Coronavirus Pandemic

Noise and pollution increase as countries, states reopen

Photo credit: Ion Ceban @ionelceban from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This New York Times article reports that gaseous pollutant emissions are surging as countries and states reopen economic activity.

We have covered several reports about the coronavirus lockdowns causing noise and vibration levels to decrease, but I haven’t yet seen a report about the effect of reopening on noise levels.

I wrote about the eerie nighttime quiet of a curfew beginning at 1 p.m. in the afternoon. A little noise may be reassuring, or at least familiar, but too much noise is a problem.

My own observation is that in the west Los Angeles area, noise levels are definitely increasing. Automobile, truck, and motorcycle exhaust noise can be heard day and night. And there are more airplanes in the sky.

It will be interesting to see what happens with noise levels as the economy reopens more.

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.

Lockdown was a boon for science

Photo credit: Kwh1050 licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

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

As I have written before on Silencity, the COVID-19 lockdown has given city dwellers around the world the opportunity to hear a landscape with less road traffic, fewer overhead jets, and a slowdown in constructions sounds. Yes, one sound was heard more frequently – birdsong. But on June 22, New York City is entering Phase 2 and the “older, less welcoming sounds” could be returning.

Interestingly, the quieter pandemic environment has given the Quiet Project in the UK the opportunity to map out the lower decibel levels that have occurred during the lockdown, writes Philip Ball of The Guardian. In addition to actual sound recordings, the Quiet Project has asked the public to reflect on how the changed soundscape has affected them. According to Lindsay McIntyre, the director of the company involved in this project, “[e]veryone I speak to has got an opinion on how the changes in noise makes them feel.” For example, as I have noted in earlier writings, some people actually miss the more traditional urban sounds, but what they really missed was what their lives were before the pandemic.

The researchers involved in the Quiet Project hope to use their data in ways that may result, for example, in having planners factor in more “tranquil areas” in cities as we move forward. Seismologists are especially interested in how the pandemic altered human activities. With less human activity, and the accompanying noises they are responsible for, seismologists can detect small earthquakes and this information can tell more about the “state of stress and movement in the crust.” Oceanographers, concerned about the impact of low-frequency noise from ship engines on the communications of marine life, found the change in ocean sounds during the pandemic provided the opportunity to study ship factors that harm marine animals. This finding could “help plan ocean transportation so it is less disruptive to marine life.”

With the pandemic resulting in less noise, scientists were given the opportunity to collect the kind of data that may help them find ways to keep our planet quieter in the near future for all its inhabitants. Out of adversity, can come creativity!

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.

Lockdown lets us hear the birds, and lets them hear each other

Photo credit: Pratikxox from Pexels

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

The New York Times recently had an article that featured the birds of New York City. It notes that with the pandemic quieting the usual din of New York City, birds can now lift their voices. It is not only their voices that have been lifted, but their visibility as well. Readers are introduced to thirteen species of birds, some of whom have been commonly present in the city but others who are rarely present. In the past, birds have called out to us but we were less likely to hear them. Now, we can both see and hear these beautiful birds. This pandemic has occurred during the spring when birds are at their peak in the city and so New Yorkers, at a time when there is so much despair and anxiety in our lives, have been given the opportunity to listen to sounds that are so joyous to the ears.

That birds have served to brighten the lives of New Yorkers at this time is underscored by a second Times’ article by Jennifer Ackerman, who writes that not only are more people noticing birds but “[t]he lack of people is indeed being noticed by the wildlife.” With less noise, birds can more easily converse with each other and be more aware of harmful predators.

Ackerman adds that being more exposed to birds may also make us more aware of a species that knows how to navigate the world “in tough times.” Most certainly, people will have to acquire new skills to deal with the obstacles they will be facing after the pandemic shutdown. One hopes that they will also remember the pleasure and comfort of the birdsong they have listened to and understand that noise is harmful to both humans and birds. Such memories may lead to a lessening of the overall din of this city. And that will benefit the city’s dwellers – both humans and birds.

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.

COVID lockdown yields cleaner, quieter environment

Photo credit: nevil zaveri licensed under CC BY 2.0

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

While the pandemic lockdown has created havoc in our lives and aroused an anxiety as to what our “new normal world” will look like, it has, unexpectedly, provided an opportunity for researchers to examine its impacts on the surrounding environment. The air appears to be cleaner and the soundscape quieter. This cleaner, quieter environment enabled Indrajit Mandal and his colleagues to study the effects of COVID-19 on the environment near the Dwarka river basin in Eastern India after nearby stone quarrying areas were locked down. The data collected after the lockdown were then compared to data collected pre-lockdown.

The results of this study indicated a reduction in particulate matter and noise level. The adjacent river water quality was also found to be improved. The findings on noise demonstrated that “noise level is dropped to <65dBA which was above 85dBA in stone crusher dominated areas in pre lockdown period.” This is indeed a significant drop in noise! In their discussion section, the authors cite studies that have examined the adverse impacts of a higher particulate matter concentration, poorer water quality, and increased noise levels on human health.

This paper concludes by noting that now that we know that a temporary lockdown can improve the environment, we should be encouraged to seek ways to provide for a sustainable environment while still supporting a sustainable economy. This sustainable environment would also benefit other species who share this earth with humans. A “successful control of pollution sources can give a lively earth and it can establish the right to life in our planet earth.”

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.

Making the world a quieter and better place

Photo credit: hjl licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

I wrote the other day about the eerie nighttime silence of a city so jolted by violence that its nightly curfew starts at 1:00 p.m. in the afternoon. We’re approaching the end of the third month of lockdown, with a gradual reopening of the economy in Los Angeles County, now the center of the coronavirus epidemic in California.

The “Groundhog Day” nature of life these days is getting old. When I know the evening schedule for our three Public Broadcasting System stations by heart, this is not a good thing.

But, as I tell my wife, things could be far worse. I’m not getting shot at when I go to the market to buy food, we’re not being bombed, we have food, water, gas, electricity, internet and cable TV, we’re not in a refugee camp. We’re in a house with a yard, not a small crowded apartment, everyone in the family is working, almost everyone from home,

I only knew one person who died from COVID at age 92, and one friend on the east coast who got COVID at work but has recovered.

We miss cultural events, museums, movies, restaurant dining, and travel, but again, things could be far worse.

I recognize that when for the foreseeable future the new normal for the U.S. is 20,000+ new COVID cases each day and another 1,000 deaths, noise concerns fade in importance, but they are still important.

I understand that as our country continues to be unable to control the COVID epidemic, as American democracy hangs by a thread, and the nation tries to deal with job losses not seen since the Great Depression, the environment is a relatively minor concern. But it is still a concern.

Several of The Quiet Coalition’s members have written about the reduction in noise, largely transportation noise, during the COVID lockdown with beneficial effects on people, birds, and ocean life. The only way we will be able to keep the quiet, to eliminate unnecessary noise, is to elect leaders and legislators who are concerned about the environment.

Those of use concerned about the environment should check now that we are still registered to vote. We should encourage everyone we know to do the same. And perhaps to file the papers to get a vote-by-mail ballot if that is possible where you live. I am already signed up to vote by mail.

Meaningful change may come from protests in the street, but peaceful and perhaps more meaningful change will come from exercising our franchise to vote at the ballot box.

Please register to vote and vote in November. This may be the most important election of our lifetimes.

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.

Good sounds during lockdown

Photo credit: Anthony Quintano licensed under CC BY 2.0

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

In contrast to Dr. Daniel Fink’s experience with the lack of sound during curfew, I have been experiencing good sounds at my apartment. Confined to my home, I cannot join the marches. So the marches have come to my home. I have stood on my terrace and have joined in by applauding the marchers as they pass my building on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. The sounds are voices from people of all ages and races calling for justice and the applause of nearby residents supporting their call.

It is on this same terrace each evening at seven that I join my neighbors in applauding the health care workers who are caring for those who are suffering from COVID-19.

The voices and applause are such pleasant sounds. They are music to my ears.

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.

Experts envision post-COVID cities without noise and pollution

Car-free street in New York City during lockdown | Photo credit: Jim Griffin has dedicated this photograph to the public domain

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

Menios Constantinou, Architecture & Deisgn, writes about how the COVID pandemic and lockdown is giving us the opportunity to envision our cities without the twin scourges of noise and pollution. Constantinou interviewed Professor Mark Nieuwenhuijsen, a professorial fellow at the MacKillop Institute for Health Research and a leading environmental epidemiologist, who talked about how he noticed at the beginning of the lockdown that he could hear birds singing as the traffic noise had greatly diminished. Nieuwenhuijsen’s observation led him to reimagine what cities could be.

And he’s not the only one. Nieuwenhuijsen told Constantinou that “[w]hat you see in places like Milan is the policymakers taking advantage of the current situation, and using it as an opportunity to rethink how they plan their cities.” This is also happening elsewhere, with more than a dozen European nations backing a green post-pandemic recovery plan. The money can only be spent once, Nieuwenhuijsen adds, so “we might as well do it in the way that will save more lives in the long term, and create a more just, sustainable and liveable society.”

I’ve been wondering if this flashback we’ve been living in—flashback to what life may have been like before the industrial revolution—would produce any permanent changes when it’s over.

It’s a tough question to answer as we know so little about what happened after previous pandemics. For instance, the Great Flu Pandemic of 1918 was a social cost of the WWI mobilization–hat flu began with animal to human transmission in Kansas, spread east to Army recruitment centers, travelled abroad, exploded there and then returned to the U.S. in the tragically deadly second wave. And, of course the great plagues in Europe during the 14th to 16th centuries continued episodically for over 200 years because they didn’t have a theory of viral or bacterial disease or know they’re transmitted. That one, of course, then travelled across the Atlantic to North and South America with the Conquistadors and their soldiers and crews—ultimately destroying millions of lives and ending lost-established, indigenous civilizations.

This time we have the opportunity to learn from it. And there are encouraging signs that urban planners are embracing the idea that quieter, cleaner cities are possible, and what’s more, they’re highly desirable. Will that spur an acceleration in interest among city planners and others in doing more to regain that which has been lost to pollution and noise?

We can only hope that what Professor Nieuwenhuijsen comments will be heeded everywhere!

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.

The quiet of the curfew

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

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

The protests over the death of George Floyd literally in the hands of the police have turned violent in many communities, including mine. The last two days the curfew has begun at 1 p.m., lasting until 5:30 a.m. the next morning.

Last night there were demonstrations and some looting and fires two miles to the east, and three miles to the west, but fortunately nothing happened in our city.

Once the low-flying helicopters stopped, and the distant sirens stopped, perhaps about 10 p.m., it was eerily quiet.

There were no passing cars or motorcycles or sirens heard though the open window.

As those who follow this blog post know, I am a passionate advocate for quiet.

But I wanted a little more noise last night. Just a little more 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.

Avoid noisy restaurants during the pandemic

Photo credit: Kate Trifo from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

As readers of this site know, I am an advocate for quieter restaurants. The sound levels in many restaurants and bars are loud enough to cause auditory damage.

Noisy restaurants are also a disability rights issue for those with hearing loss and other auditory disorders.

Now there’s yet another reason to avoid noisy restaurants during the COVID-19 epidemic–if the ambient noise is loud enough to require one to speak more loudly than usual to be heard, coronavirus is more likely to be shed into the air.

And when it’s noisy, people consciously or unconsciously get closer together to converse. If the ambient noise is above 75 decibels or so, it’s difficult to converse even at a 3-foot distance, and certainly not possible at the safe 6-foot social distance recommended by the White House and public health authorities.

So please stay safe. As COVID-19 lockdowns are lifted, avoid noisy restaurants. if you dine out. And as Teddy Roosevelt might have said, “[s]peak softly and wear a big mask.”

Thanks to my longtime friend Minka Goldstein for bringing this topic to my 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.

Research during COVID: Biologist studies bird behavior and noise

Photo credit: Tina Nord from Pexels

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

I wondered who was taking advantage of this pandemic-induced quiet to do research on how nature reacts? Sure enough, this young researcher at the College of William and Mary in Virginia is conducting a well-controlled study of the nesting and reproductive behavior of bluebirds–with and without the influence of traffic noise.

Fascinating experimental design. If you’ve heard of other studies, please let us know!

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.