications on human hearing issues

Photo credit: Батяшев Александр licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalitionhttps://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en

I’ve only read the press release and the abstract for this paper in JNeurosci but the findings are interesting. In chinchillas–a common animal model for hearing research–scientists at the University of Rochester and Purdue University found that mild noise-induced hearing loss also caused changes in nerve processing of auditory signals.

This may have implications for humans in terms of the very common “speech in noise” problem, in which people with normal audiograms complain that they can’t understand a conversation if the ambient noise level is moderate to high.

But to me, the most important implication of this study is that it emphasizes how important it is to protect our ears.

The only evidence-based noise exposure level to prevent hearing loss is a time-weighted average of 70 decibels a day and even that low level of noise exposure may be too high.

According to the World Health Organization, only one hour at 85 A-weighted decibels is enough to cause hearing loss.

The CDC states that noise-Induced hearing loss is entirely preventable.  Avoid exposure to loud noise, or wear hearing protection if one can’t.

Because if something 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.

Noise or tinnitus causing sleep loss? There’s an app for that….

Photo credit: Alyssa L. Miller licensed under CC BY 2.0

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

The New York Times is published in one of the noisiest cities in the world, so it’s no surprise that some of their reporters—like everybody else living in New York City–have trouble sleeping and are looking for solutions. Some of those same reporters also suffer from tinnitus, often caused by exposure to loud noises.

Two New York Times articles explore smartphone-based apps that promise better sleep through mindfulness or meditation training. If this sounds fishy to you, suspend your disbelief because there’s quite a bit of research on this subject. In fact, the Veterans Administration’s National Center for Rehabilitative Auditory Research in Portland, Oregon recommends some of these approaches. That’s not surprising, as military veterans suffer disproportionately from hearing disorders like tinnitus owing to exposure to firearms and explosive devices. As a result, the Department of Defense and the Veteran’s Administration have spent quite a bit of effort on both prevention and treatment because tinnitus is one of the top two service-related disabilities, costing billions every year.

My point is this: getting a good night’s rest is essential to everyone’s health. If you live in a noisy or distracting environment, actually going to sleep and then sleeping soundly through the night may require some combination of the following three things:

  1. Good hearing protection, like a really good pair of earplugs or even sound-deadening ear-muffs;
  2. Some sort of continuous background sound-making device that plays soothing sounds like ocean waves or rainfall; and
  3. Some mindfulness training to help you get to sleep.

If you suffer from tinnitus, you may also want to look into the VA’s Tinnitus Retraining Therapy program, which teaches people to re-direct their attention away from the non-stop ringing and buzzing in their ears that is characteristic of tinnitus and focus on other subjects.

If you feel like experimenting, try some of the apps mentioned by the New York Times reporters and please tell us if they help.

In addition to serving as vice chair of the The Quiet Coalition, David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: QCI’s Healthcare Acoustics Project, ANSI’s Committee S123-WG44, the Rothschild Foundation’s Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Committee. He is lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0” (Springer, 2012), a contributor to the NAE’s “Technology for a Quieter America” and the GSA’s “Sound Matters,” and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics at Rensselaer Polytech. A graduate of UC-Berkeley with advanced degrees from Cornell, he is a frequent organizer of professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

Another report about restaurant noise

Photo credit: Brett Sayles from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This article in USA Today, one of the most widely circulated newspapers in the U.S. with global reach, again highlights the problem of restaurant noise. Restaurant noise is now the leading complaint of restaurant patrons in Zagat surveys, this year edging out the usual leading complaints of poor service and high prices. The article also cites the recent Washington Post article about the disability rights aspects of restaurant noise, in which I am extensively quoted.

Restaurant noise isn’t just a discomfort issue or a disability rights issue. It’s a health and public health issue.

In many restaurants and bars, noise levels exceed 85 A-weighted decibels (dBA), and according to the World Health Organization, only one hour exposure at 85 dBA can cause hearing loss.

I wear inconspicuous plastic ear plugs in noisy restaurants to protect my hearing, and so should you. And you don’t need a sound meter app on your smart phone to know if the ambient noise is too high: If you have to strain to speak or to be heard, the ambient noise is above 75 dBA, and your hearing is at risk.

Because if something 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.

Welcoming travelers with autism

Photo credit: Suliman Sallehi from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This article in the New York Times discusses efforts being made by amusement parks and other venues to welcome visitors with autism. The CDC reported that about 1 in 57 children in the United States is now born with some form of autism.

Among the issues those with autism have is a sensitivity to noise.  Quieter environments are better for them.

Quieter environments are also better for people with auditory disorders, including hearing loss, tinnitus, and hyperacusis.  These generally are much less of a problem than autism, but the “reasonable accommodations”–environmental modifications required by the Americans with Disabilities Act–being made for those with autism could provide a model for reasonable accommodations that could be made for those with auditory disorders.

In many cases, the simplest reasonable accommodation costs nothing: simply turn down the volume of the amplified sound.

Because if something 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.

Toronto cracks down on noisy cars and motorcycles

Photo credit: alyssa BLACk licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Toronto police have launched an Awareness and Enforcement for Unnecessary Noise campaign that focuses on loud cars and motorcycles. Cops are ready to had out tickets ranging from $110 to $155 for “drivers honking horns, having excessively loud mufflers, revving motorcycles, blasting their car radio, as well as those stunt driving and squealing their tires.”

The mayor, John Tory, said whatever the cause, loud noise is inexcusable. And starting on October 1, the city’s new noise bylaw becomes effective, which will give police even more power to deal with noisy drivers.

Let’s hope New York City and other American cities and towns are watching closely.  Canada may be taking the lead on dealing with street noise, but eventually–one hopes–it’s neighbor to the south will take notice.