Monthly Archive: June 2020

Police airplane and helicopter noise disturbs the peace

Photo credit: John Wisniewski licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Police authorities at all levels use aircraft–airplanes and helicopters–to provide surveillance. Flights have been increased during the demonstrations following the killing of George Floyd by police officers in Minneapolis. This letter in the Baltimore Sun complains about the noise of surveillance airplanes.

In Los Angeles, the police use helicopters. Helicopter noise is more disturbing for most listeners due to a low frequency component that travels through walls, and a rotatory component to the sound pattern based on the usual clockwise rotation of the rotor.

Whatever the form of aircraft, the sound can disrupt sleep, increase blood pressure, disturb concentration, and interfere with learning. In Figure 3 in a review article by Basner et al., aircraft noise caused an increase in heart attacks beginning at 40-45 A-weighted decibels.*

The letter writer called for the surveillance flights to end. While I don’t know if this is feasible right now, I hope the flights stop soon.

*A-weighting adjusts sound measurements to reflect the frequencies heard in human speech.

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 origins of soundscape ecology

Photo credit: Alex Braidwood licensed under CC BY 2.0

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

A wonderful, recent NPR podcast delves into the career and field recordings of Bernie Krause, PhD, who pioneered the emerging discipline of soundscape ecology. This podcast is great listening for the pandemic-induced “great silence” that we’re all currently living through.

Krause’ best known book appeared in 2012, “The Great Animal Orchestra,” which has been described as “the story of one man’s pursuit of natural music in it’s purest form, and an impassioned case for the conservation of one of our most overlooked natural resources, the music of the wild.” But Krause has just recently finished his 8th book—on top of hundreds of discographies. And, if you’re interested, his TED talk is a good listen.

Krause, who was born in Detroit in 1938, spent his early years promoting and performing on the then revolutionary Moog Synthesizer with leading 60s rock groups like The Doors and others. Having moved from the University of Michigan to Mills College in the San Francisco Bay area during the 1960s, he quit the drug-soaked music business and started recording natural sounds all over the world and working for museums and recording studios. From that deep immersion in the natural soundscape, he began developing original theories about sound that have gained him great respect. He’s best known for three core descriptive concepts: “Biophony” (sound from natural, biological sources); Geophony (sound from non-biological,natural sources); and Anthropophony (sound from human sources, including electro-mechanical noise).

Back in 1968, Krause founded his own organization, Wild Sanctuary. Now in his 80’s, he continues to be active in the field. Unfortunately, his home and virtually all of his belongings were destroyed several years ago when one of California’s wildfires swept through his neighborhood. Fortunately, his recorded archives were stored electronically off site, but everything else was gone. Still, he marshalls on, alerting the rest of the world to the concerning sounds he hears–or doesn’t hear.

The Quiet Coalition honors Krause’s pioneering work and his persistence and commitment to connecting our experience of soundscapes to the greatest issue of our time,climate change. The connections between the climate issue, the current pandemic, and the growing global problem of noise are not clear to many people, but Krause clearly understands how they are related.

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.

Making the world a quieter and better place

Photo credit: hjl licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

I wrote the other day about the eerie nighttime silence of a city so jolted by violence that its nightly curfew starts at 1:00 p.m. in the afternoon. We’re approaching the end of the third month of lockdown, with a gradual reopening of the economy in Los Angeles County, now the center of the coronavirus epidemic in California.

The “Groundhog Day” nature of life these days is getting old. When I know the evening schedule for our three Public Broadcasting System stations by heart, this is not a good thing.

But, as I tell my wife, things could be far worse. I’m not getting shot at when I go to the market to buy food, we’re not being bombed, we have food, water, gas, electricity, internet and cable TV, we’re not in a refugee camp. We’re in a house with a yard, not a small crowded apartment, everyone in the family is working, almost everyone from home,

I only knew one person who died from COVID at age 92, and one friend on the east coast who got COVID at work but has recovered.

We miss cultural events, museums, movies, restaurant dining, and travel, but again, things could be far worse.

I recognize that when for the foreseeable future the new normal for the U.S. is 20,000+ new COVID cases each day and another 1,000 deaths, noise concerns fade in importance, but they are still important.

I understand that as our country continues to be unable to control the COVID epidemic, as American democracy hangs by a thread, and the nation tries to deal with job losses not seen since the Great Depression, the environment is a relatively minor concern. But it is still a concern.

Several of The Quiet Coalition’s members have written about the reduction in noise, largely transportation noise, during the COVID lockdown with beneficial effects on people, birds, and ocean life. The only way we will be able to keep the quiet, to eliminate unnecessary noise, is to elect leaders and legislators who are concerned about the environment.

Those of use concerned about the environment should check now that we are still registered to vote. We should encourage everyone we know to do the same. And perhaps to file the papers to get a vote-by-mail ballot if that is possible where you live. I am already signed up to vote by mail.

Meaningful change may come from protests in the street, but peaceful and perhaps more meaningful change will come from exercising our franchise to vote at the ballot box.

Please register to vote and vote in November. This may be the most important election of our lifetimes.

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.

Good sounds during lockdown

Photo credit: Anthony Quintano licensed under CC BY 2.0

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

In contrast to Dr. Daniel Fink’s experience with the lack of sound during curfew, I have been experiencing good sounds at my apartment. Confined to my home, I cannot join the marches. So the marches have come to my home. I have stood on my terrace and have joined in by applauding the marchers as they pass my building on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. The sounds are voices from people of all ages and races calling for justice and the applause of nearby residents supporting their call.

It is on this same terrace each evening at seven that I join my neighbors in applauding the health care workers who are caring for those who are suffering from COVID-19.

The voices and applause are such pleasant sounds. They are music to my ears.

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.

Experts envision post-COVID cities without noise and pollution

Car-free street in New York City during lockdown | Photo credit: Jim Griffin has dedicated this photograph to the public domain

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

Menios Constantinou, Architecture & Deisgn, writes about how the COVID pandemic and lockdown is giving us the opportunity to envision our cities without the twin scourges of noise and pollution. Constantinou interviewed Professor Mark Nieuwenhuijsen, a professorial fellow at the MacKillop Institute for Health Research and a leading environmental epidemiologist, who talked about how he noticed at the beginning of the lockdown that he could hear birds singing as the traffic noise had greatly diminished. Nieuwenhuijsen’s observation led him to reimagine what cities could be.

And he’s not the only one. Nieuwenhuijsen told Constantinou that “[w]hat you see in places like Milan is the policymakers taking advantage of the current situation, and using it as an opportunity to rethink how they plan their cities.” This is also happening elsewhere, with more than a dozen European nations backing a green post-pandemic recovery plan. The money can only be spent once, Nieuwenhuijsen adds, so “we might as well do it in the way that will save more lives in the long term, and create a more just, sustainable and liveable society.”

I’ve been wondering if this flashback we’ve been living in—flashback to what life may have been like before the industrial revolution—would produce any permanent changes when it’s over.

It’s a tough question to answer as we know so little about what happened after previous pandemics. For instance, the Great Flu Pandemic of 1918 was a social cost of the WWI mobilization–hat flu began with animal to human transmission in Kansas, spread east to Army recruitment centers, travelled abroad, exploded there and then returned to the U.S. in the tragically deadly second wave. And, of course the great plagues in Europe during the 14th to 16th centuries continued episodically for over 200 years because they didn’t have a theory of viral or bacterial disease or know they’re transmitted. That one, of course, then travelled across the Atlantic to North and South America with the Conquistadors and their soldiers and crews—ultimately destroying millions of lives and ending lost-established, indigenous civilizations.

This time we have the opportunity to learn from it. And there are encouraging signs that urban planners are embracing the idea that quieter, cleaner cities are possible, and what’s more, they’re highly desirable. Will that spur an acceleration in interest among city planners and others in doing more to regain that which has been lost to pollution and noise?

We can only hope that what Professor Nieuwenhuijsen comments will be heeded everywhere!

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.

Protecting your ears at protests

Photo credit: Kelly Lacy from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This article in Popular Mechanics reports on the recent use of military helicopters flying low over peaceful protests in our nation’s capital.

Helicopters at normal operating altitudes are too noisy, and at 40 feet over the ground are dangerously noisy. Flash-bang devices being used by police are also noisy.

If you are going to march in one of the demonstrators protesting police brutality and George Floyd’s death, put a pair of earplugs in your pocket.

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.

The quiet of the curfew

Photo credit: Eden, Janine and Jim licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

The protests over the death of George Floyd literally in the hands of the police have turned violent in many communities, including mine. The last two days the curfew has begun at 1 p.m., lasting until 5:30 a.m. the next morning.

Last night there were demonstrations and some looting and fires two miles to the east, and three miles to the west, but fortunately nothing happened in our city.

Once the low-flying helicopters stopped, and the distant sirens stopped, perhaps about 10 p.m., it was eerily quiet.

There were no passing cars or motorcycles or sirens heard though the open window.

As those who follow this blog post know, I am a passionate advocate for quiet.

But I wanted a little more noise last night. Just a little more 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.

Turn down the volume

Photo credit: Nicholas Githiri from Pexels

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

Turning down the volume” by Maria Papadodimitraki (translated from Greek by Antigone Debbaut) is another article addressing the need to pay more attention to the harmful impacts of noise pollution on our physical and mental health. What especially drew my attention to this article was its introductory statement: “Noise pollution is a form of violence.” Those words were said by Voula Pagagianni, an educator and president of the Hellenic Young Children’s University.

Papadodimitraki supports the need to reduce noise by citing the large body of research on the adverse effects of noise on our hearing, cardiovascular system, sleep, cognitive performance, and overall psychological well being. She also includes references that man-made noises harm other species as well, e.g. marine organisms, birds.

Yet, she reports some good news, too. Namely, that cities such as Stockhom, Vienna, and Zurich are taking actions to reduce noise pollution. This includes installing acoustic fencing and soundproof windows in apartments exposed to high levels of noise, traffic calming measures on roads, promotion of bicycle use and introducing electric buses. But as Athanasios Trochidis, emeritus professor, civil engineering, at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, tells Papadodimitraki, “[p]erhaps the best way to deal with noise pollution is prevention—to not make noise.”

On another positive note, the author points out that the European Union has set sound level standards aimed to “counteract the negative impact of noise pollution on health.” She adds, unfortunately, that the U.S. “has much higher—some would say lower standards” when referring to what would be considered tolerable noise exposures. This should not be surprising to the anti-noise advocates in the U.S. long concerned about the high sound level standards set by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

The article’s strong introduction is followed with a strong concluding quote by Professor Nikos Barkas, who says:

Noise pollution is a factor in the deterioration of our quality of life. This is why it is crucial that we change our attitude to noise pollution and take action to address the problem.

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.

Buildings are noisy because architects don’t study sound

Photo credit: Graeme Maclean licensed under CC BY 2.0

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

Most of us assume when we walk into a very noisy building that it must be ok, because if it weren’t, wouldn’t somebody have thought of a solution to the problem? But it’s a simple fact that planners and architects spend little to no time thinking about noise and sound, unless they are designing a theater or performance space.

Architects don’t inhabit the spaces they design. And they can’t show clients pictures of what their projects will sound like, unless they spend some money on modeling sound conditions.

This fairly sparse article at least touches on this vast area of ignorance about sound among architects, planners, and grad school faculty.

The foundations of acoustical science are well over a century old and well respected, but they are embedded in physics, not art and architecture. Not every architect and planner is ignorant of the subject—there are some exceptions–but the plain fact is architects do not know how to design for good sound quality. They rely on specialists from physics, and those people cost money. As a result, noise is typically not recognized as a problem until after a building has been built and the planners, architects, designers, and contractors have all gone home and deposited their checks.  And then it is often too late.

So next time you’re in a nicely designed space that you find is too noisy, remember that it’s very likely no one thought about the soundscape until it was too late and hoped you wouldn’t notice. Be sure to tell them that you do.

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.

Neighbor noise and violence

Photo credit: Aleksandar Pasaric from Pexels

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

Recent articles examining the effects of the coronavirus pandemic on the soundscape have reported that while complaints about sounds from overhead planes, construction, and bars have been reduced, neighbor to neighbor noise complaints have increased. This is explained, in part, by the fact that more people are staying in their homes over longer periods of time. The Japan Times addresses this issue squarely in its story, “Gripes about noisy neighbor boil over in Tokyo as stay-home drive drags on.” But this article adds another element to these neighbor complaints–violence.

The story highlights two incidents in which people stabbed their neighbors because they could not stand the noises the neighbor was making. Violence following noise is not new. There have been articles written over the years detailing individuals acting violently against neighbors who have imposed their loud music, footsteps, or voices on them. But what has been happening in Tokyo with 2020 noise complaints during the pandemic is that they have exceeded by over 25% the number of phone calls reporting noise during the same period last year. While noise, according to this article, has already been a leading cause of trouble between neighbors in Japan, it appears that the increase in complaints during the pandemic has resulted in a greater interest in trying to resolve such complaints.

The Japan Times cites Professor Emeritus Norihisa Hashimoto, who explains that people who are the subjects of noise complaints believe such claims are unreasonable while those who make the complaints feel frustrated as the noise continues unabated. He calls for “a specialized organization for hearing their stories neutrally.”

This difference in perception between those who are making the complaints and those who are accused of being noisy has always been the case. I know this because as a member of GrowNYC’s Board of Directors I have been asked frequently to resolve neighbor to neighbor noise complaints. While not always successful, the large numbers of times I, as a neutral listener, have succeeded in reducing the noise strongly suggests that it is worthwhile trying to mediate such noise problems. I believe public officials in New York City who have also assisted their constituents with noise complaints will say the same. I would also like to point out that New York City’s leases stipulate that landlords should provide residents with “reasonable” quiet. Thus, landlords and managing agents can limit intrusive neighbor noises as well.

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.