Noise Pollution

Noise isn’t just a city problem

On Banning Leaf Blowers.” Kaysen writes that “New Yorkers who leave the city for the suburbs often do so for three reasons: schools, space and silence.” But she adds that “silence, it turns out, can be a problem.” Why? Because while “suburban streets are certainly free of blaring horns, wailing sirens and, sometimes, even people…come springtime, they vibrate with the hum of lawn mowers, edgers, trimmers and leaf blowers; the accompanying noise continues until the last leaves fall from the trees in early December.”

So what can suburbanites do to quell the din?  Kaysen tells us that the Township of Maplewood, New Jersey is considering a ban on the noisiest and most noxious of a landscaper’s tools: leaf blowers. The township’s proposed ordinance prohibits commercial use of blowers from May 15 through September 30, and imposes strict limits as to use for the rest of the year. The ordinance also imposes fines, starting at $500 for the first offense.

The problem with leaf blowers is twofold. As Jamie Banks, the founder of Quiet Communities, a group that advocates quieter lawn maintenance equipment, states: “[I]t’s not just the noise. It’s the pollution.”  Kaysen adds that:

Most landscapers use leaf blowers with two-stroke engines, which are light enough to carry but produce significant exhaust and noise. The gas and oil mix together, and about a third of it does not combust. As a result, pollutants that have been linked to cancers, heart disease, asthma and other serious ailments escape into the air.

Despite there being alternatives–say, a rake?–there is pushback, of course. Residents who hate noise are facing off with residents who feel the ordinance will “hamstrung their gardeners, leaving their yards looking unkempt, with grass suffocating beneath piles of clippings.”  And landscapers insist that leaf blowers are essential, claiming that “when used properly, is not a nuisance.”  Used properly means at half speed, “which is significantly lower in noise volume, they’re much more efficient,” said Paul Mendelsohn, vice president of government relations for the National Association of Landscape Professionals.  Which makes us wonder why full speed is even an option.

Click the first link to read the entire piece.  It is well worth your time, particularly the bit about local hero Fred Chichester, 79, of Montclair, who, when he hears a leaf blower nearby, “gets into his 1998 Ford Escort wagon, one of his seven cars, and looks for the culprits, suing them in municipal court for violating the ban.” Fred then takes the landscapers to court, “about 20 times over the years.” And he usually wins.

 

Finding it hard to escape noise? This could be why:

In “A Map of Noisy America,” CityLab writes about the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics’ (BTS) new National Transportation Noise Map, which shows that “more than 97 percent of the U.S. population has the potential to be exposed to noise from aviation and Interstate highways at levels below 50 decibels or roughly comparable to the noise level of a humming refrigerator.”  The map also reveals that “[l]ess than one-tenth of a percent of the population could potentially experience noise levels of 80 decibels or more.” So that’s not bad, right? Well, yes and no.

CityLab notes that “noise doesn’t have to be particularly penetrating to be a public health menace,” adding that the World Health Organization “set a benchmark of recommended exposure to night sounds for Europeans” at 40 decibels.  Why so low?  Because studies have shown that sleep schedules are interrupted by noise over 42 decibels, “[e]xposure to road noise above 50 decibels (comparable to a quiet office) has been associated with higher risks of heart attack,” and noise has been linked to obesity and other maladies.

So check out the map and see how your community fares, but keep in mind that this map only looks at aviation and highway noise.  Next up?  The BTS states that “future versions of the National Transportation Noise Map are envisioned to include additional transportation noise sources, such as rail and maritime.”  We’ll keep you posted.

What’s the difference between noise and sound?

By Daniel Fink, MD

One of the heated discussions that sometimes occurs among those of us concerned about noise is the use of the terms “noise” and “sound.” Some people insist that we hear noise but measure sound. Others say the terms can be used interchangeably.

The word “noise” means “unwanted sound,” with an implication of being bothersome. One dictionary definition of noise is, “a sound, especially one that is loud or unpleasant or that causes disturbance.”   “Sound,” on the other hand, implies meaning, “a particular auditory impression.”

Nina Kraus, Professor of Communication Sciences, Neurobiology, and Otolaryngology at Northwestern University, has written an intriguing article for Scientific American that discusses new research that shows that our brains can actually tell the difference between noise and sound. Studies of brain waves, done at Northwestern, show that sound is understood by the brain while noise merely disrupts it.  And noise not only interferes with function, it can actually damage the brain:

Noise is more pernicious than an in-the-moment nuisance. Even a modest level of noise, over a long enough period of time (e.g. beeping garbage trucks, hair dryers, air conditioners), can cause damage to the brain networks that extract meaning from sound. Many of us don’t even realize our brains are being blunted and our thinking impeded by this invisible force.

So what can we do to protect our brains from damaging noise?  We can’t shut out all sound, because “the absence of meaningful sound also leaves a mark on the ability to process sound.”  Dr. Kraus adds that “there are distinct ways to tone and hone your listening brain.”  Namely:

You can learn a second language. The challenge of juggling two languages bolsters the auditory system and redounds to improvements in cognitive functions such as attention.

Another way to exercise your auditory brain is to play a musical instrument. This has a huge payoff cognitively and emotionally for children and adults alike. A few years of playing an instrument while in school sharpens the auditory system and can benefit language development in children. And this benefit lasts a lifetime.

Fascinating!  Even more supporting evidence for the goal of The Quiet Coalition: to make the world quieter, one decibel at a time.

Dr. 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 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.

Originally posted at The Quiet Coalition.

Noise, the “ignored pollutant.”

“The sonic backdrop to our lives is increasingly one of unwanted technospheric noise,” writes Paul Mobbs for the Ecologist.  Mobbs, an independent environmental researcher and author, explores the sounds of nature and the toll that noise takes “on our health, wellbeing and quality of life.”  He writes about a ritual he has engaged in from since before his teens, where a few times a year he goes for a walk “well before the dawn, in order to listen to the ‘dawn chorus.'” “Over that period,” notes Mobbs, “there’s been one inescapable change in the countryside around my home town of Banbury – noise.”

On his recent walk, Mobbs’ objective was to reach Salt Way, an old Roman salt route fringing the south-western quadrant of Banbury. “Due to its age Salt Way has exceptionally dense, wide and species-rich ancient hedgerows which demarcate it from the surrounding fields,” which Mobbs asserts is “[p]erfect for listening to birds.” Except that morning a slight breeze was wafting the sound of a large motorway that was over 2 1/2 miles away.  Reflecting on this walk, Mobbs examines lost tranquility and noise as a nuisance, and introduces us to ecopsychology as he ponders “the fundamental psychological human dependence upon the natural environment.”  It’s a fascinating piece that really should be read in its entirety.  Click the first link to do that.

 

Will the Supreme Court take on airport noise?

Photo credit: Matthew Grapengieser

East Hampton Petitions U.S. Supreme Court to Hear Airport Noise Case. Beth Young, East End Beacon, reports that East Hampton Town filed a petition for writ of certiorari asking the Supreme Court to overturn an appeals court decision on the town’s proposed airport noise regulations “that would rob East Hampton and thousands of other local airport sponsors of their ability to manage their airport, in the best interests of their residents.”  Young writes that in April 2015 the town adopted two local laws that established year-round curfews–a mandatory nightime curfew and an extended curfew on noisy aircraft–and “also enacted a third law imposing a one-trip-a-week restriction on noisy aircraft.”

The laws were challenged by “a group of aviation advocates.”  The district court upheld the two curfews but “issued a preliminary injunction against the one-trip-per week limit.”  On appeal, the Second Circuit issued a preliminary injunction blocking all three three local laws.  According to Young, “[t]he town maintains it has the right to exert local control over its airport after not taking federal funds for upkeep of the airport for several years.”  Said Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell in a press release Monday afternoon:

We followed the FAA’s advice and elected to forgo federal funding so that we could protect our residents. We engaged in a lengthy public process to identify meaningful but reasonable restrictions, and the District Court agreed that we met that test. But, with the stroke of a pen, the appeals court decision has federalized our airport and stripped us – and the thousands of similarly situated airports – of the ability to exert local control. We cannot let that decision stand.

The town filed its petition on March 6th, and the response is due on April 5th. In the event that the Supreme Court rejects the town’s petition, it will pursue other avenues for relief. Said East Hampton Councilwoman Kathee Burke-Gonzalez,”[t]he town board is pursuing all avenues for redress – both in the courts and in Congress – and we will continue the fight until we regain local control of East Hampton Airport.”

Could post-Brexit UK see a reduction in noise pollution?

Photo credit: (Mick Baker)rooster

Arline Bronzaft, PhD, a founding member of The Quiet Coalition, has reviewed a recently released ebook (pdf), “The Noise Climate–Post Brexit,” by John Stewart, Nigel Rodgers, Henry Thoresby, Val Weedon, and Francis McManus, for The Quiet Coalition blog. Dr. Bronzaft co-authored “Why Noise Matters” (Earthscan, 2011) with Stewart, Rodgers, Weedon, and McManus. That book examined the adverse impacts of noise on mental and physical health and questioned why governments failed to implement policies to abate noise in light of strong evidence supporting the noise/health link and the availability of noise abatement measures.

In “The Noise Climate–Post Brexit,” writes Dr. Bronzaft, the authors address noise abatement with some specificity and posit that after Brexit the UK could respond to noise in a way that leads to a real reduction in noise pollution. They assert that “even though the European Union (EU) took some steps to identify sources of noise (mainly by asking its members to periodically assess the noise levels in their respective countries), it did not take the next essential step–outlining ways to alleviate the noise.” Dr. Bronzaft says that the book has an optimistic outlook, which was mirrored in a private conversation that she had with John Stewart. His optimism rests on the belief that once the UK’s ability to regulate noise is no longer tied to EU oversight, the possibility exists that the government will focus on noise abatement and employ methodologies to evaluate the abatement measures.

At the end of her conversation with John Stewart, Dr. Bronzaft wished him well and told him that she would be reflecting on how the newly appointed head of the U.S. EPA, Scott Pruitt, would be addressing the noise issue in the U.S. “At this point,” said Dr. Bronzaft, “John wished me ‘good luck.’”

Good luck to us all.

What’s the one thing never mentioned when discussing drone delivery?

 

Imagine 100 of these, overhead, constantly

Dyllan Furness, Digital Trends, writes about the U.S. military’s successful launch of “one of the world’s largest micro-drone swarms” in October in a piece titled, “The sound of 103 micro drones launched from an F/A-18 will give you nightmares.” Click the link to the piece and hit play on the video at the top of the page. The micro-drones can be heard starting at 2 minutes, 17 seconds.

We’re not sure if the sound will give you nightmares–although it is unnerving–but it did make us wonder about what would happen to our soundscape should Amazon and others succeed in convincing governments that drone delivery is a great idea. What you hear on the video is 103 micro-drones–small drones “with a wingspan under 12 inches.”  Now imagine a battalion of full-size, package-wielding delivery drones flying above your head. Just saying.

 

 

Please, god, no:

If you want a picture of the future, imagine every billboard screaming for your attention — forever

The sound of the Internet of Things (and why it matters for brands). Yes, yet another article about using sound for branding.  Apparently we aren’t spending enough money so branding gurus–or whatever they are calling themselves these days–are trying to figure out how to make their brands stand out from competing products and services through the use of sound.  And in an attempt to appear thoughtful as they invade public and private space with invasive sound, they write stuff like this:

Brands need to start creating a sound ecology that differentiates them whilst supporting their consumers. As we interact with a product, watch a commercial or experience a retail environment, it is only the brands of the future that have a fully considered, cohesive and familiar sonic identity that will stop us reaching for the mute button.

How about no?  We are already assaulted by layers of noise whenever we enter the public sphere, do we really need to have even more layers of competing sound added to our increasingly chaotic soundscape?  As if that’s not offensive enough, these branding fiends want to use sound for alerts for our now connected home appliances, leaving us not a moment of silence in our homes as our dishwashers and refrigerators beep and pop, competing for our attention. Because reasons!

At some point, if business refuses to show restraint, someone must step in to stop this anti-social behavior.  No matter how convenient it may be for some people to have their devices scream at them for attention, what of the innocent bystanders who are simply attempting to go from Point A to Point B?  Will no one think about our right to be left alone?

Link via @QuietMark.

Noise is a public health hazard and a hazard to your most important capital asset:

Nine sources of noise that will damage your house’s value.  Emmie Martin, Business Insider, writes about a recent study by Realtor.com that “calculated the price difference between homes within a certain radius of nine major noise factors — including airports, highways, and emergency rooms — and the median price of homes in the rest of that ZIP code.”  Click the link to see how noise effects house prices.  There isn’t much prose, but the slider makes it clear that noise matters when you are buying or selling your home.

 

This was reported as if it were a good thing:

Kentucky’s Rupp Arena breaks Guinness World Record for indoor crowd noise. According to the Kentucky Athletics’ twitter account, Kentucky’s Rupp Arena gets to claim the Guiness Book of World Records title for “the loudest indoor crowd roar ever!”  Yay, noise!  And just how loud was the roar?  It was 126.4 decibels.  How loud is that?  Well, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations provide that the permissible exposure limit for 126 decibels (A-weighted) is 0.054 hours or 3.25 minutes, so we are going with “really really loud.”  The article doesn’t say how long the roar was maintained, but even if it bested 3.25 minutes only the team staff and arena employees are protected under OSHA regulations.  Sorry fans and team athletes.

At least “[c]omplimentary earplugs were placed in most seats for fans who didn’t want to brave the noise.”  The article doesn’t explain why complimentary earplugs weren’t offered to all fans, nor does it ask why the Guinness Book of World Records is encouraging such irresponsible behavior.

One day, when people find out that most hearing loss is due to noise and that noise-induced hearing loss is 100% preventable, they are going to be very justifiably angry.  Until that happens, folks who follow the stock market may want to check out hearing aid companies.