Noise Pollution

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.

Experts envision post-COVID cities without noise and pollution

Car-free street in New York City during lockdown | Photo credit: Jim Griffin has dedicated this photograph to the public domain

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

Menios Constantinou, Architecture & Deisgn, writes about how the COVID pandemic and lockdown is giving us the opportunity to envision our cities without the twin scourges of noise and pollution. Constantinou interviewed Professor Mark Nieuwenhuijsen, a professorial fellow at the MacKillop Institute for Health Research and a leading environmental epidemiologist, who talked about how he noticed at the beginning of the lockdown that he could hear birds singing as the traffic noise had greatly diminished. Nieuwenhuijsen’s observation led him to reimagine what cities could be.

And he’s not the only one. Nieuwenhuijsen told Constantinou that “[w]hat you see in places like Milan is the policymakers taking advantage of the current situation, and using it as an opportunity to rethink how they plan their cities.” This is also happening elsewhere, with more than a dozen European nations backing a green post-pandemic recovery plan. The money can only be spent once, Nieuwenhuijsen adds, so “we might as well do it in the way that will save more lives in the long term, and create a more just, sustainable and liveable society.”

I’ve been wondering if this flashback we’ve been living in—flashback to what life may have been like before the industrial revolution—would produce any permanent changes when it’s over.

It’s a tough question to answer as we know so little about what happened after previous pandemics. For instance, the Great Flu Pandemic of 1918 was a social cost of the WWI mobilization–hat flu began with animal to human transmission in Kansas, spread east to Army recruitment centers, travelled abroad, exploded there and then returned to the U.S. in the tragically deadly second wave. And, of course the great plagues in Europe during the 14th to 16th centuries continued episodically for over 200 years because they didn’t have a theory of viral or bacterial disease or know they’re transmitted. That one, of course, then travelled across the Atlantic to North and South America with the Conquistadors and their soldiers and crews—ultimately destroying millions of lives and ending lost-established, indigenous civilizations.

This time we have the opportunity to learn from it. And there are encouraging signs that urban planners are embracing the idea that quieter, cleaner cities are possible, and what’s more, they’re highly desirable. Will that spur an acceleration in interest among city planners and others in doing more to regain that which has been lost to pollution and noise?

We can only hope that what Professor Nieuwenhuijsen comments will be heeded everywhere!

David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: QCI Healthcare Acoustics Project, ANSI Committee S12-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.

Turn down the volume

Photo credit: Nicholas Githiri from Pexels

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

Turning down the volume” by Maria Papadodimitraki (translated from Greek by Antigone Debbaut) is another article addressing the need to pay more attention to the harmful impacts of noise pollution on our physical and mental health. What especially drew my attention to this article was its introductory statement: “Noise pollution is a form of violence.” Those words were said by Voula Pagagianni, an educator and president of the Hellenic Young Children’s University.

Papadodimitraki supports the need to reduce noise by citing the large body of research on the adverse effects of noise on our hearing, cardiovascular system, sleep, cognitive performance, and overall psychological well being. She also includes references that man-made noises harm other species as well, e.g. marine organisms, birds.

Yet, she reports some good news, too. Namely, that cities such as Stockhom, Vienna, and Zurich are taking actions to reduce noise pollution. This includes installing acoustic fencing and soundproof windows in apartments exposed to high levels of noise, traffic calming measures on roads, promotion of bicycle use and introducing electric buses. But as Athanasios Trochidis, emeritus professor, civil engineering, at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, tells Papadodimitraki, “[p]erhaps the best way to deal with noise pollution is prevention—to not make noise.”

On another positive note, the author points out that the European Union has set sound level standards aimed to “counteract the negative impact of noise pollution on health.” She adds, unfortunately, that the U.S. “has much higher—some would say lower standards” when referring to what would be considered tolerable noise exposures. This should not be surprising to the anti-noise advocates in the U.S. long concerned about the high sound level standards set by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

The article’s strong introduction is followed with a strong concluding quote by Professor Nikos Barkas, who says:

Noise pollution is a factor in the deterioration of our quality of life. This is why it is crucial that we change our attitude to noise pollution and take action to address the problem.

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.

New York City quieted

Photo credit: Aurelien Guichard licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

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

When Dr. Juan Bello and his associates at New York University initiated a project three years ago to measure the loud sounds of New York City, they had hoped that these sound measurements could assist the city’s Department of Environmental Protection in its efforts to reduce noise pollution. They did not envision that a coronavirus pandemic and lockdown would result in sound measurements establishing that 29 of the city’s quietest days in the last three years occurred during the pandemic.

In their article “The Coronavirus Quieted City Noise. Listen to What’s Left,” Quoctrung Bui and Emily Badger report that the NYU findings reflect what is happening to the urban soundscape worldwide. London researchers have found “consistently lower decibel levels at every London location.” Similarly, researchers in other parts of the world are also finding lower readings. In Nova Scotia, “the noise of cars and airplanes no longer drowns out the rustle of leaves and wind.” Yet, they report, neighbor to neighbor complaints are not down, as intrusive sounds from neighbors may even be more disturbing during this stressful time of quarantine.

The changed soundcape can also alter people’s perception of the sounds around them, they add. For example, the article notes that neighborhood sidewalk chatter which was not disturbing before the pandemic may be bothersome now because people are viewing this chatter as coming from people who are not practicing the required social distancing. Birds are being reported as louder but are probably not singing louder; before the pandemic their sounds were barely heard amongst the surrounding din. I was quoted as noting that people reported that they missed the honking horns and the sounds of the traditional New York City. But I quickly added that what they really miss is their former lives. Dr. Bello summed it up nicely when he said the current sounds of New York City are associated with an aching city and “[i]t’s not a healthy sound in my mind.”

Mark Cartwright of NYU suggests that being able to capture the sounds of city without the jackhammers, honking, commerce, etc. might provide city government with a baseline so that it can then regulate what sounds could be added to the baseline to provide a city with less noise pollution. I concur with him in that the opportunity to think about our aural environment at this time might encourage us to come up with ways to reduce the disturbing din while not changing the pleasant sounds of our urban environment.

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.

Gordon Hempton launches Quiet Parks International

Photo credit: Jose Vega from Pexels

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

Many people know of Gordon Hempton’s fine work as an acoustic ecologist and ‘soundtracker’ and his efforts to establish the “One Square Inch of Silence” project in the Hoh Valley of Olympic National Park near of Seattle:

Now that work has been transformed into a U.S.-based global nonprofit organization called Quiet Parks International, and The Quiet Coalition co-founder Dr. Arline Bronzaft has agreed to serve on their advisory board. Congratulations to Hampton and his colleagues on this new start, another bold attempt to take human-caused noise pollution onto the global stage.

David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: QCI Healthcare Acoustics Project, ANSI Committee S12-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.

Is the pandemic causing a reduction in noise pollution?

Photo credit: Eden, Janine and Jim licensed under CC BY 2.0

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

It is no longer surprising that writers have noticed the coronavirus pandemic has resulted in a reduction in noise pollution. In her article “Is Coronavirus Reducing Noise Pollution,” Christine Ro points out the benefits of a less noisy world to the health and well-being of birds and sea creatures. Humans, she notes, will also experience less stress in this quieter world. The adverse impacts from transportation noise, which ordinarily impacts millions of people, has indeed lessened, although she does ask whether this stress will be offset by the anxiety associated with the pandemic.

Let us accept the advantages of less transportation noise to human health. If we do, then we may assume, as Ro does, that once this pandemic “passes” and modes of transportation are used again in greater number, road, rail, and aircraft noises will once again impact on nearby residents, as they did before. That said, it may take some time for transportation usage to increase to pre-pandemic levels, which may present an opportunity.

As Ro discusses in her article, there are ways to quiet road traffic. I can add that there are also ways to lessen rail and aircraft noise. I agree with Ro when she states that not enough noise-reduction policies have been implemented. I also agree when she wonders whether the positive effects of the less noisy environment now being experienced may lead to increased efforts to make the post-coronavirus world quieter. But that will be more likely if writers like Ro, who have shown an interest in noise pollution because of the current situation, continue to write about the hazards of noise pollution and advocate for programs that will lessen the noise for all species, including humans.

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.

Takeways from a silent pandemic

Photo credit: Hakan Tahmaz from Pexels

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

The Quiet Coalition co-founder Arline Bronzaft, PhD, was interviewed by Newsday a few days ago. The long-time researcher and noise activist known for her work on noise and its impact on children’s education that began 50 years ago hopes humans around the world will learn a big lesson from this locked-down quiet period.

We all need to listen to nature! The rest of nature—the nonhuman parts—have been trying to tell us something for a long time and we just haven’t been able to hear it: when the noise stops, so does much of the air pollution we accepted as “normal.” The sky is bluer now, the air is breathable and sweeter, and we can hear birds singing—all because the dirty industrial processes that generate most of the noise are at a standstill.

Once this is over, can we hang onto some of those benefits? Is there a way to seize this moment to figure out how to lead quieter, less stressful, less polluting lives?

David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: QCI Healthcare Acoustics Project, ANSI Committee S12-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.