Disorderly Sound

Human noise takes its toll on birds

Sarah Kaplan, The Washington Post, reports that some birds are so stressed by noise pollution that “it looks like they have PTSD.”  Kaplan writes that scientists researching birds living near noisy natural gas treatment facilities in New Mexico discovered from sampling the birds’ blood that they had “the same physiological symptoms as a human suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.” Said Rob Guralnick, associate curator of biodiversity informatics at the Florida Museum of Natural History, “[n]oise is causing birds to be in a situation where they’re chronically stressed . . . and that has really huge health consequences for birds and their offspring.”

And humans?  The researchers took their findings to Christopher Lowry, a stress physiologist at the University of Colorado at Boulder, who was not surprised by the results–“it’s what you would expect in a creature exposed to prolonged, persistent strain.”  So does the study’s findings have implications about the effect of noise on human health?  Kaplan writes:

To Lowry, the fact that humans respond to stress in the same manner as animals as distantly related as birds suggests that this response is ancient and deeply ingrained. And it raises questions about how humans handle exposure to unrelenting noise. The mother bluebird that nested near a compressor and was unable to leave when the sound became unbearable may not be so different from a low-income human family forced to rent an apartment near a flight path or loud industrial site.

Ultimately, being under an aural assault is bad for any living thing’s health and well-being.  Says Lowry, “[t]here’s evidence that being able to have a full auditory experience is essential for optimal health in both species.”

 

And you thought your neighbors were loud

Make it stop!!!!  Photo credit: Tristan Ferne licensed under CC BY 2.0

Pity the poor dolphin: reproductive orgies of Mexican fish are ao loud, they can deafen dolphins.

Not much to add really, not with a story like this one. Except to note that we had a couple of loud neighbors who failed to understand–at least at first–that everyone in our building could hear everything they were doing by that open window in their bedroom. So here’s a useful tip: A direct and contemporaneous comment about neighbors’ noise-making will swiftly bring their proceedings to halt.

You’re welcome!

 

 

 

Yes. The answer is yes.

The battleground.

And the question is: Are noise-filled carriages bad for your health? Hannah Jane Parkinson, The Guardian, is righteously appalled about a bone-headed idea floated by UK railway company South Western Railways which is considering getting rid of quiet carriages.  For some of us–raises hand as high as one can–quiet cars on Amtrak and state-run transit are the one of the few saving graces of an increasingly overused, underfunded public transit system here in the U.S. So reading that   South Western Railways may kill quiet carriages not due to lack of interest but because “[t]he rise of mobile phones, loud music players and a general lack of etiquette mean that quiet zones are now virtually unenforceable,” is an absolute outrage.

Parkinson writes that some people think that quietness is overrated [Ed: monsters!] and says that “[p]sychotherapist and writer Philippa Perry suggests that we are becoming frightened of quietness, possibly as a result of technology.” But Parkinson sides with those of us who just want a moment that isn’t filled with layers of unavoidable sound, even suggesting prison sentences for the sound-loving louts who would rob the rest of us of just a few seconds of peace:

Seven years. That’s the minimum prison sentence that should apply to people on public transport who listen to music through their phone speakers (also known as “sodcasting”) – with two years for banal phone conversations that never end.

We agree, and would suggest similar sentencing guidelines for people wearing headphones who sing along, badly, to whatever they are listening to and those who set their phone volume to 11 and engage the tapping sound on their phone keyboards.

In the end, though, we can’t and shouldn’t avoid all sound, but the artificial sounds imposed on us by marketing miscreants and social louts can be controlled. Instead of getting rid of quiet cars on trains, why not make them all quiet except for one loud car for the uncaring and boorish? Tired of trying to eat a meal in peace only to have some miscreant spend his or her entire meal shouting into their smart phone? Interpose yourself into the conversation by offering unsolicited advice or agreeing with the unseen person on the other end. And refuse to give a dime of encouragement to the amateur “entertainers” who leap onto your subway car just as the doors close, armed with a boom box or bongos–yes, really–with the intent of destroying your sanity for the next three minutes.

People have begun to accept that noise is normal and that wanting quiet is some quirky affectation. But noise isn’t normal and should not be the default. We need to push back against the bad behavior of the noise makers and reclaim our public spaces.  So demand more quiet cars. Ask someone to stop shouting into their phone.  And know you are not alone.

Low Frequency Noise May Account for the Intolerability of Gas Leaf Blowers

Photo credit: Dean Hochman licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Jamie Banks, PhD, and Erica Walker, PhD

Boston, MA —Complaints by many residents over commercial gas leaf blower use may be explained by a strong low frequency component, according to a pilot study conducted by researchers. The study found low frequency noise from commercial gas leaf blowers persisted at high levels for 800 feet from the source. Low frequency sound travels over long distances and penetrates walls and windows. “Our finding helps explain why so many people are complaining about the effects this noise is having on their health and quality of life,” said Jamie Banks of Quiet Communities and co-author of the study. “At these levels, operating even one gas leaf blower can affect an entire neighborhood.”

Loud noise is known to harm hearing and non-hearing health, causing cardiovascular disturbances, psychological distress, and disruptions to learning and concentration. Vulnerable populations include landscape workers, children, senior, and people with hearing and neurological disorders, such as autism. More than 100 million people in the US are estimated to be exposed to harmful levels of environmental noise.

The study appears online Nov 3, 2017 in the Journal of Environmental and Toxicological Studies. It is the first in the U.S. to explore the characteristics of sound from gas-powered lawn and garden equipment.

Sound from leaf blowers and a hose vacuum—equipment commonly used in landscape maintenance—was over 100 dbA at the source and decreased over distance. However, the low frequency component persisted at high levels. “From a community perspective, the sound ratings supplied by manufacturers do not take frequency into consideration,” said co-author Erica Walker, a recent graduate of the doctoral program at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “Our findings suggest that reporting more information on a sound’s character may be a step in the right direction,” she adds.

A Finnish study presented in 2004 also found strong tonal and low frequency components among various brands of commercial gas leaf blowers. These are the types of sound poorly tolerated by humans and which become amplified in indoor settings.

The dB(A) is the standard used by manufacturers to rate the sound of their equipment and is the metric communities use to set regulatory policy. “We now know that this metric breaks down in instances where there is a significant low frequency noise component,” said Walker. In fact, in the International Institute for Noise Control Engineering and the National Academy of Engineering have both indicated that the dB(A) is not sufficient for describing the impact of sound that contains a strong low frequency component.

Gas leaf blowers are identified as sources of harmful noise by the US Centers for Disease Control, US EPA as well as the national landscape industry association. “People need to recognize that this type of noise is not just an annoyance, it is a public health problem. We need think about prevention,” said Banks.

For more information:

Jamie Banks: jlbanks@quietcommunities.org

Erica Walker: erica@noiseandthecity.org

Originally posted at Quiet Communities.

Too loud: noisy toys can damage a child’s hearing

Photo credit: Terence Ong licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, the Quiet Coalition

This report from a Phoenix, Arizona television station mentions children’s toys that are so loud they can damage hearing. Noise level is an important thing for parents, grandparents, and aunts, uncles, and friends to think about during the holiday season and all year long.

The only thing I disagree with in the report is the statement, “[t]he maximum sound level a child should be exposed to is 85 decibels.” I don’t think there is any scientific basis for this statement. The National Institute for Deafness and Other Communication Disorders states, “[l]ong or repeated exposure to sound at or above 85 decibels can cause hearing loss.” But the NIDCD fails to give a time limit.

As I wrote in the January 2017 American Journal of Public Health, 70 decibels time weighted average for 24 hours is the only evidence based safe noise exposure level to prevent hearing loss. My blog post for the American Journal of Public Health further explained why the real safe noise exposure level is likely to be lower.

The 85 decibel standard comes from the occupational noise exposure level, which is 85 A-weighted decibels. It isn’t a safe noise exposure standard without a time limit, and it doesn’t protect all exposed workers from hearing loss.

If you are unsure whether the noise level is safe, either get a sound meter app for your smart phone or follow this simple rule: If it sounds too loud, it IS too loud! If you can’t converse easily over a sound, it’s above 75 A-weighted decibels, which is the Auditory Injury Threshold, and hearing damage is occurring.

Children rely on us to protect them from many things, and noise exposure is one them.  So this holiday season, do a little research before you buy to make sure you are getting the children in your life fun and safe toys.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He serves on the board of the American Tinnitus Association, is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’s Health Advisory Council, and 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.

‘Tis the season…for nonstop Xmas music

Photo credit: Jim Moore licensed under CC BY 2.0

But in what can only be termed a Christmas miracle, a couple of chain stores are offering respite from the annual holiday assault: AutoZone and Costco are your only sanctuaries from Christmas music this winter.  Actually, Amy X. Wang, Quartz, reports that there are two more kind souls, GameStop and WinCo Foods, that have opted to spare their customers from the endless aural assault.

And after calling around, Wang prepared a list showing when various national retailers plan on turning up the Xmas volume. While most retailers exercised some restraint by waiting until Thanksgiving before turning on the forced holiday cheer, Best Buy cruelly began playing Xmas tunes on October 22nd. We grieve for their employees.

Link via Greg, founder of the Soundprint app, the “Yelp for Noise!”

Madrid’s noisy nightlife is keeping residents awake

Photo credit: Jorge Díaz licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This interesting report documents complaints about noise in Spain’s capital city, Madrid.

It turns out that in Madrid making noise when and where one wants has an aspect of political expression that may be present in other cities and other countries but has special relevance in Spain. Franco’s Minister of the Interior coined the phrase, “[t]he street is mine.”  And the police dispersed any group of more than three people.

When democracy returned to Spain, leaders in Madrid made a lively street scene part of their newfound freedom. The mayor coined the phrase, “Madrid nunca duerme”- Madrid never sleeps.

And now that’s a problem.

All regulations restrict someone’s freedom. But if we are to live in increasingly dense and crowded environments, people can’t be free to do something that adversely affects others. After all, everyone must sleep sometime.

Smoking may be a useful example. People in the U.S. and Europe still have the right to smoke, but they can’t smoke where others have to smell and breathe their smoke.

And that’s how it should be with noise. People should have to right to deafen themselves with personal music players, or attend rock concerts, or patronize noisy clubs. They can ride loud motorcycles, too, but not where others can hear them.

Because people shouldn’t have the right to disrupt the lives of others with their noise.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He serves on the board of the American Tinnitus Association, is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’s Health Advisory Council, and 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.

Anti-social miscreant charged criminally

for being an anti-social miscreant: Man charged for playing car stereo too loud. No doubt there may be some who assume the cops in Central Saanich on Vancouver Island, Canada, have too much time on their hands and too little work to do.

And they would be wrong.

Although Dustin Hamilton, the offender, claims he didn’t mean to annoy people, well, let’s just say certain facts belie his feigned innocence. Like the fact that his “car is equipped with a decibel reader and he says he plays it at 150.” Or that he boasted to Asymina Kantorowicz, writer/producer at CTV News, that his sound system can reach 155 decibels. To give you an idea about how loud that is, according to Dangerous Decibels, a jet plane at 100 feet away is around 135 decibels, and the permissible listening time for someone exposed to 115 decibels is under 30 seconds. It’s a wonder he can even hear.

And then there’s the bit about the number of neighbors filing complaints. Said Hamilton, “[i]f somebody just came up to me nicely saying ‘hey I live here this is what’s happening’ you know we could do that but I never had that, I just had a guy follow me and try and assault me,” adding, “[i]t went from that to basically 17 people complaining and a mischief charge.” From one guy trying to assault him to 17 complaints, and he has no idea why.

Hamilton’s charge comes with certain conditions, like not contacting the complainants and not driving on certain roads. No surprise he is put out, as is his girlfriend, who likes her music as loud as he does, reminding us of the adage, “there’s a lid for every pot.”

In the end, Hamilton would claim that the reason for the crazy loud music isn’t some sociopathic need to torment his neighbors. No, for Hamilton it comes down to this: “I can play anything, rap, hip-hop, it all sounds good … I love sound man.”

Not for long, Hamilton.

Thanks to Jan L. Mayes for the link.