Author Archive: GMB

Deer change nature’s soundscape, just like humans do

Photo credit: Steve from Pexels

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

Most of us think of deer as very quiet. But this NPR article on a study published on the science research site Plos One describes how the eating habits of a herd of deer change the soundscape of an area in ways that affect other creatures’ habitats

According to Megan Gall, a researcher at Vassar College, deer accomplish this by (quietly) eating the underbrush that provides “acoustical privacy” for song birds and other creatures that inhabit a forested area.

So humans aren’t the only ones transforming the landscape!

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.

Suspicion confirmed: drones are “a noisy nuisance”

Photo credit: Pok Rie

We wrote back in January about a drone trial by Wing, a subsidiary of Alphabet, Google’s parent company, in rural Australia wasn’t going quite the way Wing might have hoped. Long and short, the drones’ noise was so irritating that dog owners tried to avoid areas where they passed, people stopped using their yards, and the noise was triggering PTSD for some military veterans. Ouch!

Well, in response to the drone trial and the complaints it generated, an inquiry was formed.  And Wing can’t be happy with the submissions, which conclude that:

Household delivery drones are an invasive, under-regulated technology whose potential benefits to the ACT would not outweigh the disturbance to the local community and environment.

According to one of the 39 submissions, “the service had created angst in the community, exposed a lack of regulation of the evolving technology and caused disturbances to residents and local wildlife.” Additional submissions noted the loss of wildlife and birds in the area during the trial, while others raised concerns about “an invasion of privacy,” the “commercialisation of airspace” and “limited public information on the approval and regulation of the Google-backed company’s trial.”

A couple of positive submissions were made, including one which suggested drone delivery was an “environmentally friendly option,” and another from Wing’s consultant, AlphaBeta, which asserted that “delivery drones could have wide-reaching benefits for local businesses, consumers and the environment.”

But in the end, the majority of people responding to the inquiry expressed a negative view of the trial and “strong opposition to the service’s expansion.”

One thing we rarely see addressed in these drone delivery stories is this: what compelling need does drone delivery serve? All we see are fatter coffers for the Googles and Amazons of the world at the expense of consumers addicted to impulse buying.

 

First autism-certified water park opens

Photo credit: simon17964 licensed under CC BY 2.0

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

We’ve reported on shopping centers and markets that host special quiet days where they turn down the noise so that people with autism can shop without pain or distress. The UK seemed to do this first and now we’re beginning to hear about places in the U.S. that are following suit. None too soon for people with autism, who can be especially susceptible to noise, and their families.

Now we learn about a Florida water park, Aquatica Orlando, owned by SeaWorld, a company with a reputation in need of repair, that is making special arrangements for people with autism and their families.

This is pretty exciting! We hope if any reading this visits this water park, you’ll send us some notes about your experience there. We heartily encourage other entertainment venues to pay attention to this!

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.

Noisy restaurants are a problem in Seattle

Photo credit: Joe Mabel licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This article by Jill Lightner, The Seattle Times, discusses noisy restaurants in the Seattle area. Lightner reports that indeed restaurants have gotten louder, and discusses some of the reasons why. She also reports that when people contact her, their most common request isn’t for a good restaurant, or an exciting new one, but for a quiet one.

This isn’t a new complaint. In the last few years, Zagat surveys document restaurant noise as the first or second most common complaint, alternating with poor service depending on the city and the year.

If the markets don’t provide what people really want, that’s an example of what the economists call market failure. Government intervention by laws and regulations is necessary.

To those of us old enough to remember when smoking was allowed in restaurants, the issue of restaurant noise is akin to smoke-filled bars and restaurants. In fact, people have stated, “noise is the new secondhand smoke.”

In those ancient days, most people wanted smoke-free restaurants, but the tobacco lobby falsely pushed claims of smoking as a personal liberty issue, and those who complained were viewed as selfish, neurotic, or un-American. Finally, a combination of continued public pressure and the EPA determination that secondhand smoke was a Class A carcinogen, with no safe lower level of exposure, did lead to laws and regulations banning smoking indoors. We all live more comfortable and healthier lives as a result.

Similarly, noisy restaurants are an example of market failure.

Lightner wrongly states in her article that auditory damage begins after two hours exposure to 90 decibel (dB) sound. But, in fact, the only safe noise exposure level to prevent hearing loss is 70 dB time-weighted average for a day, and it’s mathematically impossible to achieve that exposure level after two hours at 90 dB. As this article notes, most American adults get exposed to enough noise in everyday life to cause hearing loss. The article adds that the auditory injury threshold is 75 to 78 A-weighted decibels.

You don’t need expensive equipment or even a sound meter app on your smartphone to measure this. If you can’t carry on a conversation without straining to speak or to be heard, the ambient sound is above 75 dBA and your hearing is at risk.

Quieter restaurants aren’t just a matter of being able to converse with your dining companions.  They are an issue of auditory health.  Ask your elected officials at the local, state, and national level to enact legislation to require quieter restaurants.

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.

Yesterday was World Hearing Day

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

The World Health Organization declared March 3, 2019, as World Hearing Day.

Each year the WHO selects a theme for its observation of this day. This year’s theme is early detection of hearing loss, and the WHO will release an online hearing test so you can screen your hearing.

It’s important to know if you have hearing loss, but it’s more important to prevent noise-induced hearing loss.

So remember: If something sounds too loud, it IS too loud! Avoid loud noise when you can, and when you can’t, wear hearing protection.

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.

What is a safe noise exposure level for the public?

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

What is a safe noise exposure level for the public?

That seems like an easy question, but the answer wasn’t obvious in 2014 when I became a noise activist, trying to make the world a quieter place. My interest was in preventing auditory disorders. (I’ve since learned that noise has non-auditory health effects, too, at lower noise levels, but my focus always is on auditory health.)

The internet didn’t help much. Most links found used the 85 decibel (dB) standard, because the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders stated, and still states, that “[l]ong or repeated exposure to sound at or above 85 decibels can cause hearing loss.” This didn’t seem right to me, because I have hyperacusis and sound levels much over 75 dB hurt my ears.

It took me a year to learn that the 85 dB standard comes from the NIOSH noise criteria (pdf) and isn’t a safe noise level for the public, and not for workers, either.

Now, when one searches for “safe noise level” or “safe noise level for the public,” the overwhelming majority of links cite my several publications on this topic. As I have written, the only evidence-based safe noise exposure level to prevent hearing loss is a time-weighted average of 70 dB for 24 hours, but for a variety of reasons the real safe exposure level has to be lower.

The 85 dB standard lives on, zombie-like, refusing to die, but at least accurate information about the safe noise level to prevent hearing loss is now widely accessible.

I hope accurate information about safe noise levels will empower the public to demand quiet, before we all lose our hearing.

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.

New NYC bill targets siren noise

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

A new bill introduced in New York City Council would require sirens to adopt the European two-toned model. City Council member Helen Rosenthal, who introduced the bill with fellow council member Carlina Rivera, said that she was “inspired to take action” after hearing feedback from Mt. Sinai Hospital’s trial of the European siren. According to Joseph Davis, the senior director of Mount Sinai’s emergency medical services, Mt. Sinai trialed the European siren after receiving complaints about the siren they had been using. The fix was always available, Davis said, as the ambulances had switches that allowed the hospital to use a variety of tones.

People who live in the neighborhoods served by Mt. Sinai’s ambulances could hear the difference. Said Roberta Semer, the chair of the Upper West Side’s community advisory board, the new siren was “better than it was.” Beforehand, she added, people were losing sleep because of the loud, shrill sirens.

Loud sirens can do more damage than just interrupting sleep (which is bad for health on its own). Richard Neitzel, a professor of environmental health sciences at the University of Michigan, notes that loud sirens can have “serious health effects,” adding that “[a] build up of unpredictable and uncontrollable noises a person can lead to stress, anxiety and even cardiovascular disease.”

So kudos to council members Rosenthal and Rivera.  We hope they succeed in getting this bill passed.

On being silent in a noisy world

Photo credit: Robert Aakerman

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

I thought that Gal Beckerman’s essay, “The Case for Covering Your Ears in Noisy Times,” would be about the medical and scientific evidence for using hearing protection devices to prevent noise-induced hearing loss. But fortunately I was wrong. The wonderful essay and book review in the New York Times discusses the importance of being silent and of hearing silence in a noisy world.

Not speaking is part of many meditative religious and philosophical traditions, as is enforced silence.

But me? I’m not so extreme.  All I want is a little more quiet!

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.

Trump administration, oil companies threaten marine wildlife

Photo credit: Dr. Louis M. Herman for NOAA licensed under CC BY 2.0

Sarah Sloat, Inverse.com, writes about conservation activists fighting back against the Trump administration’s National Marine Fisheries Service “for issuing authorizations to five different companies allowing for ‘incidental harassment‘” of marine mammals as they survey the ocean floor in search of oil and gas off of the U.S.’s Atlantic coast. The authorizations are tied to five-year leases to explore and exploit the “potential 46 billion barrels of oil.”

So what will these companies do with the authorizations? They will first use seismic guns to search for the oil, and it’s the seismic guns that pose a real threat to marine wildlife.  Writes Sloat:

Seismic airguns are shot in pulses separated by 15 seconds: They can reach 260 decibels, but the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management prefers airguns reach 160 decibels, which is as loud as a jet taking off, and enough noise to rupture a human eardrum. Boats tow 12 to 48 airguns at a time, and their sonic bangs can be heard 2,500 miles away from the survey vessels. Here’s what seismic airguns sound like. [CAUTION: Lower your speaker volume before clicking.]

And Sloat cites Lindy Weilgart, Ph.D., a specialist in underwater noise pollution, who says there’s “’no longer any scientifically valid doubt’ that seismic airgun surveys pose a danger to marine life.” Weilgart added that the negative impacts of noise have been documented “in about 130 marine species, ranging from invertebrates to fish to whales.”

Click the first link to read the full story. It’s well worth your time, if for nothing else, to read about the bipartisan effort in congress to stop the seismic guns and impose a 10-year moratorium on offshore oil and gas drilling.

A cheaper way to buy hearing aids exists

Photo credit: rawpixel.com from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This article by Eric Ravenscraft, the New York Times, discusses how tech companies are offering cheaper hearing aids online. For those with hearing loss, this may be great news.

But for those without hearing loss yet, there is a simpler and cheaper solution. Namely, it’s far better to protect your hearing now, because even the best hearing aid isn’t a  replacement for preserved natural hearing.

Noise-induced hearing loss accounts for a lot of hearing loss in the U.S., and it is entirely avoidable.

So remember, if something sounds too loud, it is too loud. If you want to preserve your natural hearing, leave the noisy environment, insert ear plugs, or you’ll need hearing aids later.

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.