Monthly Archive: November 2020

Stressed New Yorkers file record helicopter noise complaints

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

Jose Martinez, The City, reports that helicopter complaints to 311 have soared with several thousand more reported through mid-November than were reported for all of 2019–7,758 complaints up to November 15, 2020, versus 4,400 for 2019. Martinez rightfully notes that the noise emanating from the helicopters make New Yorkers feel even worse, now that so many are cooped up in their homes. Martinez quotes one New York resident as saying the “noise just makes you crazy” and another saying that “I have wanted to run into the street screaming.” I want to stress that research has clearly demonstrated that noise is hazardous to mental and physical health–it is not “just annoying.” Rather, noise is detrimental to our well-being!

Martinez reports that Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney introduced a bill in the House to regulate helicopter noise, but we join in her frustration that there is no comparable bill in the Senate and  the Federal Aviation Administration has essentially ignored the problem. Let me add that the FAA has been negligent overall in curbing aviation noise, despite the growing body of evidence on the health hazards of noise.

New York City has regulations covering the city’s helicopter travel and the accompanying noises but neighboring states do not and their helicopters fly over our city. Martinez notes that Borough President Gale Brewer will be convening a task force next month to address tourist flights and has invited officials from New Jersey to join this task force. She will also explore helicopter use by the city’s police department and television stations. New York City had introduced legislation last July to amend the New York City’s administrative code to reduce noise by chartered helicopters, but it was put on hold due to the pandemic. I would hope that members of the City Council will be part of Ms. Brewer’s task force.

Considering the many hardships that New Yorkers are dealing with related to the COVID-19 pandemic, one might question why attention is being paid to the city’s helicopter noise problem. Let me point out again that noise serves to exacerbate the overall stress that we are now feeling. and this is definitely not good for our health.

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.

The loudest toys to avoid this holiday season

Photo credit: dolanh licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Every year for the last several years one publication or another, or these days one web site or another, has published a list of too-noisy toys that might harm a child’s hearing. This report from AZ BigMedia lists toys found to be too loud by the Arizona Commission for the Deaf and the Hard of Hearing (ADCHH). The loudest toys made noise of 85 decibels (dB) or louder. The report quotes the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association as stating that 85 dB is the maximum volume a child should be exposed to for no more than eight hours a day.

The list of toys is a good one, but the advice about safe noise levels for children is not. As best as I can tell, there are no evidence-based safe noise exposure levels for children. No researcher has ever exposed children to loud noise and measured what happens to their hearing. That study just wouldn’t be ethical.

85 dB is derived from the 85 dBA (A-weighted decibels) recommended occupational noise exposure level, first calculated by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health in 1972 and revised in 1998. At 85 dBA, 8% of exposed workers will develop noise-induced hearing loss. An industrial-strength noise exposure level that doesn’t even protect all workers from hearing loss is far too loud for a child’s delicate ears, which must last her an entire lifetime.

I wrote about safe noise exposure levels for the public in the American Journal of Public Health and the difference between an occupational exposure level and one for the public was discussed in a NIOSH Science Blog post.

The best advice for parents and grandparents when selecting toys for their little darlings? If a toy sounds too loud, it is too loud. Protect their hearing and don’t buy it for them this holiday season.

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.

Irish commuters to be serenaded by birdsong at train stations

Photo credit: William Murphy licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

The Irish Examiner reports that the Irish train system, Iarnród Éireann, will be playing birdsong at train stations between 8:00 a.m. and 9:00 a.m. until November 29. The birdsong  recordings were made in Dublin during the lockdown quiet, which allowed people to hear birds instead of vehicle and train noise.

The newspaper reports that “On Chorus is a public art project by sound artist Christopher Steenson which aims to highlight the dramatic reduction in noise pollution in Ireland during the first Covid-19 lockdown.“ Steenson’s art work asks listeners to reflect on the relative quiet during the lockdown, and also is a gesture of appreciation to essential workers, who in Ireland were the only ones permitted to travel during the lockdown.

The birdsongs will be played from 8:00 a.m. and 9:00 a.m. Irish time here for anyone who wants to listen. Irish Standard Time is Greenwich Mean Time 0. In the United States, Eastern Standard Time is GMT -5, Pacific Standard Time is GMT -8. A series of photographs taken by Steenson will also be available on the site.

What a wonderful idea: making art from the silver lining to the terror and tragedy of the COVID-19 pandemic, as Steenson does, reminding us of the beauty of nature amidst man’s horrors.

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 pandemic’s changing soundscape

Photo credit: Sanaan Mazhar from Pexels

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

Bridget Read, The Cut, identifies the past eight months of the COVID-19 pandemic in terms of the dimmed and heightened sounds in her environment. She associates the start of the pandemic with the silencing of many of the customary sounds in the environment, e.g. less horn honking, no din from restaurants, the absence of the voices and shouts of children as they leave school at three p.m. On the other hand, the increase in ambulance sirens reminded her, as it did many of us, of the people who had fallen victim to COVID-19. This thought also brought us greater fear.

April brought on the sounds of clapping in the evenings to say “Thank you” to our hospital workers, postal workers and grocery store employees. In late May, Read writes that there was the explosion of sounds that accompanied the marches and demonstrations after the death of George Floyd at the hands of police. July 4th is generally recognized with fireworks, but July 4, 2020, brought about many more localized fireworks that actually started before the 4th and went on for weeks afterwards. But as the summer ended and autumn approached, Read writes that there was a quieter period as if people were holding their breath as they reflected on a potential second wave of the pandemic.

November was ushered in by long lines of people waiting to vote and quietly reflecting on who would be elected the next president. Then, on a warm Saturday in early November, Read was overwhelmed by cheers, clapping, car honking, and loud talking from the streets. Everyone seemed to be making lots of noise. What brought about all these sounds–Donald Trump had lost the election.

More excitement followed for the next few days with people rushing out into the streets to celebrate the election of Joseph Biden. Music seemed to be everywhere as people danced in the streets. These sounds that accompanied joy may have been brief, according to Read, but the joy was real.

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.

The Soundproofist podcast looks at noise

Photo credit: Magda Ehlers from Pexels

David M. Sykes, Vice Chair, The Quiet Coaliton

If you’re not already familiar with the Soundproofist podcast series based in San Francisco, we recommend tuning in. This well-produced podcast is exclusively focused on sound and noise. In two episodes podcast host Cary interviews our Quiet Coalition co-founder and colleague, Antonelle Radicchi, PhD, at the Technical University of Berlin, on soundwalks and her Hush City app. Dr. Radicchi spent part of last year here in the U.S., working with noise researchers at New York University. Her stay here culminated with her organizing a fascinating, day-long workshop at New York University on noise and the city.

“The Soundproofist” also recently interviewed our colleague Dr. Arline Bronzaft.

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.

Queens Community Board targets noisy car racing

Photo credit: mike noga from Pexels

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

The pandemic has brought about a changed soundscape; in some cases resulting in less noise impacting on residents and in other cases more noise. In Astoria, Queens, car stunts and car racing have become the new normal, according to Queens Community Board 52 member Lisa Rozner, and so has the overwhelming noise accompanying these stunts and races. To the delight of residents impacted by such noises, Rozner’s complaint led one parking lot’s owner to respond by putting up “no loitering” signs in the lot. The residents then reported “quiet for the first time in months.”

But other Queens neighborhoods are still being subjected to the loud noises of these raceway meetups. The racers have mapped out their paths along Queens streets and the residents are not only subjected to noise but to driving that in one case resulted in a vehicle slamming into a property. One resident said that these drivers are not fearful of being caught because police officers have not been attending to this problem. The NYPD in the community acknowledged awareness of the situation.

In response to community complaints, Councilman Jimmy van Bramer is working with the city’s Department of Transportation about changes to the roadways which could include installing “speed cushions” and encouraging slower speeds.

As I have written in an earlier blog, residents in Manhattan and Westchester have also been complaining about these loud, intrusive car races and that legislation to restrict this behavior has been introduced at the state level. Unfortunately, there has been no significant movement regarding this legislation. I can only urge city and state legislators to pay greater attention to this activity and recognize that noise is hazardous to mental and physical health and well-being.

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.

In search of the world’s most interesting sounds

Photo credit: fauxels from Pexels

David M. Sykes, Vice Chair, The Quiet Coaliton

Sonic Wonderland: A Scientific Odyssey of Sound” is a wonderful book by the UK sound researcher, Trevor Cox, about interesting, intriguing sounds he’s gathered around the world. To get a taste of the book and this researcher’s interests, you can listen to Twenty Thousand Hertz’s podcast about the book that includes sound samples from some of the author’s worldwide research adventures or watch Cox’s lecture at the University of Salford.

You may also enjoy some of the other episodes Dallas Taylor’s Twenty Thousand Hertz podcast. Taylor is a sound artist whose aim is to deliver “[t]he stories behind the world’s most recognizable and interesting sounds.” His podcasts are well worth a listen.

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.

The Freakonomics podcast hones in on noise

Photo of Stephen Dubner by Audrey S. Bernstein, licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

David M. Sykes, Vice Chair, The Quiet Coaliton

This new segment of the popular podcast “Freakonomics” hosted by Stephen Dubner was released on November 11. It features The Quiet Coalition’s own Dr. Arline Bronzaft as well as other researchers, including economist Dr. Josh Dean at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, behavioral ecologist Peter Tyack at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, Pawel and Margaret Jastreboff, emeritus medical researchers at Emory University, and Dr. Mack Hagood at Miami University in Ohio.

Dubner, co-author of the best-selling book “Freakonomics,” always focuses on fascinating anomalies, i.e., the unexpected impacts of human activities. In this episode he focuses on noise as what economists call an “externality”—a noxious byproduct that pollutes the environment for others but for which no one is held responsible.

Dubner interviews Dr. Bronzaft about her justly-famous work on the effects of train noise on kids’ performance in a New York City school. He interviews Dr. Tyack about his work with whales, whose lives—indeed their very survival—is impacted by the environmental externality of human-produced noise from underwater oil exploration, sonar, and ships’ engines.

Dubner then focuses on Dr. Dean’s work at the University of Chicago on the impacts of noise on human productivity, a little explored subject owing to the lack of official government interest in noise research in the U.S.

Take a listen.  This podcast is a fascinating hour-long program that does a wonderful job of exploring current research on noise!

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.

The importance of quiet in times of stress

Photo credit: Reynaldo #brigworkz Brigantty from Pexels

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

In previous posts, I have cited studies on how human-made sounds and noises in our oceans adversely impacted the health and welfare of whales and other ocean species and how a quieter ocean put less stress on its inhabitants. Sabrina Imbler, writing for the New York Times, describes the natural sounds of the ocean’s inhabitants so that we can have a better “understanding of healthy remote ecosystems.” The instruments now used by acousticians allow them to register the sounds that “lurk thousands of feet below the surface.” The acousticians, as Dr. Tzu-Hao Lin discusses in this article, are not only interested in the sounds of sea creatures but also the “ambient hum of the deep sea.”

The recordings of the soundscapes obtained by the researchers will provide information about smaller “deep sea noisemakers” that up to now we have known little about. Dr. Lin wants to make these recordings available online so that more researchers can involve themselves in the research which has drawn so much of his attention. However, Dr. Lin expresses concern that deep-sea mining interests might disrupt larval settlement of certain sea creatures and disrupt the lives of these creatures for many years to come.

Besides the knowledge provided by Dr. Lin and his associates about the ecosystems of these interesting sea creatures, this research also makes us more aware of the fact that humans share the land and the sea with many other species and that all of the species are entitled to healthy ecosystems.

Like the sea creatures in Dr. Lin’s studies, humans are very much affected by their surroundings as well and this is underscored in a second article in the New York Times by Tara Parker-Pope. The 2020 election, as well as the COVID pandemic, have brought much stress into the lives of millions of Americans and Parker-Pope writes about the advice given by neurologists, psychologists, and mediation experts to lessen our anxiety. It came as no surprise to me that she recommended the importance of quiet in soothing our anxiety and enhancing our mental health.

Parker-Pope suggests walking on “quiet, tree-lined paths” and connecting with nature. Silencity readers know how much attention has been paid to soundwalks and their impact on our well-being. I, a Manhattan resident, am fortunate enough to live near a river and a park and can attest that my morning walks along the river and the green park have most certainly provided the comfort I yearn for during this difficult time. Yet, I still long for a smooth electoral process as we move forward and a successful development of a coronavirus vaccine to lessen my stress.

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.

A new sound control product for offices: Soundsticks

Photo credit: Soundsticks by Offecct

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

Casja Carlson, writing for online architecture and design magazine, Dezeen, tells us about designer Andrea Ruggiero’s noise-reducing Soundsticks, which she says are a “free-standing alternative to acoustic panels, made from leftover materials for Swedish furniture manufacturer Offecct.” Carlson says that this new product has been lab-tested, but I couldn’t find any lab reports to verify the claims about reducing office noise. Nonetheless, it’s fascinating to see European designers actually tackling the office noise problem—it’s considered an important problem in the EU.

Basically, the most important way to reduce office noise is to add absorptive surface materials, starting with the ceiling. Yes, the ceiling is the most important surface, not the floor. But dividers—including acoustical curtains—can play an important role too.

What most architects and interior designers do not know is that it’s quite easy to calculate how much sound absorptive material to add, and where to add it. But they might need to hire an acoustics engineer to run those calculations for them. It’s definitely not a guessing game—it’s completely predictable. So a designer can actually consider a wide range of solutions that are available now, including Soundsticks, to get to a level of acoustical comfort that is suitable to the kind of work being done in an office space.

My point is this: There’s a growing range of options available to designers to achieve acoustical comfort, so there’s no excuse anymore for continuing to ignore the problem of noise in open offices. It’s not a mystery, it can be fixed. And people are more productive and happier in spaces where acoustical comfort has been consciously designed in.

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.