Intentional noise

Controlling the roar of the crowd

Photo credit: Gloria Bell licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This article in The New York Times describes efforts by the Philadelphia Eagles and other professional and college sports teams to accommodate those with sensory challenges, “who can be most acutely affected by the overwhelming environments.”

Noise levels in many arenas and stadiums are high enough to cause auditory damage. The world record stadium noise is 142.2 A-weighted decibels (dBA)*, which exceeds the OSHA maximum permissible occupational noise exposure level of 140 dBA.

We wish the sports teams and the arenas and stadiums in which they play would do more to protect the hearing of everyone attending the game.

And since they probably won’t do this–crowd noise is weaponized to favor the home team, especially in football where it interferes with the visiting team hearing the quarterback calling the play–the public health authorities should step in.

*A-weighting adjusts sound measurements for the frequencies heard in human speech.

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 supermarkets leading the way on noisy fireworks

Photo credit: Teknorat licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Three UK supermarket chains are vowing to only sell low-noise fireworks after Sainsbury, one of the UK’s biggest chains, has banned sales of fireworks outright. This follows a petition to Parliament seeking to ban fireworks entirely as “a nuisance to the public.” According to The Mirror, over 300,000 signed the petition, which states that the noise from fireworks scares children, animals, and “people with a phobia.”

The Brits do love their dogs, so no surprise many cite their pup’s aversion to firework noise as a reason for the ban. In fact, The Mirror notes that “the Scottish Government earlier this year found that 94% of 16,000 respondents wanted to see tighter controls on the sale of fireworks.”

Hear, hear. But why stop at tighter controls, when they should be replaced entirely. As we’ve posted before, fireworks are a complete environmental hazard. Enough!

A call for quiet fireworks

As Guy Fawkes day approaches ushering in bonfire season in the UK, a Bradford city councillor has called for the council to consider making a law to restrict loud fireworks displays and require quiet ones.

We have written about quiet fireworks before, noting that noise is part of the design of traditional fireworks. But as Councillor Jeannette Sunderland asserts, “[t]he manufacture of fireworks has progressed and it is now possible to hold displays and events of quieter fireworks which can create ‘quieter’ displays, ‘low noise’ displays or silent displays which reduce the noise nuisance and impact on others in terms of acoustic stress.”

It’s not impossible to remove some noise from our lives without giving up things that people enjoy.  Fireworks are, primarily, a visual display.  While there are those who may love the noise that accompanies the brilliant display, by limiting it the experience can be enjoyed by many more people.

Then again, if we consider the overall impact of a fireworks display, maybe it’s time to move on to something a bit less destructive.

Chinese city to ban loud noise on subway

Photo credit: mentatdgt from Pexels

The South China Morning Post reports that the city of Kunming, the capital of Yunnan province, is considering becoming the third Chinese city to ban loud noise on public transportation. Apparently passengers have complained about people talking loudly or playing videos or music at high volume.  Under a proposed provision, violators would receive an “administrative punishment” (no, we don’t know what that means, either) for a breach of the rule. The public was invited to comment on the proposal.

We must admit that the thought of a robust code of behavior for New York City public transportation that would mirror Kunming’s sounds awfully appealing, though the mystery punishment could well exceed the crime. Still, it’s hard not to fantasize about a calm ride home after a typical evening commute marked by loud conversations, sodcasters, and subway “entertainers.”

 

Rich foreigners causing noise issues in London

Photo credit: Adrian Dorobantu from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

A recent article discuss vehicle noise in London.

Apparently, very wealthy foreigners come to London with their Lamborghinis and other sports cars, which they then race up and down the narrow streets, causing noise problems and accidents.

£1000 fines don’t seem to deter them. So London is going to try new technology, acoustic cameras, which record the sound level and the vehicle license plate.  And, one hopes, put an end to this appalling ritual.

That sounds like a good idea to us.

Maybe this technology can be imported here.

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.

Philadelphia deploys sonic weapons to harass loitering teenagers

“The Mosquito” | Photo credit: Sunmist dedicated this photograph to the public domain

by David M. Sykes, Vice Chair, The Quiet Coalition

According to this report on NPR, the city of Philadelphia is one of several cities that have been deploying “sonic weapons” in public parks to deter loitering by teenagers, who, because they’re young enough to have unimpaired hearing, are keenly sensitive to the high-frequency noise emitted by the devices.

The devices were developed by a Vancouver BC-based company called Moving Sound Technologies. The company’s president is quoted in the piece describing the product, which he calls “the Mosquito.” Also quoted are young people who say the noise is loud, and, in one instance, causes headaches.

There are quite a number of sonic weapons available on the market, often developed for military use, but now in the hands of police forces too. The 40-year-long refusal in the U.S. to understand that noise can—like second-hand smoke–be harmful to health has led many to assume that sonic weapons are harmless and merely annoying. That’s fundamentally wrong. In the meantime, city councils and neighborhood associations need to be vigilant about local police forces adopting such crowd-control methods that could be harmful to public health and just bad policy.  As Philadelphia councilwoman Helen Gym notes, “[i]n a city that is trying to address gun violence and safe spaces for young people, how dare we come up with ideas that are funded by taxpayer dollars that turn young people away from the very places that were created for them?”

We live in a noisy world—an unnecessarily noisy world—for the simple reason that most people, including our local and national leaders, have no idea that noise really is “the new second-hand smoke.” Until we get them to understand that the public is being harmed by environmental noise, we need to look after ourselves and our neighbors.

David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: QCI Healthcare Acoustics Project, ANSI Committee S123-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.

It’s that time of the year: How to help your pooch on the 4th

Photo credit: Nancy Nobody from Pexels

Every year around the 4th of July we see a couple of articles on how to help your pet deal with the trauma they suffer during fireworks season. This year the advice is courtesy of the Carroll Count Times, where correspondent Iris Katz dispenses the usual nuggets of useful information:

Owners are advised to slowly inhale and exhale when fireworks and thunder start, play calming music, keep high value treats or toys on within reach to give the dog when thunder starts or a firework goes off and to keep tossing treats and toys. Food puzzle toys, like goody-stuffed Kongs or food dispensing toys, may be pleasant distractions for sound-sensitive dogs.

And every year we report on how fireworks drive dogs, in particular, mad. There’s even a medicine to treat doggy anxiety.

But one thing we in the U.S. don’t often hear is that loud fireworks are unnecessary. Rather, the sound is designed into fireworks displays, and quiet fireworks displays are possible. In fact, some thoughtful towns and cities in Europe and the Galapagos are starting to require quiet fireworks displays to protect pets and wildlife.

Isn’t it time we start doing the same here?

Sound regulation of unnecessary noise

Once again another community has come to the conclusion that fireworks noise must be controlled to protect wildlife. This time enforcement has come after a horrific reaction to a New Year’s fireworks display. Namely, Devon council in the UK will enforce a noise limit on fireworks after a New Year’s display startled nearby birds resulting in death for hundreds of them.

As we reported before, quiet fireworks exist. It is simply irresponsible for communities to continue to torment animals because they want loud noise to accompany what is primarily a visual display.  Then again, considering the pollution fireworks cause, can we just move on to something else that isn’t as destructive?

Do not do this

Rosemary Behan, The National, writes about the shockingly common use of smart phones for entertainment, sans earbuds, in public places. Behan starts her piece by recounting a recent encounter with a stranger in which she had to ask him to turn down the volume of his smart phone. Why? Because he had “casually been using his smartphone as a home cinema, without earphones” for five minutes and she decided that she “didn’t want to spend any part of my Friday morning listening to the loud film clips of a random stranger.”  We have all been there.

What follows is Behan’s lament about how often we are subjected to this kind of behavior and her wish that “hotels, restaurants, cafes, or airline managers” would “lay down the rules about this kind of thing” or, perhaps, keep “a supply of disposable headphones on hand, for this purpose.” If only.

The problem, of course, is that the miscreant with the loud phone can completely focus on whatever he or she wishes to without a worry about annoying others (seemingly), while the annoyed others cannot concentrate on their immediate interest or concern because of the miscreant’s use of his or her phone for entertainment. Hence quiet cars on trains, which Amtrak introduced at the urging of regular commuters who “had become fed up with obnoxious cell phone chatter,” and which have since been adopted by other train systems.

Count us among those who are grateful for the quiet car, but isn’t it a concession by the train operators that they are unable or unwilling to police the anti-social behavior of some percentage of their riders? Separation is probably be the best option–it’s relatively free of friction and more certain to reward those seeking some quiet–but why is it even necessary to complain about this frankly selfish behavior? By trying to find ways to accommodate both those who want some control over their soundscape and those who don’t give a damn who they distract and offend, are we not rewarding bad behavior? In the end, do we make the problem worse tomorrow by not discouraging this anti-social behavior today?