Author Archive: GMB

We’re lucky there’s no third-hand sound

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

In studying the health effects of cigarette smoke, there’s smoking itself, secondhand or environmental tobacco smoke, and third-hand smoke. Third-hand smoke is the residue that secondhand smoke leaves on surfaces such as furniture or clothing. You are exposed to third-hand smoke when you rent a car in which someone has been smoking, or are assigned a hotel room in which previous occupants have smoked.

Many if not most non-smokers find the smell of third-hand smoke unpleasant. And as with secondhand smoke exposure, third-hand smoke exposure has now been shown to convey hazardous chemicals.

Our noise colleague John Drinkwater coined the phrase “Secondhand Sound is the new Secondhand Smoke.™️” In an article about a new definition of noise, I used his insight, pointing out that unwanted noise is like secondhand tobacco smoke, both a nuisance and a health hazard.

We’re lucky that as of now acoustic scientists haven’t found third-hand sound!

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.

LA-based startup promises a 185-seat electric aircraft “soon”

Photo courtesy of Wright Electric

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

Los Angeles-based startup company, Wright Electric, backed with significant funding from YCombinator, EasyJet and others, has joined the race to build electrically propulsed commercial passenger aircraft. In fact, Wright Electric has been showing it’s concept of a 185-seatshort-range aircraft to investors and conference attendees around the world for several years now.

This demonstrates that there’s significant momentum behind the idea of next generation all-electric aircraft, even in the U.S. where industry leaders Boeing and GE have spurned electrics while their competitors, Airbus and Siemens, are investing in it. This race to develop all-electric aircraft won’t just benefit the environment, it should also result in much quieter aircraft.

So the way forward to quieter airports may depend on accelerated development of alternatives to big, noisy jet aircraft. I’ve already reported on available electric planes, ranging from one- and two-seat training aircraft up to the spectacularly beautiful 11-seat “Alice” from eViation, an Israeli company that has already taken an order from U.S.-based carrier Cape Air and will have aircraft in the skies very soon.

Why not just continue to push FAA–and Boeing and GE–to fix their “NextGen” mess that has made peoples’ lives miserable around major airports? Of course we should, but we should try to encourage technological change, too.

The FAA Re-Authorization Act, which requires more consideration of neighborhoods around airports, took six years to work its way through Congress before it was signed in October 2018. Unfortunately, nothing much has happened even though Donald Trump’s signature is clearly affixed to the bottom of it.

So I say we should also encourage the development of the next generation of quiet, energy-efficient electric aircraft. The sooner they’re in the skies, the happier we’ll all be not only because our skies will be quieter but because those planes won’t be spewing toxic fumes and pollution into the atmosphere.

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 to do when people shout into their cell phones near you

Photo credit: Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

What should one do when people shout into their cell phones and you are nearby? The New York TimesPhilip Galanes, who writes the Social Q column, suggests (scroll to the last query) politely asking, “Could you lower your voice, please?”

He also advises us to be prepared for a range of responses from accepting to, well, click the link.

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.

Electric air taxis may be exciting, but are they silent?

Photo credit: BM für Verkehr und digitale Infrastruktur licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

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

You have to watch this very cool video on electric air taxis. It all seems very exciting, but why don’t we hear them in action?

As you may remember, I voiced my concern about two new sources of sky borne noise that were spurred by the 2018 signing of the FAA Re-Authorization Act: (1) the imminent appearance of drone-delivery services in our neighborhoods, and (2) the growing interest in all-electric vertical take off & landing air taxis. Some thought this was pure hype from Uber—an attempt to pump up their stock before their IPO awhile back. But there’s actually quite a bit of investment in technology for small, short-hop, eVTOL aircraft.

The idea’s been out there for a lifetime that small aircraft could be wheeled out of our garages, leap straight up into the air and whisk us off to…someplace besides a crowded freeway. Will regulators shut it down? Unlikely. In fact, they’re actively encouraging development of eVTOL aircraft, particularly in Europe, where, as you likely know, they pay much more attention to community noise than we do here in the U.S.

But what about the noise—not to mention the air accidents—from the burgeoning, uncontrolled growth of drone delivery services and air taxis? Yes, they’re electrically propelled, but they’re not silent.

Who cares about this? It’s time for the Congressional Quiet Skies Caucus to re-convene and get back to work. They got the FAA Re-Authorization done (that took six years), but now it’s creating new problems that nobody seems to be thinking about.

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.

Is your music making you deaf?

Photo credit: Harrison Haines from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Is your music making you deaf?  That’s the title of this post from BWorld online.

The answer, technically, is no. Deafness means congenital absence of hearing, or profound hearing loss. Loud music won’t make you deaf. But loud music can certainly cause hearing loss.

Hearing loss and tinnitus are occupational hazards of being a rock musician. And loud music is a threat to auditory health of concert goers and clubgoers and those who listen to loud music on their personal listening devices.

We recommend avoiding loud music all the time. There is no such thing as temporary auditory damage.

If the music (or any other sound) sounds too loud, it IS too loud. Turn down the volume, leave the area, use hearing protection, or accept that you’ll probably need hearing aids in the future.

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.

Could motorbike noise regulations push more riders onto electric motocycles?

Photo credit: Marco Verch Professional Photographer and Speaker licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Could motorbike noise regulations push more riders onto electric motorcycles? That’s a distinct possibility in Europe, where regulators are more concerned about the adverse impacts of noise than those in the U.S. This piece from Electrek, a news and commentary site “tracking, analyzing, and breaking news on the transition from fossil-fuel transport to electric transport,” seems to think so.

Battery electric powered vehicles of all types are much quieter than gasoline or diesel powered vehicles. Additionally, they don’t create any point-source air pollution or contribute to global warming when they are used. Most motorcycles and motor scooters use two-stroke engines, which emit much more pollution than four-stroke engines used in cars and trucks.

The author, who rides an electric motorcycle himself, addresses the common myth that noisy motorcycles are safer because they alert drivers of their presence. Not true.

Harley-Davidson has started producing electric motorcycles here, so we hope these will replace the noisy, polluting “hogs” on the road. The electric motorcycles have much more rapid acceleration, so the rider benefits, too.

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.

EU’s robust noise-labelling requirements

Image credit: Flappiefh has dedicated this work into the public domain

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

Our own Dr. Fink wrote about this fascinating article in the New York Times concerning new labelling of junk foods in one of the world’s most overweight nations, Chile. The use of the classic octagonal STOP sign as the shape of these labels is absolutely brilliant as it telegraphs nonverbally, the powerful message to STOP and THINK. Using the same shape for labels on extremely noisy products would surely have an effect on peoples’ awareness that noise is now recognized as a public health problem.

I should add that abundant research was done in the European Union before the recent launch of a noise-awareness label on many classes of products–from air-conditioners to blenders to chainsaws and industrial equipment. You can see the label pictured above and note that it is very different from the Chilean approach.

As you can see, a noise-rating, stated in decibels (dB) has simply been added to the EU-wide energy label. Piggybacking a noise-rating onto the standardized energy label is an excellent approach to getting the message out about noise pollution in energy-conscious EU countries.

You surely also notice that the EU label is strictly informational, it simply reports the decibel emission level of the product—so it’s not a warning at all. Proponents argue that the EU approach is “market-based” and isn’t “judgmental” at all, i.e., there’s nothing on the label that tells you what noise level may be harmful to your health.

But at least there are now two very different, well-researched examples of how labelling might work on noisy products, the EU’s information-only approach, versus the Chilean warning label approach. So now some researcher can take a look at the big question: do they work?

Some of us remember the excitement that surrounded the semiotically-inspired “universal signage movement” of the 1960-70s–from that movement sprang the ubiquitous signage used all over the world for “bathroom” and “information” and “currency exchange,” etc., and later spurred the development of all of the icons that now litter our mobile devices. If you remember all that, you will certainly recognize that the shape and color of a warning label, like the red octagonal STOP sign or the standard try-color traffic light (red/yellow/green) took years to develop, standardize, and implement worldwide.

Lately, the whole universal sign language movement has gained new life in the UX-User Interface world, where symbols have emerged for everything, including emotional states, i.e., EMOJIs!

In any event, it’s my hope that someone will study the effectiveness of noise warning labels, so that the global noise problem can be addressed in an understandable and effective manner!

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.

(Re)learning to run without headphones

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

In this delightful essay in The Atlantic, writer Talmon Joseph Smith describes what happened one day when he was out on a run and his smartphone, the source of the almost constant soundtrack accompaniment to his daily life, died. He titled his essay “Learning to Run Without Headphones,” but my guess is that he knew how to run before he discovered headphones. But he certainly rediscovered the joys of listening to the world around him and thinking his own thoughts without being distracted by a constant soundtrack.

The World Health Organization calls a music player and associated headphones or earbuds a “personal audio system.” A 2017 Nielsen survey reported in Forbes Magazine found that the average American listens to a PAS for 4.5 hours a day, up sharply from 3.8 hours daily in 2016 and only 3.3 hours daily in 2015. And a 2017 report is already out of date.

I can’t access the report myself, so I don’t know if they only surveyed PAS users or the entire population. If the survey group included the entire population, including people like me who never listen to a PAS, the number of hours PAS users listen to their devices is much greater than 4.5 hours daily.

PAS use has already been shown to cause hearing loss and tinnitus (ringing in the ears) in children as young as 11. It’s probably doing the same to adult ears, too.

The tag line on a popular credit card advertisement asks, “What’s in your wallet?” Concerning PAS use, I would ask, “What’s in your ears?” If you’re turning up the volume loud enough to drown out the rumble in the subway car, or other conversations in the bus, on your daily commute, or traffic noise when running or walking, you’re probably damaging your hearing.

And just as important, you’re missing out on important time with your own thoughts, as well as the sounds of nature if you’re outdoors.

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.

March 3rd is World Hearing Day

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Each year the World Health Organization designates March 3 as World Hearing Day. WHO also chooses a theme each year. For this year’s World Hearing Day, the theme is “Don’t let hearing loss limit you. Hearing for life.”

In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention works with the WHO to help support and promote World Hearing Day, and The Quiet Coalition in turn works with CDC to help spread the word.

Our focus is on prevention of hearing loss and other auditory disorders like tinnitus and hyperacusis. We suggest installing a sound level meter on your smartphone. The app from CDC’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health is accurate and free.

But you don’t need a sound meter to know if it’s too loud. If you can’t carry on a conversation at the normal social distance of 3-4 feet, the ambient noise is above 75 A-weighted decibels* and your auditory health is in danger.

One simple rule can help preserve your hearing: if it sounds too loud, it IS too loud!

Turn down the volume of amplified sound, insert earplugs, leave the noisy environment, or be at risk for needing 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.

NIDCD Director Tucci says hearing health is a global priority

Photo courtesy of theNational Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Debara Tucci, MD, M.S., M.B.A., Director of the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, issued a statement on February 27 concerning the World Health Organization’s World Hearing Day, which is observed on March 3 every year. In her statement, Dr. Tucci highlighted NIDCD’s “research and initiatives to prevent, detect, and treat hearing loss in the United States and beyond.”

I would hope that among these initiatives is the provision of accurate health education information to the public. Unfortunately, information on NIDCD websites and NIDCD’s Noisy Planet site still contains inaccurate and misleading information about the 85 decibel (dB) sound level. For example, the NIDCD site includes statements like “long or repeated exposure to sound at or above 85 decibels can cause hearing loss” and “[k]now which noises can cause damage (those at or above 85 dBA).” And Noisy Planet says that “[r]esearchers have found that people who are exposed over long periods of time to noise levels at 85 dBA or higher are at a much greater risk for hearing loss.”

As I have written in the American Journal of Public Health, 85 dB without an exposure time limit is not a safe noise exposure level for the public. The difference between an occupational noise exposure level and a possible exposure level for the public was discussed in the NIOSH Science Blog on February 8, 2016.

The NIDCD’s 85 dB “standard” is derived from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health’s 85 dBA (A-weighted decibels*) recommended occupational exposure level. This level does not protect all exposed workers from noise-induced hearing loss. The only evidence-based safe noise exposure level to prevent hearing loss was calculated by the Environmental Protection Agency in 1974: a time-weighted average of 70 decibels for 24 hours.

The World Health Organization only recommends one hour at 85 dBA to prevent hearing loss. Mathematically, this is the same as the EPA’s 70 decibels for a day. That’s sound advice!

Unfortunately, because the NIDCD uses 85 dB, this has become the de facto federal standard for noise exposure. It is widely if incorrectly cited by audiologists in media reports and in their online advertising as a safe noise level or the level at which auditory damage begins and is used as a volume limit for headphones advertised as “safe” for children’s hearing, without an exposure time being specified;

I wish Dr. Tucci and NIDCD would disseminate useful and correct information to the public, rather than continuing to imply that 85 dB is a safe noise exposure level for the public. It just isn’t.

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.