Author Archive: GMB

Swiss grocery chain tests quiet hours

Photo credit: Roland zh licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

The Swiss Coop grocery chain is testing quiet hours in several stores in Switzerland, where the Spar chain already has quiet hours. Lights will be dimmed from 1:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and there will be no announcements. This is being done to make shopping easier for those with autism. About 1% of the Swiss population is thought to be affected by autism spectrum disorders.

We think quiet hours are a good idea for lots of people, not just those with autism. These include people with hyperacusis, veterans and others with PTSD, parents with babies and toddlers, and really just anyone who is bothered by noise.

There is no reason for background music in grocery stores (or any retail stores) to be turned up to rock concert volumes. Announcments don’t need to be made at deafening volumes, either.

As many have observed, environmental modifications meant to help the disabled actually make life better and easier for us all.

The example I often cite is the ADA door handle, a lever style handle mandated by regulations implementing the Americans with Disabilities Act. These handles are easier for everyone to use than the old round door handles–not just people with arthritis or a weak grip from a stroke or neuromuscular disease, but children, older people, and those with both hands full who can use a wrist or elbow to turn the handle.

Similarly, ramps or curb cuts meant to help those with mobility disorders help parents pushing a stroller, delivery workers with carts full of packages, or repair technicians with tools and equipment on carts, as well as people like me with creaky knees.

And like ADA door handles and curb cuts, quieter retail stores will benefit everyone.

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.

On balancing outdoor dining and neighborhood peace

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

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

Recognizing the difficulties restaurants have faced during this horrific pandemic, New York City has provided increased outside dining spaces for these restaurants. Mayor Bill de Blasio stated that “[t]he success of our neighborhood establishments is central to our entire city’s success.” Acknowledging that complaints will follow these outdoor dining activities, however, he set up an office to deal with potential complaints. This office entitled Mediating Establishment and Neighbor Disputes (MEND NYC) will be overseen by the Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings and the Mayor’s Office of Nightlife at the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment.

Undoubtedly, one of the complaints that will be brought to MEND NYC will center on the intrusions of loud sounds from these outdoor eating establishments on nearby apartments and homes. It is hoped that nearby neighbors and restaurant owners will be able, with the assistance of MEND NYC, to participate in a mediation process that will resolve complaints. While noise has been a major complaint in New York City, we need to understand that at this time with an overall increase in stress in our city’s residents, there may be less tolerance of nearby noises intruding in their lives.

Thus, I have to raise several questions at this time. Will MEND NYC have someone on its staff familiar with the noise issue in New York City? Will that person know that citizens calling 311 in the past have reported that their noise complaints have not led to satisfying resolutions? The 2018 noise report produced by Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli supports these concerns raised by callers to 311.

Noise impacts on an individual’s mental and physical health and well-being and its impacts are exacerbated during a time of added stress. Will there be a psychologist on the staff of MEND NYC who has the appropriate background to assist mediators as they work with individuals who are being adversely affected by noise? Restaurant owners are under much stress financially and they too would benefit from the experience of a psychologist.

The New York City Department of Environmental Protection is an agency that deals with noise complaints. Will someone from the DEP be part of MEND NYC? Will MEND NYC provide data, easily accessible to New Yorkers, that will give them some idea of how successful its mediation program has been? Data reflecting success will give New Yorkers greater confidence in the program.

The goals of MEND NYC should be applauded. My questions about the program are being raised to facilitate the attainment of these goals.

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.

How do we protect quiet?

Photo credit: VisionPic .net from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Noise in Europe has been a concern of health authorities there for some years. In 2011, the WHO’s European office issued a report on the global burden of disease from noise and in 2018 issued Environmental Noise Guidelines.

Despite regulatory efforts, the European Environmental Agency reports that there has been no progress in making Europe quieter. This report from Euronews cites statistics from the EEA that 20% of the European population is exposed to levels of noise considered harmful to health.

Traffic noise is a major environmental problem. The COVID-19 shutdowns, however, caused a wave of quiet to spread across the globe. Scientists are calling this “the anthropause.” We have reported on the effects of reductions in human activity on seismic levels and noise levels in cities and the oceans, and Euronews reports that people noticed birdsong more than before.

How do we protect quiet?

One way to protect quiet is to preserve quiet spaces. The Euronews report also mentions two efforts we have mentioned before, Gordon Hampton’s Quiet Parks International and Dr. Antonella Radicchi’s HushCity app, which Euronews reports is being used by city councils in Berlin, Germany and Limerick, Ireland.

The Environmental Protection Agency was tasked with eliminating noise pollution in the U.S. by the Noise Control Act of 1972 and the Quiet Communities Act of 1978, but federal noise enforcement activities ceased during the Reagan era when the EPA’s Office of Noise Abatement and Control was defunded.

We hope that a future president will recognize the importance of quiet and restore funding for noise abatement and control in the U.S.

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.

On the pursuit of quiet

Photo credit: Simon Clayton from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

The Quiet Coalition’s Vice Chair, David Sykes, writes about the pursuit of quiet in this essay in the Summer issue of Tinnitus Today, the quarterly publication of the American Tinnitus Association.

David writes about George Prochnik’s, “In Pursuit of Silence,” which Patrick Shen developed into a documentary with the same name.

As David notes, people generally don’t want silence. They want quiet. This was true before the coronavirus pandemic caused the world to quiet down, and it’s still true.

I have read the book and viewed the documentary, and recommend both.

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.

How not to deal with a noisy neighbor

Photo credit: Weatherman90 licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

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

It was not surprising to read that Toto’s Steve Lukather decided to deal with his neighbor’s noisy landscaping equipment disturbing him in the early morning hours by unleashing “a loud solo before screaming ‘Good morning’ in the direction of his hedges.” As the Board member of GrowNYC who responds to noise queries, New Yorkers often call me to complain about noisy neighbors. Too often, they have told me that they want to bang upstairs with brooms to reciprocate for being awakened in the early morning with loud footsteps along uncarpeted floors. I am certain these callers would applaud Lukather’s actions as did many of his followers.

Before offering to assist New York City residents who call me, I urge them not to take the route that Lukather did. I add that one should not engage in the same bad behavior displayed by their neighbors to resolve the noise problem. I guess as the wife of an attorney, and the mother of two attorneys, I know that the law doesn’t look favorably on trying to stop inappropriate behavior by using inappropriate behavior.

While not resolving all the neighbor noise problems that are brought to my attention, I have been successful a large number of times. Sometimes it is a matter of having the complainant approach the neighbor and discussing the noise situation with literature noting the deleterious impacts of noise on health. At other times, it is asking the landlord or managing agent to handle the matter under the “warranty of habitability” clause of leases that provide tenants with the right to “reasonable quiet” in their apartments.

Let me stress that noises are hazardous to one’s mental and physical well-being and should not be dismissed. Before calling me, many of the New Yorkers with whom I have spoken told me that they have tried speaking with neighbors, calling 311, and asking local officials for assistance with the noise matter. When no relief follows, they very much want to handle the noise matter as Lukather did. And I am certain that many New Yorkers whom I have not heard from do.

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.

One person can make a difference

Photo credit: Ave Calvar Martinez from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

I once attended a lecture where the speaker asked the audience, “Can one person make a difference?” He cited examples of Mahatma Gandhi, the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., and Nelson Mandela. Peering into the darkened auditorium, he continued, “I don’t see any of them in the audience today. But if you have ever tried to sleep on a summer night while one mosquito buzzes around your head, you know that one tiny little thing can make a difference. If you want to change things, you need to be like that mosquito.”

I didn’t think about that lecture for many years, but when I became a noise activist a Google search for “safe noise level” invariably had the occupationally-derived 85 decibel sound level as the most common search result.

After I published an editorial in the American Journal of Public Health about 70 decibels daily exposure being the only evidence-based sound level to prevent noise-induced hearing loss, that changed. Now a Google search shows many links to that article or publications citing it, including one from Hyperacusis Research with a picture of me and Bryan. It turned out that the speaker was right, one person could make a difference.

But I think what Bryan Pollard has accomplished proves that point even better than anything I have accomplished.

As Bryan writes in the Summer 2020 issue of Hearing Health magazine, the publication of Hearing Health Foundation, he developed hyperacusis some years ago after tree trimmers took down a large tree extending over his house and then used a noisy wood chipper to pulverize the entire tree, thick trunk included. Hyperacusis is a condition that causes a person to be unable to tolerate everyday noise levels without discomfort or pain. I also have hyperacusis, which developed after a one-time exposure to loud noise in a restaurant at a New Year’s Eve party in 2007.

When Bryan found that not much was known about hyperacusis, he started Hyperacusis Research, Ltd. to raise funds to support research into this poorly understood condition. Through his efforts, including organizing a dinner of interested researchers at the annual Association for Research in Otolaryngology meeting, the ENT research community has made great progress in understanding what Bryan has dubbed “noise-induced pain.”

Bryan partnered with Hearing Health Foundation, and then with many others, so his success hasn’t been a solo effort, but it’s clear that nothing would have happened with hyperacusis if Bryan hadn’t taken the initiative to try to do something.

In this summer of our discontent, when demonstrations fill the streets in American cities and cities around the world, it’s clear that public expressions of discontent can make a difference.

If enough individuals make noise about noise, maybe the world can become a quieter, healthier, more peaceful place, 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.

Bobcat unveils quiet, electrically powered excavator

Photo credit: Michel Curi licensed uncer CC BY 2.0

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

One of the noisiest of America’s largest industries is construction and maintenance. It turns out that industry has the lowest “reinvestment rate,” i.e., spending on innovation, research, and development, of any major industry in the country. So resistance to innovation and change is deeply entrenched. But sometimes, change happens despite industry resistance. That’s what happening at Bobcat, which has teamed up with another company to unveil an electrically-powered
excavator.

We want to congratulate our sister program, Quiet Communities, which pioneered a change-management approach specifically to accelerate the rate of change in one deeply change-resistant industry, outdoor power equipment. For six years Quiet Communities has been fighting to get outdoor power equipment manufacturers and users–the companies that build and use gas-powered equipment, including those leaf blowers we all love to hate–to adopt new, cleaner and quieter electrically-powered equipment. Now its happening.

We call this approach “technology pull,” which is how America has always gone about achieving large-scale, systemic change. Essentially, new technologies come along, sometimes whole clusters of them.  Examples include railroads, electricity, telegraph, telephone, gasoline engines, aircraft, radio, television, and the like. All of those were all part of one gigantic, historic wave called the industrial revolution.

And now we’re living through the post-industrial revolution driven led by information technology and the emergence of alternative energy sources like electric motors. Arguably, America’s “secret sauce,” the way this country built the world’s most powerful economy, has always been by encouraging engineers and technologists to invent the next big thing faster than anybody else.

And now, finally, America’s change-resistant, stubbornly resistant outdoor power equipment manufacturers are getting the message. Congratulations to them! I have no stake in this innovation partnership between Bobcat and Green Machine, other than our own goal of making America a cleaner, quieter place to live. But frankly, I’m thrilled to see this happen.

Now if only we could convince the federal government to let the aircraft industry move faster toward electrically-powered airplanes (about which we’ve written already), then maybe we can all look forward to seeing a quieter, less polluted future ahead of us.

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.

A new definition of noise redux

Photo credit: icon0.com from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Thanks to the editorial staff at Hearing Health Foundation and its Hearing Health magazine, I was able to adapt my paper that first appeared in Proceedings of Meetings on Acoustics.

The paper, based on a presentation I made at the Acoustical Society of America meeting in San Diego in December 2019, offers a new definition of noise: Noise is unwanted and/or harmful sound.

The most common definition of noise is merely “noise is unwanted sound,” but that definition omits the unfortunate reality that even wanted sound–whether a rock concert, using a personal listening device at volumes high enough to compensate for ambient noise, or activities like woodworking, motor sports, or shooting sports–can cause hearing loss and other auditory disorders.

Proceedings of Meetings on Acoustics graciously allowed me to adapt the paper for the Summer 2020 issue of Hearing Health magazine.

Between the appearance of the two articles, inspired by the young Black woman who persuaded the Merriam-Webster dictionary folks to update their definition of racism, I reached out to them about updating their definition of noise. The CNN report states that she wasn’t expecting much when she sent her email, but look what happened.

I haven’t heard back from Merriam-Webster, but I’m hoping that lightning might strike twice.

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.

How noise affects our brains

Image credit: Pete Linforth from Pixabay

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Everyone acquires information by different means. Some people talk to friends, some people do an internet search, some read newspapers or magazines, and these days many listen to podcasts.

I am too impatient to listen to podcasts–I can read much faster than anyone can talk–and I have hyperacusis, so I don’t listen to podcasts on my smartphone while walking around. I prefer to obtain information by reading.

But from time to time I make an exception, and this wonderful podcast is one of those exceptions.

On his “This Is Your Brain” podcast, Dr. Phil Steig interviews our friend Mathias Basner, MD, PhD, MSc, Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania and Director of the Behavioral Regulation and Health Section. Dr. Basner is one of the world’s experts on the effects of noise on sleep and human health, and in this podcast he shares his knowledge about the effects of noise on hearing and the brain.

I listened on my computer. It’s only 19 minutes long, and well worth your time.

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 residents form task force against noise

Photo credit: Susan Sermoneta licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

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

Concerned about the rise in noise in Inwood and Washington Heights, and supported by the largest number of noise-related complaints filed this year to 311 by the Manhattan community board that encompasses these neighborhoods, a group of residents formed a task force to address the noise in their community, e.g. street noises, residential noises, loud fireworks, and noisy vehicles. These two groups, named WAHI and Inwood for Respectful Decibel Levels, at their press conference, called on city agencies, elected public officials and their Community Board 12 members to support them in their efforts.

Over forty years ago, I had conducted study on the impact of elevated train noise on children’s classroom learning at their school in Inwood and found that the reading scores of children attending classes exposed to the train noise were significantly lower than children on the quiet side of the building. The results of this study were published in an academic journal but also shared with the community residents and their public officials. Working with the community and their elected officials, we were able to get the Transit Authority to lessen the noise on the tracks and the Board of Education to place sound absorbing materials in the noisy classrooms. A study following these two abatements found that children on both sides of the building were now reading at the same level.

Thus, it was not surprising that the Inwood/Washington Heights group would ask for my assistance to combat the noise they are now experiencing in their neighborhood. The fact that the community had played a role in lessening the noises at a district school earlier has given them confidence as they move forward to reduce the noise levels in their community today. The community also knows that today there is far more research demonstrating that noise is harmful to both our mental and physical health.

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.