Everyday noise

The sound of silence

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Penelope Green, The New York Times, writes about using a sound machine to mask nighttime noise for better sleep. In her article she cites a definition of noise that I like and will probably use it again. “Noise,” writes Green, “is defined as unwanted sounds that could have negative psychological and physiological effects.

Green discusses using white noise to mask unwanted sounds that might disrupt sleep. But while that might help with sleep, it’s not clear that white noise is without health consequences itself.

Humans and our primate and vertebrate ancestors evolved in quiet. As Green notes, the perception of sound is a warning mechanism. It allowed us to detect predators or a hungry baby.

I have measured nighttime noise levels near 30 A-weighted decibels (dBA) in remote areas of Wales and Sri Lanka. (A-weighting adjusts measured sound for the frequencies heard in human speech.) That’s at the low end of the noise range from 30-35 dBA where sounds begin to disrupt sleep.

Sadly, it’s impossible to avoid nighttime noise in urban settings, but, as mentioned in the article, even natural sounds from frogs and other animals in rural settings can disturb the listener. Which is unfortunate, because achieving quiet to allow sleep, rather than relying on sound masking devices or apps, is probably better for our health.

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.

Do we have a right to live in a quiet community?

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Do people have a right to live in a quiet community? Trevor Hancock, of the Times Colonist, thinks so, and so do I.

Hancock’s article discusses community noise, and highlights The Quiet Coalition’s Antonella Radicchi, PhD, who spoke in November 2018 at the Acoustical Society of America’s meeting in Victoria, BC, Canada, about her Hush City app.

In the U.S., the Noise Control Act of 1972 “establishes a national policy to promote an environment for all Americans free from noise that jeopardizes their health and welfare.”

The Environmental Protection Agency was tasked by Congress with the responsibility to make this happen. Unfortunately, in the Reagan era Congress defunded EPA’s Office of Noise Abatement and Control, and the country has gotten much noisier since then.

But it is now clearly known that noise is a health and public health hazard, causing hearing loss and other auditory disorders and non-auditory disorders including heart disease, stroke, and death.

We hope this knowledge will empower the public to demand quiet, just as the knowledge that secondhand smoke was a health hazard empowered the public to demand smoke free spaces.

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.

Noise is killing us

Photo credit: Genaro Servín from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This wide-ranging essay from New Zealand discusses the many ways noise hurts our health, from hearing loss to diabetes and death.

A quieter environment is better for us all, and it shouldn’t take a superhuman effort to make it happen. Lowering the volume of music in public spaces is an easy first step.

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.

How to prevent modern-day noise from damaging your hearing

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

There’s nothing new in this report from Care2, which appears to be a lifestyle website. But it offers some sound basic advice on how to protect your hearing.

I particularly like the idea of a noise vacation to give your ears a break. I would suggest a hike. You will find how quiet nature really is supposed to be.

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.

UK supermarket starts quiet hour for people with autism

Photo credit: Steve F licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

People with autism are bothered by noise, so the British supermarket chain Morrison’s is implementing a weekly quiet hour to help them shop.

Many other shoppers are bothered by noise, including those of us with tinnitus and hyperacusis, and people with hearing loss. In fact, loud ambient noise makes it difficult if not impossible for people to converse, even those with normal hearing.

We know that retail studies show that loud background music encourages people to spend money, but we think that most people want quiet, and  loud background music drives many adults away from restaurants and stores.

And we know for sure that loud noise causes hearing loss, hypertension, diabetes, and heart disease–the scientific evidence is incontrovertible.

If enough shoppers complain to store managers about unwanted and unneeded noise, perhaps stores will become quieter.

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 Boston getting too noisy?

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Is Boston getting too noisy? The Boston Curbed site has asked its readers to weigh in.

It’s been a few years since I’ve visited Boston, so I don’t know if it’s quieter than other similar-sized American cities, but my guess is that the answer will be “yes.”

Urban noise is a major health problem, causing hearing loss in urban dwellers and non-auditory health problems–hypertension, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and death.

Much if not most of urban noise is transportation noise–aircraft noise, as Boston Curbed points out, road traffic noise, and for those living near tracks railroad noise–but music from restaurants, bars, and clubs for those living near them, horn-based alerts, and any other noise that disrupts sleep is a health hazard as well.

We can’t return to a bucolic rural past, so noise is an inevitable part of modern life, but there is much that can be done relatively inexpensively to turn down the volume of modern life.

Starting literally with turning down the volume of amplified music in restaurants and stores, but also in terms of enforcement of vehicle sound laws, street plantings, and many other urban design features.

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.

Dr. Erica Walker takes on Boston’s noise

Photo credit: Robbie Shade licensed under CC BY 2.0

The Boston Globe looks at the important work conducted by Dr. Erica Walker, research scientist and creator of the NoiseScore app, who is tackling Boston’s noise head on.  As writer Chris Berdik states, “Walker may know more about noise in Boston than anyone.” And because she also knows about the dangers of noise, Walker is dedicated to informing the public about this “little-studied pollution.”  As Berdik writes:

New research by Walker and others suggests that noise doesn’t just hurt our hearing. Chronic noise exposure floods the body with stress hormones that can lead to higher blood pressure, more blood clots, and a greater likelihood of heart problems and stroke.

Berdik says that Walker believes public health researchers “don’t take noise seriously enough, particularly in the United States,” and that her goal it to change that by “starting with creating a more comprehensive measure of noise exposure”

We applaud Dr. Walker’s hard work and dedication in protecting our public health.

Quieter kitchens are possible

Photo credit: Bill Wilson licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This article is about making commercial kitchens quieter but the same principles apply to home kitchens.

Noise from blenders, mixers, and clanging pots and pans is loud enough to cause hearing damage.

We should probably put in our earplugs before kitchen appliances, and shouldn’t turn up the music loud enough to be heard over them!

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.

Technological solution no substitute for governmental action

Introducing open window noise cancellation technology. The Daily Mail (sigh, we know) reports that “scientists” have created “[a] window that can reduce noise pollution by 50 per cent, even when open.” If you click the link, be prepared to fight through the visually noisy Daily Mail site to get to the short answer.  Namely, researchers essentially are using “active noise control” technology like that “found in many high-end noise cancelling headphones.” Makes sense, as do the claims that this device–which the developers claim uses very little electricity–will save money as people can open windows again to help cool a space rather than rely on air conditioning.

Technology is great, and if this device works as claimed, no doubt many people will gratefully buy them. But maybe we should be demanding that our local governments fulfill their responsibility to manage our cities and towns by regulating noise instead of resorting to the gadget du jour? Because this solution can only be enjoyed by those lucky enough to have the means to employ it, or, as Futurism put it: Noise-Cancelling Windows Are Perfect For People Already Rich Enough To Find Quiet in the City.