Noise Pollution

Urban noise is “the absolute scourge of our time”

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

The Guardian recently published a fascinating article by Thomas McMullan in which he said that cities are louder than ever and noted that the poor suffer the most. That article got an enormous amount of attention and “prompted a huge response,” so there was a follow-up piece in which the newspaper shared some of the best responses.  While one of the respondents embraced urban noise saying that “cities are people and life and they make noise,” every other commenter disagreed, with one exclaiming that “[n]oise pollution is the absolute scourge of our time.”

Some noise is a necessary accompaniment to urban living, but excessive noise isn’t. And solutions are available if the political will exists. Namely, enforcement of existing noise ordinances, especially for vehicle exhaust noise, revision of building codes to require sound insulation and double-paned windows, and quieter sirens would be good first steps.

I believe that if enough people complain to their elected officials about urban noise, something can be done about it.

And something must be done about noise, because urban noise isn’t just a nuisance–in many cities it is loud enough to damage hearing, and the World Health Organization recognizes is as a major health hazard.

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-it-yourself noise mitigation at home

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

I don’t generally mention commercial products in my blog posts, but I’m willing to make an exception for these sound absorbing panels from IKEA.

The article is from a UK magazine, so I don’t know if the panels are available in the U.S. yet, but it’s worth it to keep an eye out for them.  They can be hung in a room, or as a room divider, to absorb unwanted sound. And since the product if offered through IKEA, the cost shouldn’t be prohibitive.

Alternatively, heavy drapes might be a more aesthetically pleasing solution. And new urban construction often has–and should be required to have–double paned windows and sound absorbing material in the exterior walls.

So urban dwellers trying to get a good night’s sleep have noise mitigation options. But I can’t help but think about how much better our sleep could be if government actively enforced  noise regulations rather than leave the problem for each of us to deal with individually.

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 the FAA Reauthorization Act has not fixed airport noise

Burbank, California is a case in point that the FAA Reauthorization Act, signed by Trump in October 2018, hasn’t solved the airport noise problem.

Photo credit: Elizabeth K. Joseph licensed under CC BY 2.0

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

Five years ago, 36 members of Congress, together with 36 community groups across the U.S., organized the Congressional Quiet Skies Caucus and the National Quiet Skies Coalition to focus Congress on the Federal Aviation Administration’s flawed launch of NextGen, a program that has plagued communities with excessive noise and pollution—including Burbank, California.

This was a consequence of the Senate’s impatience about the stalled launch of NextGen. The transportation committee demanded to know why this program was stalled. The FAA complained that they were “slowed down by the requirement that we do neighborhood environmental impact studies.” To accelerate this program, Congress said STOP doing the studies; don’t collect complaints.

Burbank is one example of dozens of communities across the U.S. whose residents endure the aftermath. Other American cities affected include Washington DC, Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Phoenix, San Francisco and many others. Most are represented on the Caucus.

NextGen was a good idea. Simply put, it aims to direct flights via satellite navigation, so air traffic will be more efficient and more airplanes will be able to use the same airspace, increasing safety, capacity and fuel efficiency. But Congress gave the FAA permission to ignore neighborhoods beneath the new, more tightly-controlled flight paths. Their lives have been seriously affected. For example, in Burbank, the flight paths changed from being over a freeway to being over neighborhoods—disrupting the lives of the people who live beneath the new flight paths. A new task force is being formed in Burbank to address the issue.

What should they do? Contact Congressman Adam Schiff and the Congressional Quiet Skies Caucus. Why? In October 2018, Schiff and the other members of that group trumpeted their “success” in getting the FAA to address community noise complaints by inserting specific changes in the “FAA Reauthorization Act” signed into law by president Trump. But those changes haven’t fixed the problem. So Burbank’s citizens need to take this problem back to Congress.

Warning: the “FAA Re-Authorization Act” also authorized dramatic expansions of the use of drones—so if you see a pizza being noisily delivered by drone to your neighbor’s door, blame the members of Congress who let this happen.

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.

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.

Wall Street Journal looks at Google’s drone delivery project

Photo credit: Mollyrose89 licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

Mike Cherney, The Wall Street Journal, writes about a trial project in Australia by Wing, a Google affiliate, involving delivery drones. While Cherney does not put his thumb heavily on one side of the scale, the gee-whiz aspects of drone delivery are presented before he addresses the community backlash to the trial. The article was prompted by an Australian parliamentary report issued last Thursday that address the concerns raised by community members about privacy and noise and the effect of drones on wildlife. Writes Cherney:

The report determined that noise is the biggest obstacle to community acceptance of drone-delivery services. Wing developed a quieter drone, which the report said was significantly less intrusive and annoying but still likely wouldn’t be accepted by everyone.

Interestingly, the video that accompanies the story notes that Wing said it was developing a quieter drone but “declined to let [WSJ] film the less noisy propellers.” Hmmmm.

More importantly, there is something particularly disturbing about developing drone delivery to deliver nonessentials like hot coffee and meals. One couple included in the video gushes about how helpful it was to order hot coffee by drone because it’s such a chore getting all three of their kids into the car to go pick it up. We would suggest that they leave the kids at home as one of the couple fetches the coffee, or they could save a few bucks and make their coffees at home.

In the end, though, one hopes the selfishness of a handful of users who crave the convenience of having their impulse needs met mmediately will not trump their neighbors’ right to quiet and privacy.

Do click the link and watch the video to listen to the sound associated with just one drone. Then think about what it would be like having a fleet of drones flying above you.

NYC council considers helicopter ban

Photo credit: Matthis Volquardsen from Pexels

In a move that is sure to delight those of us who want sensible limits on unnecessary noise, three New York City council members have proposed a ban on helicopter flights over the city. Specifically, Council members Mark Levine, Helen Rosenthal, and Margaret S. Chin have introduced legislation that would ban all nonessential helicopter travel over the city. The proposal followed a frightening helicopter crash that occurred in June 2019, in which the pilot, who was not authorized to fly in limited visibility, was killed while attempting to land his helicopter during foul weather.

While the linked story suggests the council members’ focus is on safety concerns, group such as Stop the Chop have advocated for the end of unnecessary helicopter flights for security and health concerns, asserting that the flights are bad for the environment, bad for public health, and bad for New Jersey and New York residents who live in and around the flight paths. Making matters worse is that the vast majority of the flights are absolutely nonessential–Stop the Chop states that 97% of the 58,000 flights per year originating out of the city-owned Downtown Manhattan Heliport are tourist flights.

We hope that the full council votes in favor of banning nonessential helicopter flights, saving the lives of unsuspecting tourists and the health and sanity of every person who is exposed to the fumes and noise this unnecessary activity creates.

13-year-old proves hand dryers hurt kids’ ears

Photo credit: Mr.TinDC licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Thanks to some noise contacts, I was aware of this study that appeared in the official publication of the Canadian Paedriatic Society, but I hadn’t written a blog post because the article is behind a pay wall. But now thanks to the New York Times, everyone can learn about this fascinating study done by 13-year-old Nora Keegan.

Keegan spent more than a year taking sound measurements in hundreds of public restrooms to prove that the noisy hand dryers that she and other children complained about to their parents were, in fact, dangerously loud. Uncertain with how the hand dryer companies determined their decibel ratings, Keegan tested them at varying heights, including childrens’ heights. After getting a bronze, then a gold, in school science fairs with her earlier studies, Keegan was encouraged to write a paper about her findings. And she did. Click the second link to learn more about how she conducted her study.

I was delighted to read about Keegan’s interest and dedication to her study, particularly since her research confirms what I have been saying for some time now: If it 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.

Searching for quiet in New York City

(c) Hush City app 2017

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

In his search for quiet in New York City, John Surico, writing for CityLab, turned to Dr. Antonella Radicchi’s Hush City app in an attempt to find a slice of serenity in the din. Surico joined Dr. Radicchi in a soundwalk of lower Manhattan, and discussed her ressearch. She would like to expand “equitable access to natural urban sounds,” noting there is a difference “between the human sounds of urban living…and the mechanical din of development, which hops up the decibel scale quick.”

During Antonella’s stay while conducting research mapping quiet areas in New York City, we met a number of times and were in contact regularly. As a researcher on the adverse effects of loud sounds and noise on our health and someone who has written and appreciated the wonderful sounds of our city, I welcomed my time with Antonella and enjoyed my Soundwalk with her.

Antonella understands well the sounds of our city that make it “New York”, e.g sounds of Times Square, Macy’s parade, and roars of fans at ball parks. But she also wants us to be able to continue to listen to the sounds of birds, the laughter of children playing, the hum of conversation. With her Hush City app, Antonella spent time mapping out the quieter areas of New York City and stressing the need to protect these spaces, especially the many parks in our city which provide us with the requisite quiet and the opportunity to enjoy more natural sounds.

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 cameras to the rescue!

Photo credit: Albert Bridge licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

But, sadly, not in the U.S.  Motorbike Writer writes that Australia is monitoring the British development and deployment of a new noise camera that is intended to be used to “crack down on illegal vehicles.”  According to a UK.gov newstory, the new camera “will aim to detect illegal, excessively noisy vehicles, helping create quieter streets.”

Mercifully, this technology isn’t anticipated yesars from now. Rather, trials of the noise cameras will take place in “the coming months.”

The goal, of course, is to measure the sound level of passing cars, determine which are violating noise limitations, and, perhaps, deploy “automated number plate recognition to help enforce the law.”

No doubt there are those who will complain about the technology, but if it works it could help to address a common problem that police, to date, simply cannot or will not address. Importantly, the technology isn’t being deployed to harass motorcyclists and others who seemingly love loud vehicle noise.  The UK government makes it quite clear that it is testing this equipment to clamp down on noise pollution, which, notes Transport Secretary Chris Grayling, “makes the lives of people in communities across Britain an absolute misery and has very serious health impacts.”

We will be following this program and will keep you informed as to its progress.

Is the modern soundscape damaging our health?

Photo credit: Luis Dalvan from Pexels

Listen to Part 1 of a fascinating two-part series on the impact of city noise on our health by 99% Invisible, a podcast that focuses on “the thought that goes into the things we don’t think about.”  Part 1 looks at our soundscape and how much of it is created without much thought.

The show interviews an interesting mix of people, including design critic Kate Wagner who notes that the sound of cars has a huge impact.  “It’s inescapble,” she laments, adding that car sounds “drown out other things like bird song, human speech, the rustling of leaves, conversation — things that maybe are more personal or that we hold [to have] a higher aesthetic value.”

Dr. Erica Walker discusses the impact of noise on communities, stating that with city sound, volume is not the only thing that bothers. Rather, it’s the character of the sound and, importantly, “whether or not you have control over the situation.” Dr. Mathias Basner, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania who studies how noise affects sleep, agrees, adding  that “health problems come in part from a lack of agency.” “Noise casues stress,” says Basner, “especially if we have little or no control over it.”

Part 1 then looks at how noise in cities discriminates because poorer neighborhoods tend to have higher noise profiles, but notes that if the city has a noise code, those laws tend to get applied more vulnerable, powerless people, particularly in areas undergoing gentrification.

The show concludes with a discussion by Joel Beckerman, a sound designer, who thinks we need a “new approach to sound,” one in which we decide what we want to hear rather than have sound thrust on us.  He calls this new approach “Sonic Humanism.”

Part 1 of this series covered a lot of material in under 20 minutes. It’s well worth listening to.  We will be sure to post about Part 2 when it’s published.