City Living

Do-it-yourself noise mitigation at home

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

I don’t generally mention commercial products in my blog posts, but I’m willing to make an exception for these sound absorbing panels from IKEA.

The article is from a UK magazine, so I don’t know if the panels are available in the U.S. yet, but it’s worth it to keep an eye out for them.  They can be hung in a room, or as a room divider, to absorb unwanted sound. And since the product if offered through IKEA, the cost shouldn’t be prohibitive.

Alternatively, heavy drapes might be a more aesthetically pleasing solution. And new urban construction often has–and should be required to have–double paned windows and sound absorbing material in the exterior walls.

So urban dwellers trying to get a good night’s sleep have noise mitigation options. But I can’t help but think about how much better our sleep could be if government actively enforced  noise regulations rather than leave the problem for each of us to deal with individually.

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 council considers helicopter ban

Photo credit: Matthis Volquardsen from Pexels

In a move that is sure to delight those of us who want sensible limits on unnecessary noise, three New York City council members have proposed a ban on helicopter flights over the city. Specifically, Council members Mark Levine, Helen Rosenthal, and Margaret S. Chin have introduced legislation that would ban all nonessential helicopter travel over the city. The proposal followed a frightening helicopter crash that occurred in June 2019, in which the pilot, who was not authorized to fly in limited visibility, was killed while attempting to land his helicopter during foul weather.

While the linked story suggests the council members’ focus is on safety concerns, group such as Stop the Chop have advocated for the end of unnecessary helicopter flights for security and health concerns, asserting that the flights are bad for the environment, bad for public health, and bad for New Jersey and New York residents who live in and around the flight paths. Making matters worse is that the vast majority of the flights are absolutely nonessential–Stop the Chop states that 97% of the 58,000 flights per year originating out of the city-owned Downtown Manhattan Heliport are tourist flights.

We hope that the full council votes in favor of banning nonessential helicopter flights, saving the lives of unsuspecting tourists and the health and sanity of every person who is exposed to the fumes and noise this unnecessary activity creates.

Philadelphia deploys sonic weapons to harass loitering teenagers

“The Mosquito” | Photo credit: Sunmist dedicated this photograph to the public domain

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

According to this report on NPR, the city of Philadelphia is one of several cities that have been deploying “sonic weapons” in public parks to deter loitering by teenagers, who, because they’re young enough to have unimpaired hearing, are keenly sensitive to the high-frequency noise emitted by the devices.

The devices were developed by a Vancouver BC-based company called Moving Sound Technologies. The company’s president is quoted in the piece describing the product, which he calls “the Mosquito.” Also quoted are young people who say the noise is loud, and, in one instance, causes headaches.

There are quite a number of sonic weapons available on the market, often developed for military use, but now in the hands of police forces too. The 40-year-long refusal in the U.S. to understand that noise can—like second-hand smoke–be harmful to health has led many to assume that sonic weapons are harmless and merely annoying. That’s fundamentally wrong. In the meantime, city councils and neighborhood associations need to be vigilant about local police forces adopting such crowd-control methods that could be harmful to public health and just bad policy.  As Philadelphia councilwoman Helen Gym notes, “[i]n a city that is trying to address gun violence and safe spaces for young people, how dare we come up with ideas that are funded by taxpayer dollars that turn young people away from the very places that were created for them?”

We live in a noisy world—an unnecessarily noisy world—for the simple reason that most people, including our local and national leaders, have no idea that noise really is “the new second-hand smoke.” Until we get them to understand that the public is being harmed by environmental noise, we need to look after ourselves and our neighbors.

David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: QCI Healthcare Acoustics Project, ANSI Committee S123-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.

Toronto cracks down on noisy cars and motorcycles

Photo credit: alyssa BLACk licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Toronto police have launched an Awareness and Enforcement for Unnecessary Noise campaign that focuses on loud cars and motorcycles. Cops are ready to had out tickets ranging from $110 to $155 for “drivers honking horns, having excessively loud mufflers, revving motorcycles, blasting their car radio, as well as those stunt driving and squealing their tires.”

The mayor, John Tory, said whatever the cause, loud noise is inexcusable. And starting on October 1, the city’s new noise bylaw becomes effective, which will give police even more power to deal with noisy drivers.

Let’s hope New York City and other American cities and towns are watching closely.  Canada may be taking the lead on dealing with street noise, but eventually–one hopes–it’s neighbor to the south will take notice.

Searching for quiet in New York City

(c) Hush City app 2017

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

In his search for quiet in New York City, John Surico, writing for CityLab, turned to Dr. Antonella Radicchi’s Hush City app in an attempt to find a slice of serenity in the din. Surico joined Dr. Radicchi in a soundwalk of lower Manhattan, and discussed her ressearch. She would like to expand “equitable access to natural urban sounds,” noting there is a difference “between the human sounds of urban living…and the mechanical din of development, which hops up the decibel scale quick.”

During Antonella’s stay while conducting research mapping quiet areas in New York City, we met a number of times and were in contact regularly. As a researcher on the adverse effects of loud sounds and noise on our health and someone who has written and appreciated the wonderful sounds of our city, I welcomed my time with Antonella and enjoyed my Soundwalk with her.

Antonella understands well the sounds of our city that make it “New York”, e.g sounds of Times Square, Macy’s parade, and roars of fans at ball parks. But she also wants us to be able to continue to listen to the sounds of birds, the laughter of children playing, the hum of conversation. With her Hush City app, Antonella spent time mapping out the quieter areas of New York City and stressing the need to protect these spaces, especially the many parks in our city which provide us with the requisite quiet and the opportunity to enjoy more natural sounds.

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.

 

London subway noise is excessive

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This article in the London Post reports that loud noise on 37 London Underground routes exceeds 85 dB. The World Health Organization recommends only one hour of 85 A-weighted decibel noise exposure to prevent hearing loss. The UK’s Health and Safety Executive recommends posting of warning signs if the noise exceeds 85 decibels. Despite this, Transport for London, the agency that operates London’s subway lines, states that it believes “Health and Safety Executive guidance suggests Tube noise is highly unlikely to cause long-term hearing damage.”

They’re wrong. If one’s commute is 30 minutes or greater each way, the total daily exposure from subway noise alone exceeds the WHO’s safe noise exposure level to prevent hearing loss. And, of course, the Londoner is undoubtedly exposed to other noise sources, such as loud music in restaurants and shops.

When I visit London, I wear earplugs when taking the Tube. You should, too.

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.

Increasing urban noise affecting Dublin

Photo credit: Sean MacEntee licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This piece from the Dublin Inquirer reports that noise levels have doubled there in the past four years. The Quiet Coalition’s Rick Neitzel, on the faculty of the University of Michigan, is cited in the piece. His work showed that noise levels in New York City are high enough to cause hearing loss. This is also true in other large cities.

Some urban noise is a necessary concomitant of modern life.  But cities can be made quieter.

As the article states, most urban noise comes from traffic. Enforcement of muffler regulations, appropriate combinations of tire and pavement materials, elimination of horn-based alerts, and enforcement of laws against horn use except to prevent an accident are all options to make cities quieter, as are more trees and bushes to help absorb and block road traffic 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.

How to protect your hearing

This image is in the public domain.

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This short piece in The Guardian gives sound advice on how to protect your hearing. The Guardian reporter interviewed audiologist Gemma Twitchen, from the UK advocacy group Action on Hearing Loss, about how people can avoid damaging their hearing while listening to loud music, going to the cinema, or taking public transportation, among other activities.

Twitchen says that “[m]any new devices display the safe sound level and warn if you go above that,” and encourages readers to keep an eye on the reading.  She adds that noise-canceling headphones allow users to listen to music at lower volumes. This is important, because as Twitchen notes, temporary auditor symptoms after noise exposure indicate that permanent auditory damage will probably occur with repeated exposure.

I would go a step further and say that there probably is no such thing as temporary auditory damage and any symptoms after noise exposure indicate that permanent damage has already occurred. But I agree entirely with the audiologist’s advice to wear hearing protection.

And as we have been saying for a while, if it sounds too loud, it IS too loud!

Protect your hearing today to preserve it for tomorrow.

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.

Is the modern soundscape damaging our health?

Photo credit: Luis Dalvan from Pexels

Listen to Part 1 of a fascinating two-part series on the impact of city noise on our health by 99% Invisible, a podcast that focuses on “the thought that goes into the things we don’t think about.”  Part 1 looks at our soundscape and how much of it is created without much thought.

The show interviews an interesting mix of people, including design critic Kate Wagner who notes that the sound of cars has a huge impact.  “It’s inescapble,” she laments, adding that car sounds “drown out other things like bird song, human speech, the rustling of leaves, conversation — things that maybe are more personal or that we hold [to have] a higher aesthetic value.”

Dr. Erica Walker discusses the impact of noise on communities, stating that with city sound, volume is not the only thing that bothers. Rather, it’s the character of the sound and, importantly, “whether or not you have control over the situation.” Dr. Mathias Basner, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania who studies how noise affects sleep, agrees, adding  that “health problems come in part from a lack of agency.” “Noise casues stress,” says Basner, “especially if we have little or no control over it.”

Part 1 then looks at how noise in cities discriminates because poorer neighborhoods tend to have higher noise profiles, but notes that if the city has a noise code, those laws tend to get applied more vulnerable, powerless people, particularly in areas undergoing gentrification.

The show concludes with a discussion by Joel Beckerman, a sound designer, who thinks we need a “new approach to sound,” one in which we decide what we want to hear rather than have sound thrust on us.  He calls this new approach “Sonic Humanism.”

Part 1 of this series covered a lot of material in under 20 minutes. It’s well worth listening to.  We will be sure to post about Part 2 when it’s published.

 

 

 

 

 

Why noise pollution is more dangerous than we think

Photo credit: Shawn Carpenter licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

The May 13, 2019 issue of The New Yorker magazine has a wonderful article about noise by staff writer David Owen. Complementing the article is this 8-minute YouTube video in which Mr. Owen talks about what he learned writing the article:

It’s well worth spending the time to watch.

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.