Monthly Archive: June 2020

Fireworks noise can damage your ears

Photo credit: ViTalko from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This report from KCBD in Texas discusses the dangers of fireworks noise for auditory health. The audiologist interviewed, Leigh Ann Reel, Ph.D., is especially concerned about impulsive noise, as from an explosion. One exposure at close range can cause permanent hearing loss, tinnitus, or hyperacusis.

Fire departments and public health authorities generally recommend leaving fireworks displays to the professionals, but in many states and localities personal use of fireworks is legal and enforcement of fireworks bans is spotty.

I would prefer quiet fireworks, as have been mandated in many parts of Europe, both for people and for their pets.

Please stay safe.

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.

Death of the open plan office?

Photo credit: Peter Bennets licensed under CC BY 3.0

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

If this pair of NPR articles are correct, the pandemic will cause the death of the open plan office. Now there’s reason to celebrate. Goodbye noisy co0workers and endless distraction!

What the articles suggest is the shift to working from home is going to be permanent for many former office workers. And it appears they are happy about it despite the obvious problems, like kids, pets, and so on.

It’s no secret that office workers have watched with horror as their workspace has steadily diminished over several decades so that the most fashionable, cutting edge offices, like those sported by Google and Facebook, now feature no closed offices at all–except for the C-Suite of course. Instead, there are row upon row of tables, often on casters, on concrete floors, just like factories. Even offices with cubicles have seen those cubicles diminish in size and the barriers between them evaporate.

So is working from home a perfect solution for everyone? Well, no. But if offices can’t bring back more than 50% of their staffs at any one time, that means that many
office workers can ditch the commute at least half of the time and work in their pjs (from the waist down, at most, if you do Zoom calls).

Get used to it. The future of office work has come home!

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.

Protesting? Take a mask—AND hearing protection!

Photo credit: Z22 licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

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

Been to a protest rally recently? You may have seen a cop car with a 2ft x 2ft box on the roof….What is it? Likely, it’s a long-range acoustical device, or LRAD, that emits an unbearable and ear-damaging signal intended to induce panic and temporary incapacity. First developed for the military, these devices are now in use by police in some cities to “control”/incapacitate protesters. Lynne Peskoe-Yang, in Popular Mechanics‘ weapons column, wrote an excellent summary of the subject that you should read and circulate to your friends and acquaintances.

Along with tear gas, tasers, flash-bang grenades and rubber bullets, LRADs are serious weapons—sonic weapons—that you need to prepare for because damage to your hearing will be permanent.

How damaging are LRADs? They can inflict serious pain, destroy your hearing, and leave you with permanent hearing damage. But police have been told they’re “harmless.” So expect indiscriminate use.

So be sure to wear or carry good earplugs AND earmuffs when you hit the street to join a protest march or rally. Once your hearing is gone, there’s no way to get it back. And the 16 million Americans who have tinnitus and/or hyperacusis can attest that hearing damage can be very, very painful and disabling.

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.

Noise and pollution increase as countries, states reopen

Photo credit: Ion Ceban @ionelceban from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This New York Times article reports that gaseous pollutant emissions are surging as countries and states reopen economic activity.

We have covered several reports about the coronavirus lockdowns causing noise and vibration levels to decrease, but I haven’t yet seen a report about the effect of reopening on noise levels.

I wrote about the eerie nighttime quiet of a curfew beginning at 1 p.m. in the afternoon. A little noise may be reassuring, or at least familiar, but too much noise is a problem.

My own observation is that in the west Los Angeles area, noise levels are definitely increasing. Automobile, truck, and motorcycle exhaust noise can be heard day and night. And there are more airplanes in the sky.

It will be interesting to see what happens with noise levels as the economy reopens more.

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.

Lockdown was a boon for science

Photo credit: Kwh1050 licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

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

As I have written before on Silencity, the COVID-19 lockdown has given city dwellers around the world the opportunity to hear a landscape with less road traffic, fewer overhead jets, and a slowdown in constructions sounds. Yes, one sound was heard more frequently – birdsong. But on June 22, New York City is entering Phase 2 and the “older, less welcoming sounds” could be returning.

Interestingly, the quieter pandemic environment has given the Quiet Project in the UK the opportunity to map out the lower decibel levels that have occurred during the lockdown, writes Philip Ball of The Guardian. In addition to actual sound recordings, the Quiet Project has asked the public to reflect on how the changed soundscape has affected them. According to Lindsay McIntyre, the director of the company involved in this project, “[e]veryone I speak to has got an opinion on how the changes in noise makes them feel.” For example, as I have noted in earlier writings, some people actually miss the more traditional urban sounds, but what they really missed was what their lives were before the pandemic.

The researchers involved in the Quiet Project hope to use their data in ways that may result, for example, in having planners factor in more “tranquil areas” in cities as we move forward. Seismologists are especially interested in how the pandemic altered human activities. With less human activity, and the accompanying noises they are responsible for, seismologists can detect small earthquakes and this information can tell more about the “state of stress and movement in the crust.” Oceanographers, concerned about the impact of low-frequency noise from ship engines on the communications of marine life, found the change in ocean sounds during the pandemic provided the opportunity to study ship factors that harm marine animals. This finding could “help plan ocean transportation so it is less disruptive to marine life.”

With the pandemic resulting in less noise, scientists were given the opportunity to collect the kind of data that may help them find ways to keep our planet quieter in the near future for all its inhabitants. Out of adversity, can come creativity!

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.

If it makes more noise than a rake, protect your hearing

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention just published this fact sheet about protecting your hearing when doing yard care. All power tools, whether gasoline or electric, make enough noise to damage hearing. In general, electric tools are quieter than those powered by two-stroke gasoline engines, and they also don’t produce noxious and toxic gaseous emissions.

One of the big technological advances in yard care in the last year or two is the widespread availability of powerful battery-powered yard care equipment, including leaf blowers, hedge trimmers, even lawnmowers. These are now available online or in any of the big-box home improvement stores. There’s no need to worry about extension cords or shock hazards.

Other than my wife, children, and grandchildren, gardening is my first love. From 2005-2014 I served on the board of the Theodore Payne Foundation for Wild Flowers and Native Plants, Inc. When I was termed out from that service, I became a noise activist, focused on trying to make the world a quieter place. But I’d much rather be quietly working in my garden.

Raking leaves, trimming a plant, or pulling a weed, using hand tools as gardeners have done for centuries, is quiet and contemplative.

Only rarely will I use an electric pole trimmer to cut pesky branches that I can’t reach without getting on a ladder, but I’ll put in my earplugs first. Because if a yard care tool is louder than a rake or a pruning shears, it’s loud enough to cause hearing loss.

So when you are doing yard work, use earplugs or earmuff hearing protection now to avoid hearing aids later. And if you hire someone to maintain your landscape, insist that the workers are provided hearing protection. They are at special risk for hearing loss as well as other noise-related health problems.

Thanks to our friends at the CDC for helping educate the public about the dangers of 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.

As protests grow, will Trump’s threatened military force include NextGen sonic weapons?

LRADs deployed in Ferguson, Missouri, Aug. 2014 | Photo credit: Loavesofbread licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

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

Weaponized sound is not new to police and military commanders, as this research paper from the journal Science and Global Security points out. There are good examples of weaponized sound going back many centuries, though they’re generally considered to be “non-lethal weapons.” Not harmless, but not deadly. And they’ve being used against protesters in the U.S., as shown in the photo from Ferguson, Missouri, shown above.

Eric Niiler, writing for History.com, provides a good historical summary of the subject, and includes a photo of a long range acoustic device, or sound cannon, deployed by police during a Trump rally in 2017 in Anaheim, California to deter potential mob action. But we’re much more likely to read about tear gas and pepper spray and water cannons and rubber bullets than this kind of high tech gear.

The article also reaches all the way back to the Israelites blaring trumpets at the walls of Jericho.

Do sonic weapons get used often? Yes. Niiler writes about recent appearances with which we’re all familiar:

Police units used LRAD devices at an Occupy Wall Street rally in 2011 and in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014. They are currently deployed on naval ships to deter smaller boats from approaching. More than 20 countries are now using the LRAD. Israeli Defense Forces have used it to break up Palestinian protests, Japanese whaling ships have repelled environmental groups and several cruise ships have used it to fight off pirates in places like the Horn of Africa or Indian Ocean. Most recently, mysterious attacks on the US Embassy in Cuba appeared to be sonic in nature though no publicly available reports have disclosed understanding of what actually happened there.

And where there is weaponized sound, there are health concerns. This 2017 post by James Hamblin in The Atlantic is a very interesting overview on the health aspects of sonic weapons.

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.

Lockdown lets us hear the birds, and lets them hear each other

Photo credit: Pratikxox from Pexels

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

The New York Times recently had an article that featured the birds of New York City. It notes that with the pandemic quieting the usual din of New York City, birds can now lift their voices. It is not only their voices that have been lifted, but their visibility as well. Readers are introduced to thirteen species of birds, some of whom have been commonly present in the city but others who are rarely present. In the past, birds have called out to us but we were less likely to hear them. Now, we can both see and hear these beautiful birds. This pandemic has occurred during the spring when birds are at their peak in the city and so New Yorkers, at a time when there is so much despair and anxiety in our lives, have been given the opportunity to listen to sounds that are so joyous to the ears.

That birds have served to brighten the lives of New Yorkers at this time is underscored by a second Times’ article by Jennifer Ackerman, who writes that not only are more people noticing birds but “[t]he lack of people is indeed being noticed by the wildlife.” With less noise, birds can more easily converse with each other and be more aware of harmful predators.

Ackerman adds that being more exposed to birds may also make us more aware of a species that knows how to navigate the world “in tough times.” Most certainly, people will have to acquire new skills to deal with the obstacles they will be facing after the pandemic shutdown. One hopes that they will also remember the pleasure and comfort of the birdsong they have listened to and understand that noise is harmful to both humans and birds. Such memories may lead to a lessening of the overall din of this city. And that will benefit the city’s dwellers – both humans and birds.

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.

Lessons from “The Great Silence?” Researchers are listening.

Photo credit: Angy DS licensed under CC BY 2.0

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

I’ve been eagerly watching for researchers to probe the effects of this unique, unprecedented period of global silence. Recently, Nick Smith, writing for Engineering And Technology, has reported on academic projects at the Max Planck Institute in Gemany, the British Geological Survey in the UK, New York University in the U.S., and in several other places around the world where researchers are digging into the effects of “anthropogenic noise,” i.e., human-generated industrial noise.

It appears that most of the effort is focused on birds—which would also imply impacts on insects and plants too—but that could just be because Smith was interested in that subject.

The best news is that researchers are actively working on the subject, and therefore we may learn from this moment. As Smith notes, “[a]ssessing the impact that human-generated or anthropogenic noise has on the natural world is fast becoming a growth area in academia.”

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.

COVID lockdown yields cleaner, quieter environment

Photo credit: nevil zaveri licensed under CC BY 2.0

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

While the pandemic lockdown has created havoc in our lives and aroused an anxiety as to what our “new normal world” will look like, it has, unexpectedly, provided an opportunity for researchers to examine its impacts on the surrounding environment. The air appears to be cleaner and the soundscape quieter. This cleaner, quieter environment enabled Indrajit Mandal and his colleagues to study the effects of COVID-19 on the environment near the Dwarka river basin in Eastern India after nearby stone quarrying areas were locked down. The data collected after the lockdown were then compared to data collected pre-lockdown.

The results of this study indicated a reduction in particulate matter and noise level. The adjacent river water quality was also found to be improved. The findings on noise demonstrated that “noise level is dropped to <65dBA which was above 85dBA in stone crusher dominated areas in pre lockdown period.” This is indeed a significant drop in noise! In their discussion section, the authors cite studies that have examined the adverse impacts of a higher particulate matter concentration, poorer water quality, and increased noise levels on human health.

This paper concludes by noting that now that we know that a temporary lockdown can improve the environment, we should be encouraged to seek ways to provide for a sustainable environment while still supporting a sustainable economy. This sustainable environment would also benefit other species who share this earth with humans. A “successful control of pollution sources can give a lively earth and it can establish the right to life in our planet earth.”

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.