Everyday noise

Use SoundPrint app on International Noise Awareness Day

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

The Acoustical Society of America is encouraging people to observe International Noise Awareness Day on April 25 by using the SoundPrint app for smart phones to record and post restaurant noise levels.

That sounds like a good idea to me.

DISCLOSURE: I am the Medical Advisor for SoundPrint.

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.

A wave of hearing loss in young people is being predicted

and the cause of this epidemic, says Teresa Cowie, Radio New Zealand, is damaging levels of sound from personal audio devices and noisy venues, like nightclubs. Will it really be an epidemic? Cowie cites the World Health Organization, which puts the number of at risk teenagers and young adults at more than a billion. Who are these at-risk young people? Mostly 12-to-35 years olds in well off countries who listen to unsafe levels of sound on their personal audio devices and smart phones.

So how does the WHO and other health organizations know that an epidemic is on the way? Cowie interviewed Peter Thorne, an audiology professor at Auckland University, who said “[t]here are some studies where younger people coming into the workforce, areas where they might take audiograms or do hearing tests – like the military for example – and those studies have shown a proportion of youth coming in with hearing losses.”

Thorne notes that the rules for limits on sound volume are voluntary for the manufacturers of personal audio devices, but the WHO is “currently review regulations around the volume levels devices should be allowed to reach.”

Let’s hope that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other government agencies join in the effort to regulate the sound levels on these devices. Noise-induced hearing loss is 100% preventable, after all, and given that there is no effective treatment or cure for hearing loss, anything less than a robust response would be criminal.

 

 

It’s noisy out there!

Photo credit: Marc Smith licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This piece by author Teddy Wayne in the New York Times discusses “the cacophony produced by today’s mobile phone or tablet” and how we have somehow become inured to it. I’m not sure I understand all the points made, but I agree with this statement: “It’s noisy as heck out there.”

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.

 

Join us and others in measuring noise

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

There are now at least two apps to measure and report restaurant noise, and two apps to measure and report outdoor noise or urban soundscapes.

Anyone concerned about noise, as we are, should install one or more of these apps on his or her smart phone and start reporting noise levels.

All of these apps are free and rely on crowdsourcing to get city wide data. So down load one–or all of them–and help gather data to make your city or town a more tolerable place. Data from SoundPrint was used in a study presented at the 174th meeting of the Acoustical Society of America documenting excessive noise levels in restaurants and bars in New York City.

The apps are listed alphabetically in each category:

For restaurant noise:

iHearU

SoundPrint

For urban soundscapes:

Hush City App

NoiseScore

DISCLOSURE: I serve as Medical Advisor for SoundPrint.

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.

Quiet’s hard to come by

Russell Wangersky, The Telegram, writes about being somewhere so quiet that he could hear two birds flying 20 feet above him.  He describes the sound their feathers made as they moved through the air–“It is a sound that almost defies description: both a swoosh and a rustle, and a hint of the sweep of a soft brush–a sound he notes he will likely never hear again. And that experience prompts his essay on sound and modern living, as he considers “how much sound there is all around us, and how that complication of noises gets ever-larger.”

Click the link to read this thoughtful essay.

 

 

Australians are in danger of hearing loss

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This report from the National Acoustic Laboratory at Australia’s Macquarie University found that 1 in 10 Australians used personal listening devices (PLDs) at dangerously high volumes.

Not surprisingly, those who reported using the devices at high volumes also reported more difficulty hearing things.

Only the abstract is available without a subscription, so I can’t comment on details of the study, which would be stronger if actual hearing tests had been done on the subjects, but the final line of the abstract is one that I agree with entirely:

Although PLD use alone is not placing the majority of users at risk, it may be increasing the likelihood that individuals’ cumulative noise exposure will exceed safe levels.

And that’s the problem with studies focusing just on personal listening device use. They are only one small part of the total daily noise dose. Flamme, et al., found that 70% of adults in Kalamazoo County, Michigan received total daily noise doses exceeding the Environmental Protection Agency’s safe noise limit of 70 decibels time weighted average for a day. That’s why the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recently reported that almost 25% of American adults had noise-induced hearing loss, many if not most without occupational exposure.

As the CDC states, noise-induced hearing loss is preventable. No noise, no hearing loss.

Protect your ears now and you won’t need hearing aids later.

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.

The EU takes noise very seriously

Photo credit: Anthony Luco licensed under CC BY 2.0

The Connexion France cites a report by Le Monde that France was warned by European Commission on noise levels. Apparently “Brussels demanded that France instantly adopt its action points on the reduction of “ambient noise”, after the country was found to be in breach of the 2002 directive on the issue.” The directive that France is apparently breaching requires EU nation states to “measure and reduce noise levels in large towns, along main roads and railway tracks, and around large airports, and keep them within the European limits.” European limits are 68 decibels during the day and 62 decibels at night time.

This is not the first time that the EC has warned a member nation about noise, as The Connexion France says that since 2016, the EC has issued noise complaints against 13 members. Why is the EC so forceful about regulating noise? Because the Commission understands that “noise, especially that from traffic, trains or planes is the ‘second largest cause of premature death [among nearby residents] after atmospheric pollution.'” Adds Antoine Perez Munoz of Bruitparif, the noise regulator in Ile-de-France, “[o]n average, noise pollution causes seven months’ loss of good health or life per person, and up to two years’ loss for someone living in a very noisy area.”

One hopes for a future where the U.S. government is as vigilant with regard to noise.  Kudos to the EC.

 

Four in 10 UK adults unknowingly endanger their hearing on a daily basis

Photo credit: Gary J. Wood licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This report states that 40% of adults in the United Kingdom (England, Scotland, Wales) unknowingly endanger their hearing on a daily basis.

This finding fits neatly with Dr. Gregory A. Flamme’s report that 70% of U.S. adults get total noise doses exceeding safe limits and Dr. Richard Neitzel’s similar finding in a Swedish population.

This isn’t rocket science–noise exposure for the ear is like sun exposure for the skin. If you don’t want deep wrinkles, age spots, and skin cancers when you get older, wear a hat, long sleeves, sunscreen, and avoid the sun.

If you don’t want hearing aids when you get older, avoid noise exposure.

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.

Why a Toronto study on commuter noise is relevant to New York City

Photo credit: Dennis Jarvis licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

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

In their recently published article “Noise exposure while commuting in Toronto – a study of personal and public transportation in Toronto,” Dr. Yao and his associates concluded that the sound levels associated with mass transit were intense enough to potentially cause some hearing loss. The authors found that while average noise levels in subway cars and on the subway stations were high, peak noise levels in the subway system exceeded 100 dBA. They also reported noise levels for buses and street cars with subways and bus average noise levels exceeding the average noise level for street cars. Recognizing that the mass transit system in Toronto is likely to expand, the authors suggested that “…engineering noise-control efforts should continue to focus on materials and equipment that confer a quieter environment.”

As a New Yorker and regular subway rider, I have long been aware of the impacts of New York City subway and elevated train noise on the health and well-being of its employees and riders as well as those who live, work, and attend school near the elevated train tracks. Yet, it was my research, done over forty years ago, on the adverse effects of elevated train noise on the reading ability of children attending classes near the elevated train tracks that led to my greater involvement in advocating for a “quieter” transit system. It was this advocacy that resulted in the Transit Authority installing rubber resilient pads on the tracks adjacent to the classrooms to lessen the train noise in these classes. The Board of Education also installed acoustical ceilings in these same classrooms.

The follow-up study of reading scores in these classrooms after the abatements were in place found that the children in classrooms adjacent to the track were now reading at the same level as those on the quiet side of the building. To me, these studies yielded another important finding–transit noise can be reduced.

It is within the context of my many years of writing about transit noise and its adverse impacts on mental and physical health that I will address the findings of the above Toronto study. For the purposes of this review, I will not be addressing bus noise which I have also examined in the past.

My research on subway noise impeding classroom learning received a great deal of attention and it led to my being given the opportunity to examine Transit Authority records on noise complaints and actions. I learned that back to 1878 when the Third Avenue El was opened, the noise from passing trains disturbed students attending Cooper Union College and the school had to relocate a dozen classrooms to the other side of the school building. The Transit Authority compensated the college for the move by paying them $540.00.

In the years that followed this first complaint, there were other complaints to which the Transit Authority responded by abating the noise on the tracks. In fact, as early as 1924, the then Transit Commission acknowledged the potential harm of noise on its employees and attempted to set up noise abatement programs for its existing lines as well as its future ones. In looking at how the New York Transit Authority responded to noise complaints, I found that complaints led to attempts to reduce noise but within a short time transit noises returned only to have the Authority respond again with noise abatements. My paper “Rail noise: The relationship to subway maintenance and operation,” published in Urban Resources in 1986, presents a historical overview of how subway noise has been addressed by those in charge of the New York City transit system.¹

Of particular note is the year 1982, when the State of New York decided to pass a Rapid Rail Transit Noise Code requiring the Transit Authority to develop a comprehensive plan to address its noise problems and to report annually to the State Legislature about its efforts to abate noise. The impetus for this bill came from community activists who lived near a rail curve in Coney Island that led to loud screeches as trains navigated the curve. The citizen group, The Big Screechers, led by Carmine Santa Maria, lobbied their legislators to pass the Rail Transit Noise Code.

My 1986 paper discussed how the Transit Authority at this time coordinated its noise abatement project with ongoing capital purchases and maintenance demonstrating its awareness that decreased transit noise is a sign of a poorly functioning system. Just as an automobile owner would bring in a noisy car to the repair shop recognizing that attending to the noise would very likely prevent more serious trouble ahead, the Transit Authority acknowledged that noise is very likely a clue to potential breakdowns.

With the primary sources of subway train noise involving the wheel, the rail, and the subway car’s propulsion system, noise abatement measures included wheel truing, rail welding, rubber resilient pads, track lubrication, and acoustic barriers—all of which also contribute to the proper operation of the system. These noise abatement measures lessen noise but also facilitate the integrity of the transit system while providing a smoother and quieter ride for the passengers as well as a quieter system for its employees. The Transit Authority also purchased quieter traction motors for their subway cars, demonstrating an awareness that quiet can be built into the original design.

The 1982 Rail Transit Noise Code was indeed effective in getting the Transit Authority to reduce its noise but, unfortunately, someone interpreted the law as having a “12 year life span” and, by 1995, the Transit Authority no longer had to report annually to the State on its efforts to lessen transit noise. With the Transit Authority no longer having to report annually on efforts to reduce noise, one might expect the subway system to grow louder in the following years. Indeed, a 2009 study examining sound levels of the New York City subway system, like the one carried out in Toronto, similarly concluded that the subway system’s loud sound levels have the potential to cause noise-induced hearing loss among its riders.

A paper I wrote in 2010 entitled “Abating New York City transit noise: A matter of will not way,” again highlighted the fact that subway noise abatement techniques exist and that addressing the noise issue would not only benefit the operation of the system, potentially leading to fewer breakdowns, but a quieter system would be beneficial to the health and welfare of New Yorkers. A few years after this paper was published, I was pleased to learn that the State assembly and State Senate delivered to the Governor an updated Rail Transit Noise bill in December 2014. Sadly, this bill was vetoed by Governor Cuomo on December 17, 2014 [pdf link]. Had this bill been passed, encouraging the Transit Authority to address its subway noise problems, I believe the subway system today would be quieter, better maintained, and running more efficiently. Without having measured the sound levels of the subway system these past three years, my ear seems to indicate that the subways are now noisier and the many media stories speak volumes to the lack of proper subway maintenance and the deteriorating service.

Let me turn back to the Toronto noise study and comment on its relevance to the New York transit noise issue. According to a research memorandum from Toronto in 1983, that the New York City Transit Authority shared with me,¹ Toronto indicated that the city spent a considerable amount of money in the testing and application of noise control procedures. The memorandum stated that rail sections were continuously welded, acoustical material was used throughout the system, floating slabs were installed on tracks near noise-sensitive buildings, and wheel ring-dampers were being tested on their subway cars. The Toronto subway system, considerably younger than New York’s system, having opened in 1954, appeared to be led by people who were well aware of the importance of transit noise abatement.

In light of the media headlines following the release of Dr. Yao’s article noting excessive transit noise in the Toronto subway system is putting commuters’ health at risk, I would expect that the head of the Toronto Transit Commission, Andrew Byford, is now preparing a response to the publication. Why should his response be relevant to New Yorkers? Because Andrew Byford will soon be the President of the New York City Transit Authority and his response to the noise report might clue us in as to whether he will address what my “ear” seems to indicate. Namely, that our system is growing louder. It would also let New York transit riders know if he, like several former Transit Authority leaders, understands the relationship among noise levels, transit maintenance, and subway performance, and would also tell us as to whether he fully understands that a quieter subway would positively impact the mental and physical health of New Yorkers.

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.

¹Bronzaft, A. L. (1986). Rail noise: The relationship to subway maintenance and operation. Urban Resources, 4, 37-42.