Everyday noise

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.

 

 

The “new secondhand smoke”

Photo credit: Kris Arnold licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Mindy Fetterman, Governing.com, writes about what cities and states are doing to cut noise. The short answer is “not enough.” But at least they are starting to address noise, as cities go after the low hanging fruit, like helicopters and leaf blowers.

So click the link and see if your city is doing anything to address noise.  And for those who think noise is a mere annoyance, consider the comments of Rick Neitzel, Ph.D., director of environmental health policy at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, and a co-founder of The Quiet Coalition, who said:

“The consensus is that if we can keep noise below 70 decibels on average, that would eliminate hearing loss,” Neitzel said. “But the problem is that if noise is more than 50 decibels, there’s an increased risk of heart attack and hypertension,” he said. “Noise at 70 decibels is not safe.”

Update: A small but not insignificant noise victory

Photo credit: mjmonty licensed under CC BY 2.0

Last September we told you that Google–finally–was going to block noisy autoplay videos in Chrome in January 2018.  But January came, and autoplay persisted. Until now.

The Guardian reports that “one of the most irritating things about the modern web” is done.

A small victory indeed.

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.