Monthly Archive: August 2019

Noise inside rail cars is a problem, too

Photo credit: abdallahh licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

My noise colleague David Sykes recently wrote about noise levels in the London subway system, but noise levels are a problem inside rail cars on Vancouver’s SkyTrain, too. Researchers there found noise levels as high as 106 decibels. Newer quieter rail cars are on order, with air conditioning, closed rather than open windows, and better door seals.

Until the old cars are replaced, Vancouverites taking the rail system should use ear plugs. That’s what I do when riding the subway in New York, London, or Paris.

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.

Where is NYC’s promised Quality-of-Life Plan?

Photo credit: Prayitno / Thank you for (12 millions +) view licensed under CC BY 2.0

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

In his Gotham Gazette article “City’s Promised Plan for Quality-of-Life Issues Yet to Materialize,” Ethan Geringer-Smith writes that the Citizen Budget Commission’s NYC Resident Feedback Survey results issued earlier this year found that 40.4% of city residents who responded “rated the city’s control of street noise as excellent or good.” Fewer residents in Manhattan, Bronx, and Brooklyn, as compared to Queens and Staten Island, rated control of street noise as excellent or good. This was a 6.1% improvement over the 2008 survey.

One question I have about this finding is this: What is meant by control of street noise? Also, considering Geringer-Smith states that “[o]verall, last year, the number of 311 noise complaints rose to nearly 437,000, up from roughly 260,000 in 2013,” I would like to know more about what types of noises people are complaining about and why wasn’t the improvement in the “control of street noise” reflected in the numbers of noise complaints. Still, Geringer-Smith states that according to the CBC’s data, residents point to noise “…as among the greatest areas of dissatisfaction in the city.”

I hope the questions raised above will be addressed in “a big study” of quality-of-life problems that Deputy Mayor of Operations Laura Anglin told Geringer-Smith her office was conducting. I would suggest that Ms. Anglin reference two studies that I was involved in that looked at different types of noise and how New York City residents’ behavior was affected by these noises, as well as State Comptroller DiNapoli’s report last year on New York City noise complaints.

Ms. Anglin, in an email to the Gotham Gazette wrote that the study’s goal was to seek out solutions. Discussing the adverse impacts of noise on health and well-being in her report would add strength to this goal.

Knowing that City Council recently passed legislation strengthening the regulation of construction noise and being aware of community residents clamoring for less noisy emergency vehicles. as well as researching and writing on the adverse effect of noise on health, I am looking forward to reading the report that will soon emanate from the Deputy Mayor’s office.

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.

 

Modern music compression leaves Neil Young cold

Photo credit: Graham Berry licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

In this wide-ranging New York Times article about musician Neil Young, I learned that Young doesn’t like modern music compression technology, which he thinks has adverse neurological effects and takes the enjoyment out of music. Music or sound compression technology erases highs and lows in volume with a loss of musical detail. I know that I find sounds on my iPhone to be tinny and it bothers my ears.

I also learned about the Tomatis Method, an auditory stimulation program that claims to improve brain function. Dr. Tomatis believed that listening to Mozart could change brain function.

I’m not sure about that, but I do like Mozart and find listening to his music soothing to my ears and my soul.

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? 50 years later Woodstock generation dealing with hearing loss

Photo credit: James M. Shelley licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

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

According to recent research by the Gallup organization 47% of 65- to 80-year olds who listened to loud music when they were young have hearing loss. That cohort are the Woodstock Generation, for whom loud rock concerts were a way of life.

But now, along with their fans, many of the musicians from the bands of that era, e.g., Eric Clapton and Pete Townsend, have retired because they suffer from painful and incurable auditory conditions caused by noise damage to their ears, like tinnitus or hyperacusis, or they have severe noise-induced hearing loss.

It’s the end of an era. There is no cure for hearing loss, and the only treatment is hearing aids, as cochlear implants are reserved for the profoundly hearing impaired. What’s more, hearing loss is associated with depression, social isolation, dementia, loss of balance, and cardiovascular disease.

Who’d have thought that the “peace & love” kids from the ‘60s & ‘70s would end up this way?

Ironically, in 1969, then-Surgeon General William H. Stewart actually tried to get noise exposure classified as a public health problem. In fact, he helped organize the first international meeting on noise and health. Now, 50 years later, the nation is awakening to what looks like a growing epidemic of hearing loss.

These new Gallup poll findings (funded by a hearing aid company) are consistent with recent federal studies. The sponsor of the Gallup research has a simple and direct message: Buy our hearing aids. But be warned, hearing aids amplify sound but they do a poor job of improving speech comprehension in noisy environments.

So if you are a member of the Woodstock generation, protect what hearing you have left and avoid exposure to loud sounds.

David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: QCI Healthcare Acoustics Project, ANSI Committee S12-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.

Motorcycle noise can damage riders’ hearing

Photo credit: Sourav Mishra from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Motorcycle noise is a problem for people in many cities, interrupting conversations, disrupting sleep, and being loud enough to cause auditory damage. But motorcycle noise is also a problem for riders. This online piece from a UK insurance agent discusses the dangers of motorcycle noise for riders’ hearing.

Noise comes from both the engine and from air moving past the riders’ ears. Wind screens reduced the noise somewhat, but it is still loud enough to cause hearing loss.

Many motorcycle riders aren’t aware that the noise can damage their hearing. But many of those who know about the dangers of wind and engine noise on their ears don’t want to wear earplugs because they want to hear what’s going on around them.  Riding a motorcycle is hazardous, and riders want to hear other vehicles that may or may not see them.

Filtered ear plugs, which allow transmission of lower frequency sounds while blocking high frequency wind noise, might be a good solution.  The best solution, of course, is to avoid the source of damaging noise, which will also benefit anyone who would rather not be exposed to motorcycle 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.

How to treat people with disabilities, visible and invisible

Photo credit: Anas Aldyab from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Having tinnitus and hyperacusis has made me more aware of what it’s like to have a disability. I am fortunate that my symptoms are mild and not life-limiting, but noise does bother me. When my wife asks for a quiet table at a restaurant, “because my husband has issues with noise” or “because noise bothers my husband,” I feel embarrassed and different. That gives me a very small insight into how difficult life can be for those with serious disabilities.

This piece by David Pogue in the New York Times discusses what different-looking people would like us to know before we stare. The bottom line, it seems, is that except for children it’s not okay to make comments about someone’s disability. It is okay if it appears that someone needs help to ask, “May I help you? If so, what can I do to help?”

Reading the article made me think about what those of us who have invisible disabilities, including auditory disorders like hearing loss, tinnitus, and hyperacusis, as well as disorders like PTSD or autism spectrum disorder, might like others to know.

For those of us with tinnitus and hyperacusis, I think we would like people to know that noise bothers us. It makes our symptoms worse, and can be downright painful.

For those with hearing loss, we need low ambient noise levels to be able to understand speech. Please look at us when you speak with us. Adequate lighting helps those who lip read understand what is being said. Speak slowly and distinctly, but don’t shout. That doesn’t help us understand what you are trying to say, and it can also be painful.

For those with PTSD and other psychological or psychiatric or developmental disorders, and indeed for anyone with a disability and actually for everyone, with or without a disability, just be gentle and kind.

And the world will be a better place for all.

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.

Looking for a quiet space? Here are some worth visiting

Photo credit: Lukas Hartmann from Pexels

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

If you’ve been looking for a truly quiet space to visit, consider Green Bank, West Virginia, where there’s no WiFi, no cellphone service, no microwave ovens or any other device that generates electromagnetic signals. Known as a National Radio Quiet Zone, it consists of 13,000 square miles of mountainous terrain set aside to protect the Green Bank Observatory, a cluster of radio telescopes.

Have you heard about International Dark Sky Places? The first one in the U.S. is a 1400-square-mile spot in Central Idaho where there’s no artificial light. According to this author, “[t]here are currently 37 official dark sky parks in the United States, 53 in the world. There are only 11 dark sky reserves – which have a larger size requirement than parks – and none of them are in the U.S.”

You might also want to put the Hoh Rain Forest on your travel schedule. It’s known as one of “the quietest places on earth” thanks to Gordon Hempton’s work there.

In fact, “acoustic ecology” is an emerging field, so if you’re interested in “eco-tourism” you’re among a growing group of people who seek out quiet places around the world.

But as the author of the New York Times piece on Green Bank notes, “[t]o experience the deepest solitude, you need to enter the land where the internet ends.”

A few years ago, I worked with others to help turn George Prochnik’s 2011 book “In Pursuit of Silence” into a feature-length documentary film of the same name. What we learned in the process is how scarce truly “quiet zones” have become, despite the National Park Service’s efforts to preserve them.

So hurry up! Plan a few trips before these “Quiet Zones” disappear!

David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: QCI Healthcare Acoustics Project, ANSI Committee S12-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.

Why boomers hate restaurants targeting millennials

Photo credit: Evonics from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Baby boomers, those of us born between 1946 and 1964 and, therefore, now 55 to 73 years old, hate noisy restaurants. As this article by Sara Zeff Geber in Forbes notes, we remember when restaurants were quiet enough to enjoy both the food and the conversation. That’s rarely possible now.

As Geber notes, changes in restaurant design, and a belief that a noisy restaurant is a trendy hip one, make it difficult if not impossible to find quiet restaurants in most American cities.

More people lead busy lives and have more disposable income, so restaurants are busier than ever and restaurateurs see no need to change what they are doing.

But restaurant noise is a disability rights issue for those with hearing loss and other auditory disorders. And noise levels in many restaurants and bars are high enough to cause hearing loss.

It’s clear that market forces won’t solve the problem of restaurant noise. So what can we do? If enough people complain to enough elected officials, someone somewhere will take action to require quieter restaurants.

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.

Research finds dangerous noise levels on London’s Tube

Photo credit: Leon Warnking from Pexels

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

The British government has paid much more attention to noise pollution than we here in the U.S., but the well-researched data in this article in the Economist clearly demonstrates that free market economics have not been kind to London’s Tube riders.

While the data show that a subway ride in London is somewhat less noisy than a similar ride in New York City, the noise exposure levels in London are still sufficient to cause permanent hearing damage.

What this article demonstrates is that, just like the decades-old problems with smog and second-hand smoke around the world, eradication can take a long, long time—even after powerful public health officials have recognized the seriousness of the problem.

All the more reason why people everywhere need to purchase and carry good hearing protection at all times—whether earplugs or earmuffs or noise-cancelling headphones.

Preventing hearing loss is the only solution, because there are no effective treatments, remedies, or cures–once your hearing is gone, nothing can be done.

David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: QCI Healthcare Acoustics Project, ANSI Committee S12-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.

Do-it-yourself noise mitigation at home

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

I don’t generally mention commercial products in my blog posts, but I’m willing to make an exception for these sound absorbing panels from IKEA.

The article is from a UK magazine, so I don’t know if the panels are available in the U.S. yet, but it’s worth it to keep an eye out for them.  They can be hung in a room, or as a room divider, to absorb unwanted sound. And since the product if offered through IKEA, the cost shouldn’t be prohibitive.

Alternatively, heavy drapes might be a more aesthetically pleasing solution. And new urban construction often has–and should be required to have–double paned windows and sound absorbing material in the exterior walls.

So urban dwellers trying to get a good night’s sleep have noise mitigation options. But I can’t help but think about how much better our sleep could be if government actively enforced  noise regulations rather than leave the problem for each of us to deal with individually.

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.