Everyday noise

A quieter world is possible

Photo credit: Leon Macapagal from Pexels

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

As a long-term researcher and writer on the adverse effects of noise on mental and physical health, as well as a strong advocate for a quieter and less noisy world, I was delighted to read two articles in this Sunday’s New York Times real estate section today, March 29th, that focused on the appeal of more quiet and less noise in our lives.

The page one article, entitled “A Window of Opportunity,” states that “[t]hanks to noise reduction technology, living near train tracks is not a problem.” It goes on to explain that developers are now building near rail tracks and people are more willing to live near these tracks because improvements in window technology such as double-pane windows can significantly lessen the intrusive noise from passing trains.

The second article, entitled “Built-In Quiet is Part of a Suburb’s Appeal,” focuses on how living near a cemetery brought considerable quiet to a community of home dwellers because so much space in this New Jersey town is taken up by the cemetery. As one resident said about the cemetery, “to me, it’s beautiful.”

Apparently, these two articles mean that people are more conscious of the hazards of noise and more desirous of living in quieter surroundings. Furthermore, the articles should be reassuring to the anti-noise messengers in that people have been listening to them regarding the dangers of noise and the positive effects of quiet.

As a New York City resident, most of my attention today is focused on the coronavirus pandemic and the effects it has had on people around the world. Yet, I can’t stop from thinking about my noise work because it has taken up so much of my time these past forty years. I have also read articles that this pandemic has resulted in less air pollution and less noise in New York City and other cities as well.

So, I began to wonder if this quiet, to which more people are being exposed, may be comforting to them, especially when there is so much around them to fear. If so, is it not possible that after the pandemic passes and people are able to get on with their lives again, that they might remember the comfort and pleasure quiet brings into one’s life? Is it not possible, that we might see more people joining in to lessen the noise around us? I can dream, can’t I?

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 woman’s search for a noise-free life

Photo credit: Jeffrey Czum from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

In this well-written essay in The Guardian, Emma Beddington describes how noise bothers her and what she does to try to deal with it. Her piece is too distressing to call “delightful,” but I’m sure many could write similar essays about how they try to deal with the noise that bothers them in their everyday lives.

The most common definition of noise is “unwanted sound,” and this definition fits here, but I recently proposed broadening this definition to “noise is unwanted and/orharmful sound.” Even noise levels low enough not to cause auditory damage can be perceived as stressful, and stress is bad for health.

Some noise may be a natural part of urban or rural life. But except, perhaps, for those in certain religious orders, people want quiet and not silence.

And while there are some remedies we can employ to try to quiet the din forcing its way into our homes, reducing noise at its source will always be better than double-paned windows, sound insulation, or noise-cancelling headphones.

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 there any good that may come from this pandemic?

Photo credit: Agung Pandit Wiguna from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Is there anything at all good about the COVID-19 pandemic? There’s an old saying that every cloud has a silver lining, but it’s hard to find one in this global health and financial storm.

But as people self-quarantine or shelter in place, and road traffic and aircraft traffic decreases, the streets, highways, and skies are noticeably quieter. The air is cleaner, too. And that’s good, even if it reflects a problem.

In these moments of quiet, perhaps we can rediscover the simple pleasures of reading a book, or gardening, or walking in a park (at least 6 feet away from others, to be sure), and think of earlier times when quiet was the norm.

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.

Does loud noise in pubs affect customers?

Photo credit: Daxis licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

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

Silencity has noted the importance of the Soundprint app in identifying restaurants that are too noisy as well as those that are quieter. The popularity of the Soundprint app  speaks to the fact that there are many people who wish to enjoy their food and conversation with their fellow diners in less noisy restaurants. Now, we learn that an organization in the United Kingdom, called Mumbli, is certifying “venues on their quality of sound.

This campaign to make London “sound better” has already measured sound levels in 300 venues and has identified those venues where “…you can have a conversation with a balance of good atmosphere and well-being.” The organization plans to rate 1,000 more venues in 2020 and extend their operation beyond London to across the UK.

What I found particularly interesting about Alice Leader’s article linked above is that she noted a study by the charity Action on Hearing Loss that eight out of ten people have cut their visits to pubs, restaurants, and cafes because of noise. Furthermore, the heading of the article “Loud noise forces 80% of customers to leave a pub” causes one to rethink that it is only those people who are interested in “fine dining” that are advocating for a “lower decibel level” in dining establishments. For those of you less familiar with the word “pub,” the more common American word is “bar.” Ms. Leader’s article also clearly links background noise to impaired hearing, well-being and productivity.

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.

 

A noise control cure for noise-induced tinnitus and hyperacusis

Photo credit: Owen Barker from Pexels

by Jan L. Mayes, MSc, Audiologist

In a 2019 article titled “Why is there no cure for tinnitus?” the authors looked at whether studies had dentified if participants have a history of significant noise exposure that could cause decreased sound tolerance, like hyperacusis or tinnitus. A cure for noise-induced tinnitus and hyperacusis, the authors noted, could be very different from a cure for tinnitus or hyperacusis from other causes, like aging or head injury.

The article shows that it’s important for research to identify noise sub-types when evaluating potential cures. The underlying hearing health damage for sudden high level noise like acoustic trauma is different than damage from chronic moderate level noise over time. That is, the cure for noise-induced tinnitus and hyperacusis from bomb blasts or firearms is likely different than the cure for noise-induced tinnitus and hyperacusis from being exposed to unhealthy noise at school, on public transit systems, or at noisy workplaces.

High level public noise pollution in daily life can impact hearing health of all ages from babies to elders. Fortunately, the solution for tinnitus and hyperacusis caused by public noise pollution is not a cure–it’s better than a cure, as the solution is preventing the noise from happening in the first place.

How? There must be noise control for human manufactured unhealthy noise sources like personal listening devices, aircraft, road vehicles, railways, consumer products, and even MRI machines. There is no need for a cure if the source noise is never manufactured to be loud enough to cause decreased sound tolerance in the first place.

Controlling the source of noise would have other positive effects. Moderate levels of public noise pollution can significantly affect the quality of life for people with tinnitus and hyperacusis by causing poor sleep and making it significantly harder to understand speech in the presence of background noise. This, in turn, can increase stress levels, making it harder to cope and potentially interferring with available treatment.

Noise control is not impossible. Protecting the general public from unhealthy noise must cost less than the combined healthcare costs of diagnosing and treating tinnitus, hyperacusis, and other hearing health damage. And new noise prevention materials are constantly being invented. Examples include an acoustic material invented by Boston University that silences or cancels out 94% of sound waves without blocking light or airflow. A Canadian company is making noise barriers that absorb noise and air pollution. Quiet electric passenger planes could be in regional operation by 2021.

But nothing will change about public noise pollution until authorities and decision makers make health and hearing health a priority. This includes real time city and transportation noise mapping and reporting to identify locations with unhealthy noise. Noise prevention and control is necessary to protect public health and it should be mandatory.

Dr. Daniel Fink describes implications for acoustic engineering and design considerations for structures and enforced noise emission regulations and restrictions. Examples could include muffling school and public hand dryers, hour restrictions or night curfews at airports, quieter leaf blowers, quiet defaults on consumer products like microwaves with an option to turn on audible alerts, quiet solutions to replace vehicle back-up beeps, or preventing new imposed noise from delivery drones or noisy audible vehicle alert systems on electric cars. New technology needs to be quietly accessible for everyone.

Preventing public noise pollution won’t stop all cases of tinnitus and hyperacusis, but it could stop millions of cases around the world. Safe soundscapes without unhealthy noise are best for everyone from newborns to elders. And prevention is always better than trying to treat the problem or find a cure for noise-induced hearing damage after it occurs.

Jan L. Mayes is an international Eric Hoffer Award winning author in Non-Fiction Health. She is also a blogger and newly retired audiologist still specializing in noise, tinnitus-hyperacusis, and hearing health education. You can read more of Jan’s work at her site, www.janlmayes.com.

 

 

Sound and the city

Photo credit: Ian D. Keating licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This excellent essay by on Curbed discusses urban noise levels. It’s a very comprehensive piece, discussing multiple aspects of urban noise and how it affects people.

Some urban noise is an unavoidable accompaniment to modern life, but much can be done to make cities quieter. These include enacting laws against excessive vehicle exhaust noise, horn use, aircraft noise including helicopter flights, and indoor quiet laws.

Of course, enacting laws isn’t enough. They must be actually be enforced. Crowdsourced reporting using smartphone apps can help with enforcement.

My only quibble with the Curbed article is that the author cites the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as recommending only 85 decibels (dB) for 8 hours to prevent hearing loss, but the link is to the National Instititue for Occupational Safety and Health. While part of the CDC, NOISH is charged with making recommendations for the prevention of work-related injury and illnes, not recommendations for the general public. So NOISH’s 85 dB exposure standard, actually 85 dBA*, is an occupational noise exposure level to prevent noise-induced hearing loss in the workplace–it’s not intended to be a safe exposure threshold for the public.

The NIOSH Science Blog post on February 8, 2016, specifically addressed this concern. And my research revealed that the only evidence-based safe noise level to prevent hearing loss is an average of 70 decibels a day.

Given the general misunderstanding of what is a safe noise exposure level for the average person, Furseth’s article raises important issues that I hope are starting to be taking seriously.  Cities have gotten louder and the effect of increased noise on residents and visitors is something that should be given serious attention.

*A-weighted sound measurements are adjusted to reflect 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.

Zillow tracks noisy cities and neighborhoods

Photo credit: Daniel X. O’Neil licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This report in Atlanta Agent magazine, directed at the real estate industry, looks at a report by Zillow, a real estate site, that identifies Atlanta’s noisiest neighborhoods.

I wondered if Zillow tracked noise for other cities, too. The answer is yes, Zillow has a report that looks at the noise level of over 900 cities nationwide.

The only problem is that Zillow’s method is to estimate the noise level based on the National Park Service noise maps. That is, Zillow doesn’t measure actual noise levels.

I would suggest that Zillow might want to use the Department of Commerce’s transportation noise maps instead, since transportation noise is a major problem in many parts of the country. Transportation noise includes road traffic noise, aircraft noise, and railroad noise. Zillow adds that a lot of urban noise also comes from ambulances for those living near hospitals, and from sports stadiums.

Real estate professionals advise prospective home buyers to check out their properties at various times of the day. A quiet residential street may become a busy commuter cut-through during the morning rush hour, for example, or the preferred way home for parents picking up children at the end of the school day.

Renting isn’t the same long-term commitment as buying, but renters may also want to check out noise levels before signing a lease.

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.

World Economic Forum honors TQC scientific advisor, Dr. A. Radicchi!

Hush City app’s icon (c) Antonella Radicchi 2017

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

The Quiet Coalition just received news that the Hush City app, developed by Dr. Antonella Radicchi, our scientific advisor and Senior Research Associate and HEAD-Genuit Foundation Fellow at the Technical University of Berlin, has been recognised and honored by the World Economic Forum among the “4 clever projects fighting noise pollution around the globe.”

Hush City app is a free citizen science mobile app that helps crowdsourcing quiet areas worldwide.

Watch the WEF’s video by clicking here and scrolling to the end of the story.

In the spring 2019, Dr. Radicchi was on a research stay at New York University in New York City, working with other anti-noise advocates there. We were pleased to co-host her stay in America.

Congratulations, Antonella! We firmly believe in crowdsourcing data about quiet areas as a “democratic” as well as scientifically valid method that will start to make the world a quieter place for all.

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.

Urban noise is “the absolute scourge of our time”

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

The Guardian recently published a fascinating article by Thomas McMullan in which he said that cities are louder than ever and noted that the poor suffer the most. That article got an enormous amount of attention and “prompted a huge response,” so there was a follow-up piece in which the newspaper shared some of the best responses.  While one of the respondents embraced urban noise saying that “cities are people and life and they make noise,” every other commenter disagreed, with one exclaiming that “[n]oise pollution is the absolute scourge of our time.”

Some noise is a necessary accompaniment to urban living, but excessive noise isn’t. And solutions are available if the political will exists. Namely, enforcement of existing noise ordinances, especially for vehicle exhaust noise, revision of building codes to require sound insulation and double-paned windows, and quieter sirens would be good first steps.

I believe that if enough people complain to their elected officials about urban noise, something can be done about it.

And something must be done about noise, because urban noise isn’t just a nuisance–in many cities it is loud enough to damage hearing, and the World Health Organization recognizes is as a major health hazard.

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.

The cost of noise disruptions

Photo credit: Cadeau Maestro from Pexels

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

Katherine Martinko, Treehugger, writes about how “blocking out the noise of the world” can make us more productive and creative.

Do you remember the Microsoft study on productivity and the cost of noise disruptions? I certainly do. Microsoft and several other big tech companies convened a meeting several years ago to discuss how to measure the productivity of knowledge workers. All the experts were there, led by some people from MIT.

I remember because they awarded my partner and me a contract to do further research (our original work had been for Apple Computer) on this subject and we presented it at a Human Factors and Ergonomics Society conference later.

Here’s the point in a single quote from the above article:

After being interrupted, it takes about 25 minutes to get back to the task you were working on, according to a Microsoft study. It can take even longer to get to a ‘flow state,’ alternatively called ‘deep work.’ These terms refer to the concentrated frame of mind you’re in when immersed in a task and time just seems to fly. It’s also when you do your best work.

What more do we need to know? The relentless shift toward open landscape offices has been underway for decades—because it reduces the cost of corporate office space. Basically, take away walls and doors and even cubicles and you can reduce the space-per-person well below 200 sq ft., resulting in huge savings and greater “flexibility.” But in the end, many people now work in essentially raw, unfinished, factory-like spaces with concrete floors, temporary tables, and virtually no privacy—and that, we are told, is supposed to result in what they call “teamwork.”

We’ve written about the bane of open offices before, but the fact that Microsoft weighed in on the issue is significant. We agree with the author of the above piece that it’s important, if not essential, to find and hang onto your own “bliss station”—a place where distractions are removed and you’re at your most productive when you need to be.

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.