Noise Pollution

Noisy and dangerous helicopters assault NYC skies

This photo is in the public domain

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

Transportation noise has been recognized as a hazard to health and well-being. This includes noise from aircraft, including helicopters, as well as from nearby roads and rail. We, indeed, have the research that underscores the adverse impact of helicopter noise, as discussed in Julia Vitullo-Martin’s article in the Gotham Gazette, on residents who have to deal with “[t]he incessant low-flying air traffic tormenting parks and neighborhoods.”

While tourists view helicopter flights over New York City as fun and providing the opportunity to take some wonderful photographs, the people who live in areas over which the helicopters fly judge one of the frequent sightseeing companies, FlyNYON, as not only loud but dangerous. Vitullo-Martine writes that the company is known for “evading federal safety regulations by classifying its doors-off tours as photographic in purpose rather than for tourists.” With modern technology now allowing individuals to track helicopter flights, whether commuter or sightseeing, Vitullo-Martin reports that citizens have the data to establish that rules of flying are not always observed.

New Jersey residents, Vitullo-Martin notes, also complain about the intrusive helicopters, but the two states have not yet worked toward coming up with a solution to the noise problem.

One answer to resolve the issue of dangerous, noisy helicopters is through appropriate legislation at the city, state, and federal levels. Several New York City congresspeople have co-sponsored the Improving Helicopter Safety Act of 2019, which would “prohibit non-essential helicopters from flying in covered airspace of any city” with a very large population and a huge population density. This would definitely include New York City. But nothing is happening in Congress regarding this bill.

In New York City, legislation was introduced in July “to amend New York City’s administrative code to reduce noise by chartered helicopters.” I checked with one of the sponsors of the proposed bill and was told it was put on hold, largely due to all the attention being paid to the COVID-19 pandemic at this time.

Until any level of government is willing to act, New Yorkers will have to continue to live with the noisy and dangerous helicopters flying above their heads.

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.

How noise affects our brains

Image credit: Pete Linforth from Pixabay

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Everyone acquires information by different means. Some people talk to friends, some people do an internet search, some read newspapers or magazines, and these days many listen to podcasts.

I am too impatient to listen to podcasts–I can read much faster than anyone can talk–and I have hyperacusis, so I don’t listen to podcasts on my smartphone while walking around. I prefer to obtain information by reading.

But from time to time I make an exception, and this wonderful podcast is one of those exceptions.

On his “This Is Your Brain” podcast, Dr. Phil Steig interviews our friend Mathias Basner, MD, PhD, MSc, Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania and Director of the Behavioral Regulation and Health Section. Dr. Basner is one of the world’s experts on the effects of noise on sleep and human health, and in this podcast he shares his knowledge about the effects of noise on hearing and the brain.

I listened on my computer. It’s only 19 minutes long, and well worth your time.

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.

NYC residents form task force against noise

Photo credit: Susan Sermoneta licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

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

Concerned about the rise in noise in Inwood and Washington Heights, and supported by the largest number of noise-related complaints filed this year to 311 by the Manhattan community board that encompasses these neighborhoods, a group of residents formed a task force to address the noise in their community, e.g. street noises, residential noises, loud fireworks, and noisy vehicles. These two groups, named WAHI and Inwood for Respectful Decibel Levels, at their press conference, called on city agencies, elected public officials and their Community Board 12 members to support them in their efforts.

Over forty years ago, I had conducted study on the impact of elevated train noise on children’s classroom learning at their school in Inwood and found that the reading scores of children attending classes exposed to the train noise were significantly lower than children on the quiet side of the building. The results of this study were published in an academic journal but also shared with the community residents and their public officials. Working with the community and their elected officials, we were able to get the Transit Authority to lessen the noise on the tracks and the Board of Education to place sound absorbing materials in the noisy classrooms. A study following these two abatements found that children on both sides of the building were now reading at the same level.

Thus, it was not surprising that the Inwood/Washington Heights group would ask for my assistance to combat the noise they are now experiencing in their neighborhood. The fact that the community had played a role in lessening the noises at a district school earlier has given them confidence as they move forward to reduce the noise levels in their community today. The community also knows that today there is far more research demonstrating that noise is harmful to both our mental and physical health.

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.

Noise and air pollution may be preventable causes of dementia

Photo credit: Elina Krima from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Noise and air pollution may be preventable causes of dementia. This new study from the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference, reported by Med Page Today, discusses risk factors contributing to dementia. Other than rare genetic conditions, most cases of dementia have multifactorial causation. This makes prevention difficult because multiple risk factors must be addressed.

In general, a healthier lifestyle, including not smoking, eating a Mediterranean style diet, daily exercise, and other similar behaviors, have been shown to reduce or delay the onset of dementia. The new study found that risk factors contributing to dementia include hearing loss, social isolation, depression, and air pollution. These factors have now also been added to the Lancet Commission’s list of key modifiable risk factors for dementia.

Although the study doesn’t mention noise explicitly, noise causes hearing loss. Hearing loss in turn is associated, likely causally, with social isolation. People who can’t understand what others are saying tend to avoid social interaction because it’s too stressful or too embarrassing not to understand what others are saying. Social isolation in turn leads to depression.

With regard to hearing loss, researchers think the loss of auditory input caused by hearing loss also causes changes in the brain that contribute to the development of dementia. Previous studies led by researchers from Johns Hopkins have shown that hearing impairment in people 45-65 years old is related to a progressive loss of nerve cells in brain structures and reduced microstructural integrity that may indicate early Alzheimer disease.

The precise mechanisms by which air pollution contributes to dementia are unclear, but there are strong correlations between levels of pollutants and dementia. Much if not most of urban air pollution comes from particulate matter emitted by internal combustion engines. These are also a major cause of urban noise.

Reducing noise will prevent hearing loss and its consequences. And if noise from vehicles and other engines is reduced, air pollution will also be reduced.

As we have been saying for some years now, a quieter world will be a healthier world for all.

And, one hopes, it will also be a world with less dementia.

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 returns to New York City

Photo credit: Chris Schippers from Pexels

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

When the pandemic hit New York City in full force in late March and then worked its way into April and May, city residents began to speak of a positive result of the lockdown—the city sounded quieter. There were far fewer construction sounds, car honks, and gatherings of people on corners. Instead of overhead jet blasts, people in Queens could hear birdsong. But the increased ambulance sirens were painful reminders that illness had befallen this city and cities around the world.

It is now August and the quiet has passed, according to this New York Magazine article by Justin Davidson. Davidson writes that New York City is getting loud again, and he welcomes the return of intrusive sounds because they indicate that people are now going back to work and construction and repairs of buildings are no longer on hold. Davidson believes the quiet that hovered over the city during lockdown wasn’t really pleasurable. The evening streets lacked sounds of laughter, music from nearby restaurants, and even disagreements between people passing by, Davidson writes, while acknowledging that there were loud sounds at 7:00 p.m. celebrating the wonderful hospital workers tending to the sick.

Now Davidson finds himself bothered by nearby generators and its pulsations, which he says are “nudging my heartbeat to accelerate, like an IV drip of bad news.” His article cites research that demonstrates that such noise can affect mental and physical well-being, and notes, citing Emily Thompson’s “The Soundscape of Modernity,” that noise was one of the outcomes of urbanization. Yet, he found that when he visited a rural area, he encountered a number of noises in that environment as well.

This article also presents the opinion of critic Kate Wagner, which appeared in The Atlantic, who believes responses to sound speak to our social and political views in that fights over noise may be fights over “power and control.” Newcomers to certain quieter communities may advocate for more night life in the area while others moving into the city from the suburbs want a quieter town. Wagner, according to Davidson, believes that attempts to “shush” a city amounts to the “imposition of suburban values on an urban context.”

Davidson concludes his article by aching for the return of the sounds that characterized New York City before the pandemic. Then, he says, we will know that the city has “healed.”

While I, too, want to hear the wonderful sounds of the city again—children laughing, baseball fans shouting, and sounds of crowds leaving theaters and waiting for autographs of their favorite actors—I also believe that we should continue to advocate for the lessening of the din, e.g. lower construction tool sounds, less car honking, and the like.

A less noisy New York City will still be an exciting, vibrant city and a healthier one as well.

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.

Lockdowns drastically reduced seismic noise

Photo credit: Hrag Vartanian licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

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

How ironic that a pandemic that devastated the health and well-being of millions of people worldwide resulted in an opportunity to conduct research to monitor the earth’s movements in ways that may provide information to protect the earth and its inhabitants from here on.

New research from the Royal Observatory of Belgium, the Imperial College London, and other institutions has found that dampening of seismic noise caused by humans, especially in more densely populated areas, has dropped by as much as 50% in some places, allowing researchers to listen in to “previously concealed earthquake signals.” The quiet time brought on by the pandemic was the longest time that “human-caused seismic noise” had been lessened since researchers had been monitoring the earth’s sounds. Now that researchers were able to tune in to the natural sounds of the earth, they believe the information provided by these sounds will enable them to gain a greater understanding of potential earthquakes and volcanoes.

To those of us who have advocated for less noise and greater quiet in our environment, largely based on the growing body of literature that has demonstrated the adverse impact of noise on mental and physical health, we welcome these new studies that provide us with another avenue of research to support our efforts.

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.

Pandemic delivers relief from aircraft noise to Minneapolis-St. Paul

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

As a researcher, I am well aware of how important it is to conduct studies in natural settings, not just in laboratories. A recent article by Janet Moore, Star Tribune, addresses how the COVID-19 pandemic created a natural setting observation where human reactions to aircraft noise before the onset of the pandemic could be compared with their reactions during the outbreak and then after things got back to “somewhat normal.”

Complaints related to noisy aircraft landings and departures at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport have been a constant reminder of how disturbing aircraft noise has been to the adjacent communities. This Airport has had “an uneasy, and sometimes, litigious relationship with its neighbors” for many years. In response, the Metropolitan Airports Commission (which owns and operates the Airport) has spent “nearly a half-billion dollars for building improvements for about 15,000 houses, apartments and schools to mitigate the noise.” Yet, noise complaints continued to be filed against the airport.

Then came the pandemic. The noise complaints fell considerably. With so many fewer planes, there was much less noise. People living near the airport were able to enjoy their backyard barbecues and breezes through open windows during the nighttime. One resident said, “I thought I’d die and had gone to heaven, it was so lovely.” Then the planes started coming back and this same resident noticed that the flights over the past month “are right back where they were” before the pandemic. Yes, noise complaints have gone up as well, according to the data collected.

With the airlines claiming that it is still too soon to say that passenger volume has returned to pre-pandemic levels, the noise levels at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport may still be lower than they were. Yet, there has been an increase in UPS and FedEx flights which could add to noise complaints. And more people are working from home, which could lead to increased noise complaints with people hearing daytime flights over their heads. It has also been conjectured that residents having experienced the quiet without the aircraft noise may be even more upset with the return of the noise and file even more complaints.

As I stated at the beginning of this writing, the pandemic has opened up the opportunity to study people’s reactions to an environment with less and more intrusive noise. More flights—more complaints; fewer flights—less complaints. Noise does intrude on the lives of people!

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.

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.

Noise and pollution increase as countries, states reopen

Photo credit: Ion Ceban @ionelceban from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This New York Times article reports that gaseous pollutant emissions are surging as countries and states reopen economic activity.

We have covered several reports about the coronavirus lockdowns causing noise and vibration levels to decrease, but I haven’t yet seen a report about the effect of reopening on noise levels.

I wrote about the eerie nighttime quiet of a curfew beginning at 1 p.m. in the afternoon. A little noise may be reassuring, or at least familiar, but too much noise is a problem.

My own observation is that in the west Los Angeles area, noise levels are definitely increasing. Automobile, truck, and motorcycle exhaust noise can be heard day and night. And there are more airplanes in the sky.

It will be interesting to see what happens with noise levels as the economy reopens more.

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.

Lockdown was a boon for science

Photo credit: Kwh1050 licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

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

As I have written before on Silencity, the COVID-19 lockdown has given city dwellers around the world the opportunity to hear a landscape with less road traffic, fewer overhead jets, and a slowdown in constructions sounds. Yes, one sound was heard more frequently – birdsong. But on June 22, New York City is entering Phase 2 and the “older, less welcoming sounds” could be returning.

Interestingly, the quieter pandemic environment has given the Quiet Project in the UK the opportunity to map out the lower decibel levels that have occurred during the lockdown, writes Philip Ball of The Guardian. In addition to actual sound recordings, the Quiet Project has asked the public to reflect on how the changed soundscape has affected them. According to Lindsay McIntyre, the director of the company involved in this project, “[e]veryone I speak to has got an opinion on how the changes in noise makes them feel.” For example, as I have noted in earlier writings, some people actually miss the more traditional urban sounds, but what they really missed was what their lives were before the pandemic.

The researchers involved in the Quiet Project hope to use their data in ways that may result, for example, in having planners factor in more “tranquil areas” in cities as we move forward. Seismologists are especially interested in how the pandemic altered human activities. With less human activity, and the accompanying noises they are responsible for, seismologists can detect small earthquakes and this information can tell more about the “state of stress and movement in the crust.” Oceanographers, concerned about the impact of low-frequency noise from ship engines on the communications of marine life, found the change in ocean sounds during the pandemic provided the opportunity to study ship factors that harm marine animals. This finding could “help plan ocean transportation so it is less disruptive to marine life.”

With the pandemic resulting in less noise, scientists were given the opportunity to collect the kind of data that may help them find ways to keep our planet quieter in the near future for all its inhabitants. Out of adversity, can come creativity!

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.