Author Archive: GMB

Zillow tracks noisy cities and neighborhoods

Photo credit: Daniel X. O’Neil licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This report in Atlanta Agent magazine, directed at the real estate industry, looks at a report by Zillow, a real estate site, that identifies Atlanta’s noisiest neighborhoods.

I wondered if Zillow tracked noise for other cities, too. The answer is yes, Zillow has a report that looks at the noise level of over 900 cities nationwide.

The only problem is that Zillow’s method is to estimate the noise level based on the National Park Service noise maps. That is, Zillow doesn’t measure actual noise levels.

I would suggest that Zillow might want to use the Department of Commerce’s transportation noise maps instead, since transportation noise is a major problem in many parts of the country. Transportation noise includes road traffic noise, aircraft noise, and railroad noise. Zillow adds that a lot of urban noise also comes from ambulances for those living near hospitals, and from sports stadiums.

Real estate professionals advise prospective home buyers to check out their properties at various times of the day. A quiet residential street may become a busy commuter cut-through during the morning rush hour, for example, or the preferred way home for parents picking up children at the end of the school day.

Renting isn’t the same long-term commitment as buying, but renters may also want to check out noise levels before signing a lease.

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.

An introduction to acoustic ecology

Photo credit: USFWS Mountain-Prairie licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This article in Physics Today is a wonderful introduction to acoustic ecology, “a field that examines how animals, including humans, use information obtained from the environment in different aspects of their lives.”

Animals, including humans, evolved in a naturally quiet environment, and noise is harmful to them. The author of the article, Megan McKenna, an acoustic biologist at the Natural Sounds and Night Skies Division of the National Park Service in Colorado, writes “[a] common definition of noise is unwanted sounds that interfere with a signal of interest.”

That’s a good definition, but noise is actually harmful to animals, with that harm best studied in people. Like secondhand smoke, noise is both a nuisance and a health hazard, and there are nine evidence-based noise levels that affect human health and function.

I prefer the new definition of noise presented at the American Public Health Association meeting in November 2019 and at the Acoustical Society of America meeting in December 2019: noise is unwanted and/or harmful sound.

But whichever definition you use, we can all agree that preserving the natural acoustic environment is critical for animals and humans.

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.

San Franciscans press their congresswoman to arrest airport noise

Photo credit: Bill Abbott licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

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

Congresswoman Jackie Speier, who is featured in this Curbed article, is one of 16 members of California’s Congressional delegation who are actively involved in the 47-member Congressional Quiet Skies Caucus. Her San Francisco constituents have a strong chapter of the the Caucus’s regional support network, The National Quiet Skies Coalition, which has chapters in nearly two dozen states.

Last year, the 50 members of Congress who sit on the Congressional Quiet Skies Caucus thought they’d achieved meaningful change when they succeeded in getting specific noise-control requirements in the Federal Aviation Administration Reauuthorization Act of 2018, which was signed into law in October 2018. Sadly, the FAA doesn’t appear to be taking congress very seriously, as most communities near major U.S. airports have still not gotten any relief.

What’s insightful about the article above is that Congresswoman Speier is pressing for further changes—such as fines against airlines if they land planes during certain night-time hours. Few Americans know that there’s a global United Nations agency called the International Civil Aviation Organization, which is based in Montreal Canada. ICAO has regulatory authority over such matters as how much money can be levied as fines for noisy operation. This tactic used at the local level could help communities get the quieter conditions they yearn for, and the sleep they need.

If nothing else, fining airlines for noisy aircraft could stimulate those airlines to do what 50 airlines around the world have already done: purchase quieter aircraft–such as the 70% quieter Airbus A320neo when equipped with the American-made Pratt & Whitney “Geared Turbofan” engine.

We have no financial ties to airlines or aircraft manufacturers, but it seems essential to us for Americans to realize that quieter jet aircraft exist and are already flying safely around the world—but that only a couple of U.S. airlines have bought them. Why? Don’t we deserve quieter airports here in America too? Why do America’s airlines continue to buy noisy aircraft when quieter and more fuel-efficient alternatives already exist?

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.

Keep your brain healthy by protecting your hearing

Photo credit: Silver Blu3 licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Jane Brody’s recent column in The New York Times discusses the importance of good hearing for brain health. The exact mechanism isn’t understood, but the evidence is clear: even slight hearing loss has significant effects on brain function.

Research is under way to learn if using hearing aids prevents or delays the onset of dementia in those with hearing loss. In the meantime, we recommend avoiding loud noise exposure to prevent hearing loss, because noise-induced hearing loss is 100% preventable.

Remember: if a noise sounds too loud, it is too loud. Leave the noisy environment or protect your hearing now, or wear 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.

Are there headphones for children that won’t hurt their ears?

Photo credit: jonas mohamadi from Pexels 

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This blog post from Stock Daily Dish posts a 2017 review of “the best headphones for kids that won’t hurt their ears.” This a big lie. Why not pair the headphones with the best cigarettes for kids that won’t give them lung cancer?

Because just as there really isn’t a Santa Claus, there are no cigarettes that won’t give kids lung cancer, and there are no headphones for children that won’t hurt their ears.

Headphones using the 85 decibel (dB) volume limit are not safe for children’s hearing. The 85 dB volume limit is derived from the NIOSH Recommended Exposure Level for occupational noise. That level doesn’t protect all exposed workers from hearing loss. And it’s not scientifically valid to extrapolate from studies of hearing loss in adult male workers to toddlers as young as three. As pediatricians often remind their internal medicine colleagues, a child is not a small adult.

A Dutch study showed auditory damage in children age 9-11 who used headphones. And at that age, they couldn’t have been using the headphones for very long!

Parents and grandparents should be talking with children, playing games with them, reading them books, telling them stories, not parking the kids in front of a video player with headphones so the children don’t bother them!

And if they buy headphones for their little darlings at this time of year, they should at least be aware that they may be condemning them to needing 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.

9 ways restaurants have changed in the past decade

Photo credit: Arild Finne Nybø licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This piece by The New York Times food critic Pete Wells discusses the eight ways Wells thinks restaurants have changed in the past decade. I would add one more to his list: they have become noisier.

As documented by the creator of the restaurant noise app SoundPrint, restaurants and bars in Manhattan are unpleasantly, even dangerously noisy.

Many other reports over the decade, in newspapers ranging from The New York Times to the Boston Globe to the Philadelphia Enquirer to the Los Angeles Times, have documented noisy restaurants.

And, of course, the Zagat surveys report that restaurant noise was a leading complaint, first or second in most of the annual surveys.

Those of us old enough to remember when secondhand smoke used to bother us in restaurants know that we eventually were able to get smoke-free restaurants, bars, and then workplaces, airplanes, and in some cities and states even smoke-free beaches and parks. Our efforts were aided when the EPA designated secondhand smoke to be a Class A carcinogen with no safe lower level of exposure.

Noise is both a nuisance and a health hazard. Noise causes hearing loss, tinnitus, and hyperacusis, sometimes after a single exposure to loud noise. It can wake people from sleep, disrupt attention, interfere with children’s learning, and even cause non-cardiac disease like hypertension and cardiovascular disease. I recently summarized the nine evidence-based noise levels affecting human health and function. Based on the indisputable evidence showing that noise is harmful, I presented a new definition of noise at the 178th meeting of the Acoustical Society of America in San Diego, California, on December 3, 2019: Noise is unwanted and/or harmful sound.

Voluntary efforts to make restaurants quieter, and restaurant noise apps like SoundPrint and iHEARu are helpful, but by themselves are unlikely to lead to quieter restaurants soon.

I’m pretty sure legislation will be required. And if enough people complain to their elected representatives often enough and, I daresay, loudly enough, eventually legislation will be passed mandating quieter restaurants.

DISCLOSURE: I serve as unpaid Medical Advisor to SoundPrint.

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.

First all-electric seaplane takes flight in Canada

Photo credit: joanne clifford licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

In British Columbia, seaplanes are a common mode of transport and apparently engine noise is a common source of complaints. This report from the CBC describes the first flight of a quieter all-electric seaplane, with many further test flights still needed before the plane is certified for use.

There is a lot of work going on to develop an electric airplane engine. Whether this work will yield commercially viable aircraft remains to be seen, but it will be fun to watch. More importantly, it could be less dangerous to hear!

Thanks to Jan Mayes for bringing this report to our attention.

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 picks Dr. Neitzel to crunch its noise app crowdfunded data

Photo credit: Cedrick Hobson licensed under CC BY 2.0

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

Listen to this 12-minute interview (scroll down to the 6th story) on Michigan Public Radio with The Quiet Coalition colleague Richard Neitzel, PhD, at the University of Michigan! Dr. Neitzel has gotten a lot of press recently because he was picked by Apple Computer to analyze the stream of crowd-funded data on public noise exposure that Apple has started gathering via it’s new noise app on the iWatch and iPhone.

For those of us who have spent years piecing together the troubled and obscure four-decade-long history of public noise exposure and how it was swept under the rug, Dr. Neitzel’s interview brilliantly sums up both the history of what happened and the tipping point that is occurring now—thanks in part to the availability of
crowd-sourced data from research tools that have never been available to epidemiologists before, namely, the new noise app on Apple’s iWatch and iPhone.

We hope we can put the troubled history of the noise issue behind us and look forward to brighter—and quieter—future thanks to Apple and Dr. Neitzel’s team who will
be watching and interpreting this data.

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.