Author Archive: GMB

Noise as a weapon, the bad neighbor edition

What happens when an entitled someone moves to the countryside next to a neighbor who has chickens? This: Skynews reports that a neighbor dispute over a noisy ‘foreign’ cockerel led Millionaire ‘harassed lesbian neighbours by blaring ‘When a Man Loves a Woman’ when their new cockerel crowed.’

If you move to the country, you will hear chickens and roosters and other livestock. What you don’t expect to hear is a cranked up sound system being blasted by a monied asshole. Fortunately the story has a happy ending, because in the UK they take this sort of anti-social behavior very seriously. While the miscreant was not found guilty of harassment, he is barred from any contact with the two women, directly or indirectly, for two years. Added the judge, “[y]ou have to live as neighbours, you need to behave and stop being stupid or petulant.” Hear, hear!

 

What is a normal noise level for humans?

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

What is normal noise for humans? That probably depends on whether you are asking about modern life or about our pastoral past life. In the 1960s, researchers measured excellent hearing and very low ambient noise levels in the nomadic Mabaan population in the southern Sudan and the Kalahari Bushmen in South Africa. But modern life is much noisier.

On an alpine hike in the Austrian Tirol in September, I strolled through the meadow behind me in the photo. I pulled out my iPhone 6 and measured the sound with the Faber Sound Meter 4 app, which has been shown to be almost as accurate as a certified sound meter. The reading was in the low 40-decibel range. That noise came from the wind, distant road traffic noise, and an occasional distant airplane.

This is what humans, including those living in agrarian regions until agriculture was mechanized in the twentieth century, experienced. No motorcycle exhausts, no diesel engines, no helicopters. And restaurants didn’t have amplified music, either.

Humans didn’t evolve in noise. We evolved in quiet. We don’t have protective mechanisms against chronic loud noise exposure. And in an answer to the question at the top of this piece, the normal noise level for humans is quiet.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He serves on the board of the American Tinnitus Association, is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’s Health Advisory Council, and 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.

Sometimes it pays to be a Luddite

Photo credit: Nick Amoscato licensed under CC BY 2.0

And Nicole Kobie, New Scientist, tells us why in her article on how “Siri and Alexa can be turned against you by ultrasound whispers.” Kobie tells us that hackers have successfully “hijacked” voice assistants by “using sounds above the range of human hearing.” Ok, so someone can annoy you by hijacking your voice assistant and have it play death metal rock without end. Not fun, but no big deal, right? Wrong. For reasons we cannot understand, some people apparently connect their voice assistants to sensitive services, like their smart thermostats or even their internet bank (what??). Suddenly someone breaching Alexa or Siri via secret voice commands is no laughing matter.

So what can we do? We at Silencity suggest you not use Alexa or Siri or whatever to manage your household or your bank account. And really, is it necessary? Is it too much of a bother to program a thermostat or type your password at your banking site rather than imploring a hunk of metal and motherboards to do it for you?

Tavish Vaidya, a PhD candidate at Georgetown University studying computer security, disagrees, saying that “[w]e should focus on protecting against unauthorised commands rather than limiting what assistants can do.”

Our response is this: just because a robot can do a task doesn’t mean that it should. And since there will always be people who are looking for vulnerabilities to exploit, maybe we should continue to master our thermostats and manage our finances the (somewhat) old-fashioned way. Adding that security breach aside, we aren’t sure if we’re more concerned about the future skills our robot assistants will acquire or the current skills that humans are losing.

Link via Institute of Acoustics UK.

Football stadium noise still here for another season

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

It’s been years since I’ve been to a college football game. The last games I attended were at the Los Angeles Coliseum, one of the quieter big-school stadiums, during the Pete Carroll era at USC. But I have read about and written a number of stories on stadium noise. Here is the latest story about the stadium noise at the University of Oregon’s Autzen Stadium.

This article, like every other article about stadium noise, says the same things: the noise is distracting so the coaching staff makes the team practice with loud music being blasted at them. Why is it understood that the coach should “condition” his team rather than demand that the noise level be controlled? Simply put, crowd noise shouldn’t be a factor in a football game. What Coach Riley (and everyone else attending the game) doesn’t know is that if it’s loud enough to impact play on the field, it’s loud enough to cause auditory damage.

The Quiet Coalition is still waiting for the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and its member colleges and universities–many of which have medical schools, schools of public health, audiology programs, or all three–to do something to protect the hearing of their student athletes and those attending the games. At least this University of Tennessee audiology professor understands the problem, which is why she recommends that students use earplugs when they attend UT football games. Kudos Dr. Patti Johnstone! But rather than having students block the noise, why not demand that the university control the noise in the first instance?

And as this article shows, stadium noise is a factor in professional games, too. In fact, stadium noise probably contributed to the Los Angeles Chargers recent loss in Denver.

Should football games be decided on the field, or by the home crowd purposefully making too much noise for the visiting team to hear the play being called? Whatever happened to good sportsmanship?

Sadly, it appears the NCAA, professional football teams, and stadium owners won’t address noise until and unless someone sues them because they developed sudden hearing loss or tinnitus after attending a game. Let’s hope that happens before many players and fans suffer significant hearing loss or develop tinnitus.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He serves on the board of the American Tinnitus Association, is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’s Health Advisory Council, and 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.

Here’s the best mass-media article on noise-induced hearing loss

Photo credit: rainy city licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

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

Despite impacting 48 million Americans, noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) has languished in the shadows for decades. But that’s changing! Check out the 17-page beautifully illustrated article in the September issue of Real Simple magazine*, a Time/Life publication with 8.5 million readers nationwide (that’s eight times larger than the New York Times readership of 1.1 million).

If you’ve been looking for a “quick overview” you can hand to friends and family who fail to understand America’s unrecognized problem with hearing loss—whether it’s your kids’ and their constant earbud (ab)use, friends who can’t understand conversations when you’re dining out, or an elderly relative who’s stopped paying attention and is increasingly depressed—this article should get the conversation started. And if they ask “what else can I read about this?” Tell them to look at this issue of Scientific American, new information from the Centers for Disease Control, and this one-page Fact Sheet on the health effects of noise that The Quiet Coalition (TQC) published in 2016.

It’s clear that NIHL is, as TQC’s chair, Daniel Fink, MD, says, “a growing problem in America nearing epidemic proportions.” But there’s a lot of work to do to get people (including the nation’s leaders) to understand that this is a legitimate public health problem. Frankly, the European Union and Asia are far ahead of us on this issue.

In the meantime, take heart: major media are beginning to notice! Congratulations to the editor of Real Simple for recognizing this growing health crisis. We are extremely grateful that her magazine cited three of TQC’s Steering Committee experts in this piece–Rick Neitzel, PhD, Arline Bronzaft, PhD, and Bradley Vite–and also
described two practical success stories. We hope Real Simple will continue to cover this issue and give it the attention it deserves.

We have only one complaint: the magazine erroneously states that 85 dB is the threshold of hearing damage. In fact, research has shown that permanent hearing damage starts at noise levels as low as 75 dB; furthermore, non-audiological health effects, such as cardiovascular effects, can be caused by noises as low as 55 dB.

*NOTE: the best place to find Real Simple magazine may be at the checkout counter at Whole Foods or a local book store. Or you can get it here.

Originally posted at The Quiet Coalition.

In addition to serving as vice chair of the The Quiet Coalition, David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: The Acoustics Research Council, American National Standards Institute Committee S12, Workgroup 44, The Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Working Group—a partner of the American Hospital Association. He is the lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0 (2012, Springer-Verlag), a contributor to the National Academy of Engineering report “Technology for a Quieter America,” and to the US-GSA guidance “Sound Matters”, and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics (LARA) at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. He recently retired from the board of directors of the American Tinnitus Association. A graduate of the University of California/Berkeley with graduate degrees from Cornell University, he is a frequent organizer of and speaker at professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia, and the Middle East.

Protecting your teenager from noise-induced hearing loss

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This piece suggests that you may decrease noise-induced hearing loss in your teenager by limiting personal music player listening to 60% of maximum volume for 60 minutes. I suppose anything is better than nothing, but I’m not sure how one precisely measures 60% of a personal music player’s volume. And if the one-hour limit is repeated several times a day–or the teen doesn’t follow this silly parental rule–I can guarantee that this approach won’t work.

My children are more than a decade past their teens now, so personal music players just weren’t an issue when they were younger. And I’m not sure how I would address the subject, either, but one approach might be to take them to a hearing aid store, or point out older people wearing hearing aids (in this case, one of them happens to be Grandpa) and then to tell them that a hearing aid is in their future if they don’t turn down the volume.

It’s hard for a parent to keep teenagers from doing unsafe or unhealthy things which may have lifelong consequences. The teen brain just isn’t wired that way. And saying to a teen that occasional exposure to loud noise damaging hearing is ok is just like telling him or her that occasional unprotected sex, heroin use, or driving without wearing a seatbelt is okay too, when, obviously, they are not.

The real responsibility for protecting our young falls to governments. We don’t allow people under 18 to smoke. We set an age at which a teenager can get a license to drive a car. They can’t drink alcohol until 21. And maybe they shouldn’t be listening to personal music players until age 15 or 18 as well. At a minimum, the Consumer Product Safety Commission should require warning labels to be placed on personal music players, headphones, and earbuds:

WARNING: USE OF THIS PRODUCT CAN CAUSE HEARING LOSS

Yes, smokers ignore warning labels, but the smoking rate among men has fallen from about 50% in the 1950s to near 20% today. And at least with smoking the government has tried to do something to protect Americans’ health. The federal government should target the causes of hearing damage now, or risk almost an entire generation marked by hearing loss.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He serves on the board of the American Tinnitus Association, is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’s Health Advisory Council, and 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.

Children need quiet

Jennifer King Lindley, Real Simple, has written a fascinating article about the importance of quiet time for children entitled, “The One Thing Your Kid Needs—and Isn’t Getting.” Lindley begins her piece with an interview of Arline Bronzaft, PhD, noted noise activist and co-founder of The Quiet Coalition, whose landmark research “found that the reading scores of elementary students in classrooms located next to train tracks lagged a full year behind their peers in quieter classrooms on the other side of the building.” Dr. Bronzaft states that not only does noise interfere with learning, it causes a great deal of stress that leads to learned helplessness, “the feeling that you just have to sit there and take it,” which then causes still more stress.

But noise doesn’t just interfere with formal education, as Lindley tells us that “even moderate background noise can interfere with the ability of babies to learn new words.”

So what can you do to protect your children? Lindley offers specific advice for young children and teens, but both sets of advice basically distill down to two important elements: reducing background noise and distracting devices and learning to embrace quiet time.

Lindley’s article is an interesting read and well worth your time. Click the link above to read it in full.

 

 

How to motivate millennials to protect their hearing at work

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

The Quiet Coalition doesn’t spend much time worrying about occupational noise because our focus is on protecting the general public from noise. Workers’ ears are protected by regulations drafted and enforced by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and similar state agencies. Moreover, workers generally have health care for occupational injuries, and are compensated for work-related permanent damage (including hearing loss) by state-administered workers compensation systems. If occupational hearing loss is established, hearing aids may be provided for those with occupational hearing loss.

From time to time we will agree with the many observers who think that the occupational noise exposure limit–90 A-weighted decibels for 40 hours a week, 240 days a year, for 40 years, causing excess hearing loss in 25% of exposed workers–is set too high, but at least workers have that meager protection. There are no such protections for the public, and no compensation for hearing loss, either.

That said, we’re making an exception to share with you this well-written article in Occupational Health & Safety Magazine. It’s focused on preventing hearing loss in younger workers, but it provides good information for everyone who is concerned about their hearing.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He serves on the board of the American Tinnitus Association, is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’s Health Advisory Council, and 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.

New federal law deregulates and disrupts hearing aid market

Photo of Here One wireless smart earbuds courtesy of Doppler Labs

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

Who says this Congress can’t get anything done? Last week huge news appeared for 48 million Americans with hearing disorders, but the media barely noticed::

A new bipartisan law, the “Over-the-Counter Hearing Aid Act of 2017,” will deregulate the hearing aid market, dramatically lowering costs for consumers and releasing a surge of new technologies that will be sold over the counter, without a prescription. Yes, there will be losers as well as winners, but that’s the nature of change….

The new law responds to two federally sponsored reports issued last year (under the Obama Administration). The first report came from the President’s Council of Advisers on Science and Technology. The second was from the National Academy of Medicine. Passed the day before Congress adjourned, the new law creates opportunities for new technology innovators, eliminates the need to get a prescription, and dramatically cuts the cost by allowing substitutes, called “hearables” and “PSAPs” (Personal Sound Amplification Products), to be sold “over the counter.” The goal? a more efficient market that meets the needs of consumers.

As Noah Kraft, co-founder and CEO of Doppler Labs said, “[t]his industry is going to be completely disrupted. The question is by who?”

We have reported about this on several occasions over the past year, but the market disruption is getting underway much sooner that we anticipated thanks to quick action in the House of Representatives and the Senate, action that has emboldened nearly two dozen new entrants to enter the market ahead of schedule.

Who gains? 48 million Americans with incurable noise-induced hearing loss and millions more who are at risk from noise exposure. Who loses? The Big Six  who have dominated the hearing aid market for decades along with approximately 14,000 audiologists, the medical specialists whose services were previously required by the FDA to dispense and “fit” hearing aids to patients. The new Warren-Grassley OTC Act stipulates that the FDA must create a new category for “over-the-counter” hearing assistive devices and let them be sold freely, without intervention.

It’s no secret that the current Congress and the White House crave deregulation. Is deregulation potentially dangerous? Sure, but this is one instance where consumers will clearly benefit. Until now, hearing aids could cost you between $2,500 and $5,000 per ear, so $5,000 to $10,000 total. No wonder so few people have hearing aids—they weren’t covered by insurance or Medicare/Medicaid, so who could afford them? But now prices will drop to 1/10th of that—about $300 to $350 a pair–so lack of insurance coverage is less of a barrier.

We say thanks to the laudable bi-partisan cooperation between Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) for getting this done at a time when Washington seems mired in dysfunction.

What’s the downside of this deregulatory innovation? There are many unknowns, so caveat emptor (buyer beware) and stay tuned…. But for now, it’s “Hip Hip Hooray”—or should we say, “Hear Here”!

P.S.: Our chair, Daniel Fink, MD, cautions that the real solution to the epidemic of hearing disorders in America is NOT more affordable hearing aids, but rather, a badly needed and long-awaited public health effort to prevent hearing loss—and we wholeheartedly agree with him. Prevention can be encouraged by three means:

  1. Educating people about the dangers of prolonged exposure to noise above 70 dB (permanent hearing damage occurs at levels much lower than currently recognized);
  2. Resurrecting federal efforts to reduce noise (as is being done in Europe and Asia already, where noise is recognized as a public health hazard) from obvious sources like planes, trains, trucks, consumer appliances, construction and outdoor maintenance equipment, etc.; and
  3. Educating companies in industries like aircraft manufacturing, car and truck manufacturing, mining, construction, HVAC, and appliance manufacturing, etc. that noise is harmful to public health.

Prevention can be done: currently, the European Union regulates noise emissions from 50 classes of products. According to Dr. Fink, “a hearable or PSAP is a poor substitute for well-preserved normal hearing; it’s far better to avoid loud noise or to wear earplugs!”

In addition to serving as vice chair of the The Quiet Coalition, David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: The Acoustics Research Council, American National Standards Institute Committee S12, Workgroup 44, The Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Working Group—a partner of the American Hospital Association. He is the lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0 (2012, Springer-Verlag), a contributor to the National Academy of Engineering report “Technology for a Quieter America,” and to the US-GSA guidance “Sound Matters”, and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics (LARA) at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. He recently retired from the board of directors of the American Tinnitus Association. A graduate of the University of California/Berkeley with graduate degrees from Cornell University, he is a frequent organizer of and speaker at professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia, and the Middle East.

New York City construction noise complaints soar

Photo credit: G.M. Briggs

The NY Daily News reports that “[b]ooming construction and lax efforts by city agencies to control it have led to soaring noise complaints in the five boroughs.” Once again New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli is the source of this information, as his office audited construction noise complaints that were called into the 311 system and found that the number of complaints soared from “14,259 in 2010 to 37,806 in 2015, with the vast majority involving work taking place late at night or early in the morning.”

The Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and Department of Buildings (DOB) are primarily responsible for dealing with construction noise complaints. The “DEP is responsible for responding to 311 construction noise complaints,” and the “DOB reviews and approves building plans; conducts building inspections; and issues permits, including those for after-hours work.” DiNapoli’s auditors “selected a sample of noise complaints for 50 incident addresses….including the 30 locations with the highest number of construction noise complaints in the city (29 of these locations were in Manhattan) and an additional five locations with the most complaints in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island.”

Incredibly, the inspectors found there was “no excessive noise” for 211 of the 250 complaints, “and only three complaints resulted in violations being issued by DEP.”  Actually, it’s not so incredible, as the Comptroller’s Office notes that the “inspectors did not visit the locations until an average of five days after the noise was reported, and there were “no reports of meter readings performed at the sites to determine if noise levels were excessive.” In addition, “[w]hen making decisions to grant after hours work variances, DOB officials did not consider construction noise complaints made to 311, nor did they consider construction noise citations issued by DEP.” It’s not exactly surprising that noise complaints increased, given how few violations were issued.

As with his report about bars and nightclubs, DiNapoli made recommendations to address the increase in construction noise complaints. The DOB agreed to all three recommendations directed to them, while the DEP agreed to three out of six. Now we wait to see if it makes a difference.

Thanks to Jeanine Botta for the link to the Comptroller’s press release.