Intentional noise

Paris takes on bikers’ noise

Photo credit: Carlos ZGZ has dedicated this photo to the public domain

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

As we have written about several times, one unexpected result of the COVID-19 lockdowns worldwide was a reduction in noise–in cities, in the water, even in terms of measured seismic activity. As life has started to return to something approaching normal, noise levels are increasing.

In Paris, one cause of increased noise is motorcycles with altered exhausts. As this BBC report shows, one motorcycle riding through Paris at night can disturb the sleep of thousands of people.

In response, the police are enforcing motorcycle quiet laws, and the city is developing an automated noise monitoring system.

Maybe other cities around the world can do the same?

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 complaints on the rise in NYC

Photo credit: Dan Nguyen licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

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

New York City, the city that has long been known to be noisy, is even noisier, according to an article by Shaye Weaver. Weaver writes that since February of this year, noise complaints in the city have increased “an astonishing 279 percent.” Firework noise was the overwhelming complaint in June, but complaints about loud music and parties led the list overall. The Bronx had the most complaints, with Staten Island registering the fewest.

Weaver states that “2020 has been a year like no other.” The pandemic has indeed changed the city and the lives of the residents in this city as well as people worldwide, in many ways, and 2020 will be known from now on as the “Year of the Pandemic.”

Weaver’s article doesn’t mention how the New York agencies that deal with noise complaints, mainly the Department of Environmental Protection and the police department, have been responding to the 311 noise complaint calls that have been directed to them. As someone who hears from New Yorkers who have not had their noise complaints resolved, I can say that I have had increased calls about noise in communities. My callers have reported to me that loud parties are being held near their homes and apartment buildings and there has been no interest from police or public officials to address their complaints. I have also been hearing from individuals who are organizing groups in their areas to give them a stronger voice when they approach public officials and community boards, and I have offered advice and asked to be kept informed about the activities to lessen the din.

I thank Weaver for her timely article and hope that she would do a follow-up focusing on the agencies responsible for addressing noise to ask how they are dealing with this large increase in noise complaints. We have laws on the books that have been written to curtail noise but unless they are enforced, they have little, if any, value.

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.

People in PA fed up with fireworks

Photo credit: Steve Morgan licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Reading this report from WNEP television about Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania residents who have had enough of fireworks displayed, I learned that Wilkes-Barre is called the Diamond City. Who knew? Wilkes-Barre got that nickname in the 19th century, when it was a center of anthracite coal mining. But now, apparently, Wilkes-Barre is known for something else.

Fireworks have long been available in Pennsylvania, from where they are often illegally imported into communities where they are banned, especially New York City. In 2017, Act 43 repealed and replaced the Fireworks Act of 1939, allowing adults to buy and set off Roman candles, bottle rockets, and firecrackers.

This year’s July 4th celebration in Wilkes-Barre started early and continued after the holiday ended. Local police received more than 300 noise complaints. Community groups and the mayor are fed up, and are moving to have Act 43 repealed.

Kudos to the community groups and Wilkes-Barre’s mayor. Repealing Act 43 won’t just benefit the citizens of Pennsylvania, New Yorkers would be pleased to see fireworks sanity restored there, too.

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.

More about fireworks and hearing loss

Photo credit: ViTalko from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

WTOP is an all-news radio station in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area. They recently ran this report on fireworks and hearing loss, citing the president of the American Academy of Audiology.

July 4th may be past, but according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission almost 200 people go to emergency rooms with injuries from fireworks every day in July.

Fireworks are dangerous for the ears, as well as for the fingers and eyes. The impulsive noise from fireworks can cause permanent hearing loss after only one exposure.

I agree with most fire chiefs and emergency room physicians and think it’s best to leave fireworks displays to professionals.

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 protestors have the right to make too much noise?

Photo credit: Fibonacci Blue licensed under CC BY 2.0

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

Thank you Noise Curmudgeon for bringing our attention to this story about Planned Parenthood filing suit against noisy protestors. When ordinances prohibiting excessive noise are passed, citizens often complain that there is a lack of enforcement and the intrusive noises continue to impact on their health and well-being. This appears to be the case in Spokane where Planned Parenthood claims that demonstrators outside their health clinic engage in hourlong sessions of loud singing and music playing without any noise violations being issued to halt this behavior. The response from the police is that there were no grounds to issue violations. Thus, Planned Parenthood initiated legal action against the anti-abortion protesters who have been conducting religious services outside the health clinic.

Apparently, this legal action in Spokane is not the first involving a dispute centered on the rights of abortion protestors to engage in loud activities in front of health clinics. A noise law protecting an abortion clinic survived a challenge in West Palm Beach, Florida in 2013. Similarly, anti-abortion protesters in Jackson City, Mississippi were prevented from demonstrating loudly near a Jackson Women’s Health Organization. And Charlotte, North Carolina also passed a law in 2019 creating a buffer zone in front of medical facilities, including anti-abortion clinics, and as result, curtailed loud protests near these clinics.

One needs to understand that outside noises may intrude on doctors carrying out medical procedures as well as patients recovering from these procedures and this would be true of hospital facilities in general, not just abortion clinics. Thus, one can readily understand why anti-noise ordinances limiting loud demonstrations near health facilities are necessary. Hospital areas have long employed quiet zones around them and enforcing such zones does not go against the right to free speech.

Thus, recognizing that the city’s noise limits might hold the gatherings outside the Spokane health clinic illegal, a pastor at Covenant Church and the leader of the protestors stated that “[t]hey can keep us quiet with the sound ordinance, but they can’t stop us. So if we got to sing quiet, we’ll sing quiet.”

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.

Protecting your ears at protests

Photo credit: Kelly Lacy from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This article in Popular Mechanics reports on the recent use of military helicopters flying low over peaceful protests in our nation’s capital.

Helicopters at normal operating altitudes are too noisy, and at 40 feet over the ground are dangerously noisy. Flash-bang devices being used by police are also noisy.

If you are going to march in one of the demonstrators protesting police brutality and George Floyd’s death, put a pair of earplugs in your pocket.

Because if something sounds too loud, it is too loud.

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.

Rethinking sirens during the pandemic

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

Councilperson Helen Rosenthal and several other members of the New York City Council have introduced legislation to alter the tones of the city’s ambulance and vehicle sirens so that they would be in line with those used in European countries. The European sirens, we have been told, are just as effective but not as shrill as the city sirens that are  offensive and disturbing to New York City residents. In response to residents living near Mount Sinai hospital who have complained about the hospital’s sirens for years, the hospital did play different sirens at a community meeting last year and, indeed, the European ‘high-low’ tone was judged the least offensive.

Yet, the intrusive sirens continue to be used in New York City. This despite the fact, as Julia Vitullo-Martin writes in her article “Sirens and Suffering: Rethinking the Soundtrack of the Coronavirus Crisis, ”that these excessively loud sirens are both a health risk to emergency responders themselves as well as nearby residents exposed to these loud sounds.”

The traditional argument for dangerously loud sirens has been the need to move traffic so that emergency vehicles can get to their destinations as quickly as possible. Yet, with the pandemic slowing city traffic considerably, why must New Yorkers be subjected to these? With so many people now confined to their homes, more New Yorkers have become aware of these “much too loud” sirens. In addition to being a health hazard before the pandemic, these frequent sirens have engendered even greater anxiety in New Yorkers who view them as reminders of the illnesses and deaths brought about by the coronavirus pandemic.

Vitullo-Martin uses the circumstances of the coronavirus pandemic to question the city’s justification in retaining these offensive blaring sirens. Why with traffic down, are the sirens still sounding like jet takeoffs? With fewer vehicles on the road, do you really need the blaring sirens to tell the cars and trucks to move over? Supposedly, there are protocols to direct drivers when to use full sirens. Vitullo-Martin suggests the pandemic might get city planners to rethink traffic patterns in a way that would make it less difficult for emergency vehicles to get to their destinations. And the City Council legislation on the high-low tone sirens may have a better chance of passing.

I know the coronovirus pandemic has been more than a horrific experience for New Yorkers but it is out of such experiences that new ideas to improve the health and well-being of citizens come forth. As Vitullo-Martin suggests, one such idea may lead to fewer health-hazardous emergency vehicle sirens.

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.

Coronavirus has people howling at the moon

Photo credit: Joonas kääriäinen from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

The Napa Valley Register reports that coronavirus infection has people howling at the moon. No, this isn’t a bizarre neurological or psychological side-effect of this serious and often fatal viral disease. Rather, one night a local resident started howling, on a spur-of-the-moment whim, as the moon rose. Neighbors joined him. It is now a nightly ritual.

At 8 p.m., people isolated in their homes go outside and howl at each other for 5 minutes, to show their support for health care workers, to let off steam, and also to connect with their neighbors in an ancient and soulful way.

As the Register reports:

“It’s practically silent for 23 hours and 55 minutes a day,” said Amy Kalish, an artist who lives in the beautiful but quiet foothills of Mt. Tamalpais. But for five minutes starting at 8 every night, she said, “we get out there with our 14-year-old son and our weird little rescue dog, and we let loose.”

I usually don’t like noise, especially not nighttime noise, but I’ll make an exception in this case, at this stressful time, for the folks in Marin County. And for those in Italy who sing from their balconies, and any others around the world who find a few moments of relief by making a little bit of noise once a day.

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.

Why are spin classes so loud (and does it matter)?

Photo credit: Aberdeen Proving Ground licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Why are spin classes so loud? This post on The Cut doesn’t really answer that question, but it does a nice job of explaining the dangers of excessive noise for auditory health.

A few years ago I had email exchanges with two researchers who study the effects of noise on athletic performance. Music with a specific beat can help rhythmic activities, like running or spinning at a constant pace, but despite common belief there is no evidence that loud music makes anyone run faster or lift more weight, or in this case spin faster.

Even if music does improve performance–or people think it improves their performance–those theoretical advantages are outweighed by almost certain auditory damage, including hearing loss and tinnitus.

I’m glad the author of this piece had a best friend who became an audiologist and educated her about the dangers of noise. Because if the noise in your spin class–or any exercise class, or really anywhere at all–sounds too loud, it is too loud.

And if the noise is loud enough to be painful, it’s dangerous for your ears. Period.

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 Mumbai solves its horn problem

Photo credit: CommGlobal UVA licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

In India, a saying goes, you need four things to drive: a good car, good eyes, good luck, and a good horn. Honking horns are ubiquitous in the sprawling city of Mumbai. When the traffic light turns red, drivers honk their horns to get the drivers in front of them ready to move when it turns green.

The local police have figure out a solution to this noisy problem, though. They’ve hooked up decibel meters to the lights. If the drivers honk their horns, the light stays red.

The New York Times reports that other Indian cities are considering installing the same equipment.

Maybe the traffic folks in New York City will consider doing the same?

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.