Author Archive: GMB

Restaurant noise? For the hearing impaired, that’s discrimination

Photo credit: Dmitry Zvolskiy from Pexels

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

Citing noise as discrimination, Joyce Cohen, writing for the Washington Post, goes after the restaurant industry. I’m grateful that Ms. Cohen relied on The Quiet Coalition Chair, Dr. Daniel Fink, in this terrific piece, and that she did her homework to get the facts straight.

I hope this kind of reporting will lead to changes in the restaurant industry, which, thanks to Yelp and Zagat and restaurant reviewers at newspapers like the Washington Post, are showing that noise is the number one complaint of restaurant goers. Let’s hope that restaurant owners are finally waking up to the fact that too much noise is actually bad for business.

And congratulations to the Washington Post for taking on this industry and it’s egregious practices! This article has certainly opened up the conversation about restaurant noise and disability.

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.

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.

Urban noise is “the absolute scourge of our time”

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

The Guardian recently published a fascinating article by Thomas McMullan in which he said that cities are louder than ever and noted that the poor suffer the most. That article got an enormous amount of attention and “prompted a huge response,” so there was a follow-up piece in which the newspaper shared some of the best responses.  While one of the respondents embraced urban noise saying that “cities are people and life and they make noise,” every other commenter disagreed, with one exclaiming that “[n]oise pollution is the absolute scourge of our time.”

Some noise is a necessary accompaniment to urban living, but excessive noise isn’t. And solutions are available if the political will exists. Namely, enforcement of existing noise ordinances, especially for vehicle exhaust noise, revision of building codes to require sound insulation and double-paned windows, and quieter sirens would be good first steps.

I believe that if enough people complain to their elected officials about urban noise, something can be done about it.

And something must be done about noise, because urban noise isn’t just a nuisance–in many cities it is loud enough to damage hearing, and the World Health Organization recognizes is as a major health hazard.

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 cost of noise disruptions

Photo credit: Cadeau Maestro from Pexels

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

Katherine Martinko, Treehugger, writes about how “blocking out the noise of the world” can make us more productive and creative.

Do you remember the Microsoft study on productivity and the cost of noise disruptions? I certainly do. Microsoft and several other big tech companies convened a meeting several years ago to discuss how to measure the productivity of knowledge workers. All the experts were there, led by some people from MIT.

I remember because they awarded my partner and me a contract to do further research (our original work had been for Apple Computer) on this subject and we presented it at a Human Factors and Ergonomics Society conference later.

Here’s the point in a single quote from the above article:

After being interrupted, it takes about 25 minutes to get back to the task you were working on, according to a Microsoft study. It can take even longer to get to a ‘flow state,’ alternatively called ‘deep work.’ These terms refer to the concentrated frame of mind you’re in when immersed in a task and time just seems to fly. It’s also when you do your best work.

What more do we need to know? The relentless shift toward open landscape offices has been underway for decades—because it reduces the cost of corporate office space. Basically, take away walls and doors and even cubicles and you can reduce the space-per-person well below 200 sq ft., resulting in huge savings and greater “flexibility.” But in the end, many people now work in essentially raw, unfinished, factory-like spaces with concrete floors, temporary tables, and virtually no privacy—and that, we are told, is supposed to result in what they call “teamwork.”

We’ve written about the bane of open offices before, but the fact that Microsoft weighed in on the issue is significant. We agree with the author of the above piece that it’s important, if not essential, to find and hang onto your own “bliss station”—a place where distractions are removed and you’re at your most productive when you need to be.

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.

Noise inside rail cars is a problem, too

Photo credit: abdallahh licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

My noise colleague David Sykes recently wrote about noise levels in the London subway system, but noise levels are a problem inside rail cars on Vancouver’s SkyTrain, too. Researchers there found noise levels as high as 106 decibels. Newer quieter rail cars are on order, with air conditioning, closed rather than open windows, and better door seals.

Until the old cars are replaced, Vancouverites taking the rail system should use ear plugs. That’s what I do when riding the subway in New York, London, or Paris.

Because if it sounds too loud, it IS too loud.

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.

Where is NYC’s promised Quality-of-Life Plan?

Photo credit: Prayitno / Thank you for (12 millions +) view licensed under CC BY 2.0

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

In his Gotham Gazette article “City’s Promised Plan for Quality-of-Life Issues Yet to Materialize,” Ethan Geringer-Smith writes that the Citizen Budget Commission’s NYC Resident Feedback Survey results issued earlier this year found that 40.4% of city residents who responded “rated the city’s control of street noise as excellent or good.” Fewer residents in Manhattan, Bronx, and Brooklyn, as compared to Queens and Staten Island, rated control of street noise as excellent or good. This was a 6.1% improvement over the 2008 survey.

One question I have about this finding is this: What is meant by control of street noise? Also, considering Geringer-Smith states that “[o]verall, last year, the number of 311 noise complaints rose to nearly 437,000, up from roughly 260,000 in 2013,” I would like to know more about what types of noises people are complaining about and why wasn’t the improvement in the “control of street noise” reflected in the numbers of noise complaints. Still, Geringer-Smith states that according to the CBC’s data, residents point to noise “…as among the greatest areas of dissatisfaction in the city.”

I hope the questions raised above will be addressed in “a big study” of quality-of-life problems that Deputy Mayor of Operations Laura Anglin told Geringer-Smith her office was conducting. I would suggest that Ms. Anglin reference two studies that I was involved in that looked at different types of noise and how New York City residents’ behavior was affected by these noises, as well as State Comptroller DiNapoli’s report last year on New York City noise complaints.

Ms. Anglin, in an email to the Gotham Gazette wrote that the study’s goal was to seek out solutions. Discussing the adverse impacts of noise on health and well-being in her report would add strength to this goal.

Knowing that City Council recently passed legislation strengthening the regulation of construction noise and being aware of community residents clamoring for less noisy emergency vehicles. as well as researching and writing on the adverse effect of noise on health, I am looking forward to reading the report that will soon emanate from the Deputy Mayor’s office.

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.

 

Modern music compression leaves Neil Young cold

Photo credit: Graham Berry licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

In this wide-ranging New York Times article about musician Neil Young, I learned that Young doesn’t like modern music compression technology, which he thinks has adverse neurological effects and takes the enjoyment out of music. Music or sound compression technology erases highs and lows in volume with a loss of musical detail. I know that I find sounds on my iPhone to be tinny and it bothers my ears.

I also learned about the Tomatis Method, an auditory stimulation program that claims to improve brain function. Dr. Tomatis believed that listening to Mozart could change brain function.

I’m not sure about that, but I do like Mozart and find listening to his music soothing to my ears and my soul.

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? 50 years later Woodstock generation dealing with hearing loss

Photo credit: James M. Shelley licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

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

According to recent research by the Gallup organization 47% of 65- to 80-year olds who listened to loud music when they were young have hearing loss. That cohort are the Woodstock Generation, for whom loud rock concerts were a way of life.

But now, along with their fans, many of the musicians from the bands of that era, e.g., Eric Clapton and Pete Townsend, have retired because they suffer from painful and incurable auditory conditions caused by noise damage to their ears, like tinnitus or hyperacusis, or they have severe noise-induced hearing loss.

It’s the end of an era. There is no cure for hearing loss, and the only treatment is hearing aids, as cochlear implants are reserved for the profoundly hearing impaired. What’s more, hearing loss is associated with depression, social isolation, dementia, loss of balance, and cardiovascular disease.

Who’d have thought that the “peace & love” kids from the ‘60s & ‘70s would end up this way?

Ironically, in 1969, then-Surgeon General William H. Stewart actually tried to get noise exposure classified as a public health problem. In fact, he helped organize the first international meeting on noise and health. Now, 50 years later, the nation is awakening to what looks like a growing epidemic of hearing loss.

These new Gallup poll findings (funded by a hearing aid company) are consistent with recent federal studies. The sponsor of the Gallup research has a simple and direct message: Buy our hearing aids. But be warned, hearing aids amplify sound but they do a poor job of improving speech comprehension in noisy environments.

So if you are a member of the Woodstock generation, protect what hearing you have left and avoid exposure to loud sounds.

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.

Motorcycle noise can damage riders’ hearing

Photo credit: Sourav Mishra from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Motorcycle noise is a problem for people in many cities, interrupting conversations, disrupting sleep, and being loud enough to cause auditory damage. But motorcycle noise is also a problem for riders. This online piece from a UK insurance agent discusses the dangers of motorcycle noise for riders’ hearing.

Noise comes from both the engine and from air moving past the riders’ ears. Wind screens reduced the noise somewhat, but it is still loud enough to cause hearing loss.

Many motorcycle riders aren’t aware that the noise can damage their hearing. But many of those who know about the dangers of wind and engine noise on their ears don’t want to wear earplugs because they want to hear what’s going on around them.  Riding a motorcycle is hazardous, and riders want to hear other vehicles that may or may not see them.

Filtered ear plugs, which allow transmission of lower frequency sounds while blocking high frequency wind noise, might be a good solution.  The best solution, of course, is to avoid the source of damaging noise, which will also benefit anyone who would rather not be exposed to motorcycle noise.

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.