Author Archive: GMB

Can Acoustic metamaterials rescue your hearing?

Photo credit: Office of Naval Research licensed under CC BY 2.0

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

Boston University’s work on acoustic metamaterials is quite interesting, but it’s a long way from being available in stores if you’re concerned about hearing loss, as you should be.

Acoustic metamaterials are an exciting if little-known area of research and development that hold promise for much better, i.e., lighter, less bulky, ways to stop noise from destroying your hearing or disrupting your sleep or concentration.

The article caught my attention because I used to teach at BU, though I don’t know this research team. And I’ve also done some grant-funded work on other acoustic metamaterials in the research lab I co-founded at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. So I am very interested in this subject.

But I mainly want to say this: The most important work on noise control right now is going on at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, where leadership recognized two years ago that noise is, indeed, a serious public health hazard. That’s huge—because it brings noise out of the dark shadow it’s been hidden under at Environmental Protection Agency since 1981. The CDC’s recognition is what has triggered interest in research on a variety of solutions., and its interest should trigger funding for:

  1. Widespread work on reducing noise at the source (such as noise from airports, highways, railways, construction and \ maintenance equipment, household appliances, headphones, etc.), and
  2. Reducing noise at the receiver (such as noise-cancellation headphones or more effective, lighter, or less bulky ways to block sound from destroying your hearing).

We’ve already seen two pieces of national bi-partisan legislation pass without a fight: the 2017 bi-partisan Warren-Grassley OTC Hearing Aid Act, and the 2018 FAA Re-Authorization Act. And at the local level, a number of cities and towns have taken up the battle: Washington DC, New York City, Southampton, New York, S. Pasadena, and others.

In fact, it feels like the tide has turned on this issue after a 38-year hiatus and hearing loss is now beginning to be recognized as a serious public health hazard. But don’t wait for this BU group to commercialize their work on acoustic metamaterials because that could be decades away. Go and buy a good pair of ear plugs or a good pair of noise-cancelling headphones AND a good pair of over-the-ear “ear muffs” (they can be found at hunting or hardware stores). Then train your family members, even the youngest children, that hearing is precious and must be protected.

Sound is like the air you breathe: omnipresent, invisible, necessary, but also potentially hazardous. Nobody will protect you if you don’t protect yourself.

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.

Searching for quiet in New York City

(c) Hush City app 2017

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

In his search for quiet in New York City, John Surico, writing for CityLab, turned to Dr. Antonella Radicchi’s Hush City app in an attempt to find a slice of serenity in the din. Surico joined Dr. Radicchi in a soundwalk of lower Manhattan, and discussed her ressearch. She would like to expand “equitable access to natural urban sounds,” noting there is a difference “between the human sounds of urban living…and the mechanical din of development, which hops up the decibel scale quick.”

During Antonella’s stay while conducting research mapping quiet areas in New York City, we met a number of times and were in contact regularly. As a researcher on the adverse effects of loud sounds and noise on our health and someone who has written and appreciated the wonderful sounds of our city, I welcomed my time with Antonella and enjoyed my Soundwalk with her.

Antonella understands well the sounds of our city that make it “New York”, e.g sounds of Times Square, Macy’s parade, and roars of fans at ball parks. But she also wants us to be able to continue to listen to the sounds of birds, the laughter of children playing, the hum of conversation. With her Hush City app, Antonella spent time mapping out the quieter areas of New York City and stressing the need to protect these spaces, especially the many parks in our city which provide us with the requisite quiet and the opportunity to enjoy more natural sounds.

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.

 

Good advice about protecting your children’s hearing

Photo credit: bruce mars from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This piece from New Jersey radio station New Jersey 101.5 offers sound advice about protecting children’s hearing.

Parents should protect children’s ears from noise, just as they protect their skin from the sun. Sun causes sunburn, and over the years wrinkles, age spots, and skin cancers. Similarly, exposure to noise causes hearing loss, tinnitus, and hyperacusis. Both are hazardous environmental exposures to be avoided or certainly limited.

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.

Noise cameras to the rescue!

Photo credit: Albert Bridge licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

But, sadly, not in the U.S.  Motorbike Writer writes that Australia is monitoring the British development and deployment of a new noise camera that is intended to be used to “crack down on illegal vehicles.”  According to a UK.gov newstory, the new camera “will aim to detect illegal, excessively noisy vehicles, helping create quieter streets.”

Mercifully, this technology isn’t anticipated yesars from now. Rather, trials of the noise cameras will take place in “the coming months.”

The goal, of course, is to measure the sound level of passing cars, determine which are violating noise limitations, and, perhaps, deploy “automated number plate recognition to help enforce the law.”

No doubt there are those who will complain about the technology, but if it works it could help to address a common problem that police, to date, simply cannot or will not address. Importantly, the technology isn’t being deployed to harass motorcyclists and others who seemingly love loud vehicle noise.  The UK government makes it quite clear that it is testing this equipment to clamp down on noise pollution, which, notes Transport Secretary Chris Grayling, “makes the lives of people in communities across Britain an absolute misery and has very serious health impacts.”

We will be following this program and will keep you informed as to its progress.

Doctors with disabilities? Yes, we are people too

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This piece from NPR discusses how doctors and researchers with disabilities are changing medicine. When a problem is a secret, it is a source of shame and can’t be dealt with. If it is disclosed and discussed, however, it may still be a problem, but it can be dealt with and it is less of a source of shame.

When I spoke at the 2017 meeting of the Institute for Noise Control Engineering in Grand Rapids, Michigan, across the river from the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library, I noted that his wife Betty Ford was a pioneer in discussing two formerly kept secrets–that she had breast cancer and had developed an addiction to prescription drugs. She fortunately survived her breast cancer to live many years more, and successfully dealt with her addiction. I then noted that I would publicly disclose that I had two auditory disabilities, tinnitus and hyperacusis, both fortunately mild and not life-limiting, but disabilities nonetheless.

I have mild hearing loss, too, again fortunately not life-limiting except in terms of understanding speech in a noisy environment.  Prof. Margaret Wallhagen in San Francisco has written about the stigma of hearing loss. Hearing loss should be destigmatized.

More importantly, noise-induced hearing loss should be prevented.

So avoid noise or use hearing protection if you can’t avoid it, because noise-induced hearing loss is 100% preventable.

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.

Sound regulation of unnecessary noise

Once again another community has come to the conclusion that fireworks noise must be controlled to protect wildlife. This time enforcement has come after a horrific reaction to a New Year’s fireworks display. Namely, Devon council in the UK will enforce a noise limit on fireworks after a New Year’s display startled nearby birds resulting in death for hundreds of them.

As we reported before, quiet fireworks exist. It is simply irresponsible for communities to continue to torment animals because they want loud noise to accompany what is primarily a visual display.  Then again, considering the pollution fireworks cause, can we just move on to something else that isn’t as destructive?

How much time should you spend in nature each week?

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This article in the New York Times discusses time spent outdoors as something important to health. From a study done in the UK, researchers concluded that two hours a week was sufficient, with less time conveying little benefit but more time conveying no additional benefit in terms of health or perceptions of health.

Why is time in nature important? No one is sure. Green spaces especially seem to help. I think on important component of the nature experience is that nature is generally quiet, with few loud sound sources and trees and grass helping to absorb, rather than reflect, any loud sounds that might intrude.

Of course, that assumes one turns off one’s personal music player.

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.

Apple watch to add noise monitoring

Photo credit: Forth With Life licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Dr. Daniel Fink, Chair, The Quiet Coaltion

Apple has announced that it is adding a noise monitoring feature to the Apple watch. The new feature should be available in late 2019. Users will be able to set their own sound warning level (according to this French-language link), but the example used in the linked Mic article cites 90 decibels (dB) as the warning level.

That’s too loud.

The World Health Organization recommends a daily average noise exposure of only 70 decibels to prevent hearing loss. After only 30 minutes at 90 dB, one has reached that daily noise dose even if the other 23 1/2 hours have zero noise, which is impossible.

Most people don’t know that the auditory injury threshold, the threshold at which auditory damage begins, is only 75-78 A-weighted decibels* (dBA) for 8 hours, which mathematically is the same as 70 dB time-weighted average for 24 hours, or 85 dBA for only 1 hour. There is some evidence that auditory damage may begin at sounds as low as 55 dBA for 8 hours. The only evidence-based noise exposure level to prevent hearing loss is a time-weighted average of 70 decibels for 24 hours.

If you have an Apple watch and want to use the noise monitoring feature, we suggest setting the alarm level at 80 or at most 85 decibels.

But you don’t need an Apple watch or a sound level meter app on your smart phone to know if you’re being exposed to too much noise. If you have to strain to speak or be heard in a normal conversation at the usual 3-4 foot social distance, the ambient noise is above 75 dBA and your hearing is at risk.

Protect your ears now, or need hearing aids later.

*A-weighting adjusts sound measurements for 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.

NYC helicopter crash shows risks of Uber’s “urban air-taxi” fantasy

Photo credit: Beyond My Ken licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

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

Today, The New York Times reported on a helicopter crash atop a midtown Manhattan skyscraper that left one person dead. The copter exploded, presumably throwing debris onto the streets below, though there are no reports of injuries on the streets below. One hundred emergency workers were called out.

We’ve written about the enthusiastic visions promulgated by Uber, NASA and others, for vast fleets of small “inter-urban air taxis” that use vertical take-off and landing. My concern, of course, is the increase in noise implied—even if these “air taxis” are electrically propelled. But the accident reported today shows the significant risk of crashes and potentially lethal debris falling on people in the streets below.

Last October, the 36-member Congressional Quiet Skies Caucus celebrated a significant achievement: passage of the FAA Re-Authorization Act which included several important clauses concerning the national problem of aircraft/airport noise. The reason we wrote about the Uber/NASA’s “air taxi” fantasy was because we hoped this group of members of Congress would realize that the battle to reduce aircraft noise and other dangers has now expanded to include roof-top heliports in densely populated urban centers like Manhattan, from which this next generation of small, electric VTOL aircraft could be deployed sometime in the near future.

The Congressional Quiet Skies Caucus needs to get back to work on this problem before Uber’s fantasy becomes our reality!

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.

How to minimize your noise footprint

Photo credit: Cameron Casey from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

I hadn’t thought about how much noise I make–I’m pretty sure I don’t make much except occasional hammering and power tool use when doing yard and household maintenance–until I read this article by Paige Towers in The Guardian that introduces the concept of a person’s noise footprint.

We talk about our carbon footprint and what those concerned about climate change can do to try to reduce theirs, but we should think about how much noise we make, too. The amount of carbon dioxide and related substances each person produces from fossil fuel use affects the world, including humans and animals.  So does the amount of noise we each produce.

As Ms. Towers points out, some noise production is inevitable, but if we have a choice to use a quieter alternative, we should make that choice. And her call for noise activism is exactly what I’ve encouraged for years.  If we all do our part, the world will be a quieter, healthier place.

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.