Everyday noise

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.

Pandemic delivers relief from aircraft noise to Minneapolis-St. Paul

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

As a researcher, I am well aware of how important it is to conduct studies in natural settings, not just in laboratories. A recent article by Janet Moore, Star Tribune, addresses how the COVID-19 pandemic created a natural setting observation where human reactions to aircraft noise before the onset of the pandemic could be compared with their reactions during the outbreak and then after things got back to “somewhat normal.”

Complaints related to noisy aircraft landings and departures at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport have been a constant reminder of how disturbing aircraft noise has been to the adjacent communities. This Airport has had “an uneasy, and sometimes, litigious relationship with its neighbors” for many years. In response, the Metropolitan Airports Commission (which owns and operates the Airport) has spent “nearly a half-billion dollars for building improvements for about 15,000 houses, apartments and schools to mitigate the noise.” Yet, noise complaints continued to be filed against the airport.

Then came the pandemic. The noise complaints fell considerably. With so many fewer planes, there was much less noise. People living near the airport were able to enjoy their backyard barbecues and breezes through open windows during the nighttime. One resident said, “I thought I’d die and had gone to heaven, it was so lovely.” Then the planes started coming back and this same resident noticed that the flights over the past month “are right back where they were” before the pandemic. Yes, noise complaints have gone up as well, according to the data collected.

With the airlines claiming that it is still too soon to say that passenger volume has returned to pre-pandemic levels, the noise levels at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport may still be lower than they were. Yet, there has been an increase in UPS and FedEx flights which could add to noise complaints. And more people are working from home, which could lead to increased noise complaints with people hearing daytime flights over their heads. It has also been conjectured that residents having experienced the quiet without the aircraft noise may be even more upset with the return of the noise and file even more complaints.

As I stated at the beginning of this writing, the pandemic has opened up the opportunity to study people’s reactions to an environment with less and more intrusive noise. More flights—more complaints; fewer flights—less complaints. Noise does intrude on the lives of people!

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.

Harmful transit noise can be reduced

Photo credit: William Davies has dedicated this photo into the public domain

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

I recently learned about another group of people being subjected to the harsh and dangerous noises emitted from a railway. In this case it is the Squamish Nation community in Vancouver whose lives are being disrupted by engine noise, engines idling in the middle of the night and early in the morning, and 100 decibel whistle blows at night at a protected crossing. In response to these complaints, the Canadian National Railway has commented that “there will always be some noise associated with operations.” The Railway goes on to say that it has made efforts to minimize their operations.

First, let me note the research that has demonstrated that noise is harmful to health and well-being and this includes railroad noise. Second, having been a consultant to the New York City Transit Authority on rail noise and knowledgeable about the underlying causes of rail noise, I feel comfortable in wondering whether the Canadian Railway has done everything it could to lessen its system noise. This is underscored by the railway simply saying efforts have been made to lessen noise without citing examples. I would also venture to assume that the railway might believe that reducing noise could be costly. In fact, by reducing noise the New York City Transit Authority actually saved money. The building of less noisy traction motors for its trains resulted in a more efficient motor that would last longer and smoothing the rails didn’t just lessen noise, it placed less stress on the city’s aging structure where stress can lead to increased breakdowns.

It has been over forty years since my first transit noise study which found that children in classrooms exposed to passing elevated train noise had lower reading scores. Yes, we were able to remedy the noise of the passing trains and the children’s learning improved. Now all these years later, I still find that individuals are being exposed to harmful transit noise and the agency in charge appears to accept the idea that the people living near the noise have to learn to live with it.

Thanks to the Noise Curmudgeon for the story link.

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.

Neighbor noise and violence

Photo credit: Aleksandar Pasaric from Pexels

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

Recent articles examining the effects of the coronavirus pandemic on the soundscape have reported that while complaints about sounds from overhead planes, construction, and bars have been reduced, neighbor to neighbor noise complaints have increased. This is explained, in part, by the fact that more people are staying in their homes over longer periods of time. The Japan Times addresses this issue squarely in its story, “Gripes about noisy neighbor boil over in Tokyo as stay-home drive drags on.” But this article adds another element to these neighbor complaints–violence.

The story highlights two incidents in which people stabbed their neighbors because they could not stand the noises the neighbor was making. Violence following noise is not new. There have been articles written over the years detailing individuals acting violently against neighbors who have imposed their loud music, footsteps, or voices on them. But what has been happening in Tokyo with 2020 noise complaints during the pandemic is that they have exceeded by over 25% the number of phone calls reporting noise during the same period last year. While noise, according to this article, has already been a leading cause of trouble between neighbors in Japan, it appears that the increase in complaints during the pandemic has resulted in a greater interest in trying to resolve such complaints.

The Japan Times cites Professor Emeritus Norihisa Hashimoto, who explains that people who are the subjects of noise complaints believe such claims are unreasonable while those who make the complaints feel frustrated as the noise continues unabated. He calls for “a specialized organization for hearing their stories neutrally.”

This difference in perception between those who are making the complaints and those who are accused of being noisy has always been the case. I know this because as a member of GrowNYC’s Board of Directors I have been asked frequently to resolve neighbor to neighbor noise complaints. While not always successful, the large numbers of times I, as a neutral listener, have succeeded in reducing the noise strongly suggests that it is worthwhile trying to mediate such noise problems. I believe public officials in New York City who have also assisted their constituents with noise complaints will say the same. I would also like to point out that New York City’s leases stipulate that landlords should provide residents with “reasonable” quiet. Thus, landlords and managing agents can limit intrusive neighbor noises as well.

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.

New York City quieted

Photo credit: Aurelien Guichard licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

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

When Dr. Juan Bello and his associates at New York University initiated a project three years ago to measure the loud sounds of New York City, they had hoped that these sound measurements could assist the city’s Department of Environmental Protection in its efforts to reduce noise pollution. They did not envision that a coronavirus pandemic and lockdown would result in sound measurements establishing that 29 of the city’s quietest days in the last three years occurred during the pandemic.

In their article “The Coronavirus Quieted City Noise. Listen to What’s Left,” Quoctrung Bui and Emily Badger report that the NYU findings reflect what is happening to the urban soundscape worldwide. London researchers have found “consistently lower decibel levels at every London location.” Similarly, researchers in other parts of the world are also finding lower readings. In Nova Scotia, “the noise of cars and airplanes no longer drowns out the rustle of leaves and wind.” Yet, they report, neighbor to neighbor complaints are not down, as intrusive sounds from neighbors may even be more disturbing during this stressful time of quarantine.

The changed soundcape can also alter people’s perception of the sounds around them, they add. For example, the article notes that neighborhood sidewalk chatter which was not disturbing before the pandemic may be bothersome now because people are viewing this chatter as coming from people who are not practicing the required social distancing. Birds are being reported as louder but are probably not singing louder; before the pandemic their sounds were barely heard amongst the surrounding din. I was quoted as noting that people reported that they missed the honking horns and the sounds of the traditional New York City. But I quickly added that what they really miss is their former lives. Dr. Bello summed it up nicely when he said the current sounds of New York City are associated with an aching city and “[i]t’s not a healthy sound in my mind.”

Mark Cartwright of NYU suggests that being able to capture the sounds of city without the jackhammers, honking, commerce, etc. might provide city government with a baseline so that it can then regulate what sounds could be added to the baseline to provide a city with less noise pollution. I concur with him in that the opportunity to think about our aural environment at this time might encourage us to come up with ways to reduce the disturbing din while not changing the pleasant sounds of our urban environment.

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 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.