Noise

Canary in a coal mine? Noise is a warning.

Photo credit: Arcadiuš licensed under CC BY 2.0

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

You likely know about sentinel species from biology class. In the mining industry until recently, miners carried caged canaries down into mine shafts with them—not as pets but as sentinels. The caged canaries’ highly efficient oxygen-intake provided a reliable early-warning signal to humans if deadly, invisible gases were present. If the canaries panicked or died, humans scrambled to get out of the mine.

Electronic sensors do that job now, but in many other ways we all rely on signals from our surroundings to warn us of danger. One kind of sentinel we should all pay more attention to is environmental noise. Most noise is actually waste, a loud byproduct of filthy, inefficient, poorly maintained industrial processes. Those noisy diesel-fueled jet planes overhead? That’s noise signaling pollution. Gas-powered jackhammers and leaf-blowers ripping up your neighborhood? That noise signals pollution too. Trains and trucks rattling past schools and disrupting kids’ education? That noise signals pollution. Garbage trucks that wake you at 5am with their fumes and noise? They’re signaling pollution.

All of those noises are the canaries in a coal mine. They warn you to watch out because you–and the environment–are at risk.

I’m writing this in February 2020. Our focus at Quiet Communities and The Quiet Coalition has been primarily on the effects of noise on hearing and other aspects of human health. Noise really is “the next big public health crisis.” But this is an election year. So it’s also time for every American to wake up and listen to what environmental noise is telling us. Noise, like other forms of pollution, is harmful for individuals–for you, for birds, for fish. And like those miners’ canaries, noise is also signaling the ongoing pollution of our air and water. That affects every thing.

It’s time to take off our headphones and earbuds and listen while there are still birds singing and we can still hear them. Listen before we’ve all been rendered unable to hear anymore.

TQC’s chair, Dr. Fink wrote an article two years ago about “Another Silent Spring.” I absolutely agree with him that “we can make a quieter world, so future generations won’t have to endure another silent spring.”

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.

What’s in a name?

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

In “Romeo and Juliet,” Shakespeare wrote, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet?”

Definitions are very important for thinking, and their importance has been discussed by philosophers since the time of the Greeks.

This article in The New York Times reports on an effort by a manufacturer of the food additive monosodium glutamate to have Merriam-Webster redefine “Chinese Restaurant Syndrome” to delete the reference to MSG. The article quotes a spokesperson for Merriam-Webster, who in an email stated, “We record the language — we do not create, sanction or promote any specific words; the language’s speakers do this, and we provide a record of this use.”

I understand the frustration of the MSG manufacturer, because I am engaged in a similar effort to redefine noise. The most common definition of noise, based on the American National Standards Institute definition, is “noise is unwanted sound.” This implies that a perception of a sound as noise rather than as meaningful sound is purely subjective, in the ear of the listener–if I may coin a phrase–with a further implication that there is something wrong with those who complain about sounds that others don’t find bothersome.

My proposed new definition is “noise is unwanted and/or harmful sound.” The new definition makes explicit the fact that noise causes harm to people and animals at sound levels beginning as low as 30 A-weighted decibels*, and causes both auditory and non-auditory health effects. I summarized that information in the Fall 2019 issue of Acoustics Today.

I haven’t reached out to the folks at Merriam-Webster, nor started a social media campaign to effect this change, but maybe I will.

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.

What’s the Guinness World Record for the most destructively stupid event?

Photo credit: Harmony licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

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

Americans are famous abroad for being loud. Maybe it’s because we’re all going deaf from exposing ourselves to environmental noise? Doesn’t help that Guinness, the irish brewery, has been sponsoring the “loudest stadium” competition for years now, goading American football fans to make as much noise as possible. Why? Two reasons, of course:

  1. To confuse the home team’s competition by making it impossible for their players to hear the plays being called, (otherwise known as poor sportsmanship), and
  2. To compete for the Guinness Record for “loudest stadium crowd noise.”

I understand the allure of setting a world record in something, anything, however dumb. But why make yourself deaf in the process? The article above says the loudest they’ve recorded so far in the stadium hosting the upcoming Super Bowl was 128 decibels—that’s enough to permanently damage your hearing.

So is Guinness legally responsible for inciting the loud behavior by offering the Guinness World Record for loudest stadium? Or are stadium owners responsible for promoting the effort?

And who should be filing law suits? How about the players’ union? For players—the focus of that noise–hearing loss from stadium noise–is a genuine, recognized occupational hazard, though one that OSHA may not be attending to yet. Or should fans–including children–seek compensation for being unwittingly exposed to destructive noise without being informed or offered adequate ear protection?

We wonder how much longer this pointless and destructive Guinness record will continue to be promoted. It needs to stop but probably won’t until somebody takes Guinness and local stadium owners to court. Noise exposure is a serious public health threat, and far too many Americans are completely unaware of it or are complacent.

I hope you’ll enjoy the SuperBowl this year—without threatening your hearing!

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.

Readers react to Austrialian piece on restaurant noise

Photo credit: James Palinsad licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

A few days ago the Adelaide InDaily ran a column by food writer Rainer Jozeps about Adelaide “plague of shouty cafes and restaurants.”

And readers have responded.

Both Jozeps’ article and the responses could have been written about restaurant noise in any major city in the English-speaking world. Simply put, restaurants have become too loud and customers actively avoid the noisier ones.

It’s been a while since I’ve been to Australia, but restaurant noise is also a problem in England, Scotland, and Wales, and, of course, the U.S. On the other hand, restaurants in France, Italy, Spain, and Portugal–where food and dining may be more valued–seem quieter to me.

I haven’t seen any scientific studies comparing restaurant noise in different countries, but I would welcome them and anticipate that they would confirm my less than scientific observations.

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.

An introduction to acoustic ecology

Photo credit: USFWS Mountain-Prairie licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This article in Physics Today is a wonderful introduction to acoustic ecology, “a field that examines how animals, including humans, use information obtained from the environment in different aspects of their lives.”

Animals, including humans, evolved in a naturally quiet environment, and noise is harmful to them. The author of the article, Megan McKenna, an acoustic biologist at the Natural Sounds and Night Skies Division of the National Park Service in Colorado, writes “[a] common definition of noise is unwanted sounds that interfere with a signal of interest.”

That’s a good definition, but noise is actually harmful to animals, with that harm best studied in people. Like secondhand smoke, noise is both a nuisance and a health hazard, and there are nine evidence-based noise levels that affect human health and function.

I prefer the new definition of noise presented at the American Public Health Association meeting in November 2019 and at the Acoustical Society of America meeting in December 2019: noise is unwanted and/or harmful sound.

But whichever definition you use, we can all agree that preserving the natural acoustic environment is critical for animals and humans.

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.

Apple picks Dr. Neitzel to crunch its noise app crowdfunded data

Photo credit: Cedrick Hobson licensed under CC BY 2.0

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

Listen to this 12-minute interview (scroll down to the 6th story) on Michigan Public Radio with The Quiet Coalition colleague Richard Neitzel, PhD, at the University of Michigan! Dr. Neitzel has gotten a lot of press recently because he was picked by Apple Computer to analyze the stream of crowd-funded data on public noise exposure that Apple has started gathering via it’s new noise app on the iWatch and iPhone.

For those of us who have spent years piecing together the troubled and obscure four-decade-long history of public noise exposure and how it was swept under the rug, Dr. Neitzel’s interview brilliantly sums up both the history of what happened and the tipping point that is occurring now—thanks in part to the availability of
crowd-sourced data from research tools that have never been available to epidemiologists before, namely, the new noise app on Apple’s iWatch and iPhone.

We hope we can put the troubled history of the noise issue behind us and look forward to brighter—and quieter—future thanks to Apple and Dr. Neitzel’s team who will
be watching and interpreting this data.

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.

Dr. Daniel Fink presents at ASA on secondhand noise

The Quiet Coalition’s board chair, Dr. Daniel Fink, presented a poster at the recently concluded meeting of the Acoustical Society of America in San Diego, California.

The poster was based on his article in the Fall 2019 issue of Acoustics Today,Ambient Noise Is “The New Secondhand Smoke.”

Dr. Fink also used the poster presentation to introduce his new definition of noise: Noise is unwanted and/or harmful sound.

A manuscript based on the poster is being prepared for submission to Proceedings of Meetings on Acoustics, one of ASA’s scientific journals.

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.

Have electronics manufacturers hooked a generation on sound?

Photo credit: thekirbster licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This article in The New York Times describes how Juul hooked a generation on nicotine, while regulators slept. Now millions are addicted and hundreds have died from vaping.

The Walkman was first marketed in 1979, followed by the iPod in 2001, the iPhone in 2007, and a host of similar devices shortly thereafter. Very effective advertising convinced people–young people especially–that they needed a constant sound track in their lives. Now people use their personal listening devices about 5 hours a day, often at high volumes.

Have electronics manufacturers hooked a generation–or two–on a constant stream of loud sound? Will the result be an epidemic of noise-induced hearing loss when today’s young people reach mid-life?

I hope someone will remember this warning if I’m not around. But if I am around, I will have no pleasure in saying “I told you so” to the millions of Americans coping with hearing loss.  We still have time to prevent today’s teenagers from suffering untreatable noise-induced hearing loss, but we have to act now.

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.

America’s local communities thriving despite partisan gridlock

Photo credit: Kenneth C. Zirkel licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

by Jamie L. Banks, PhD, MS, Executive Director, Quiet Communities, Inc., Co-Founder, The Quiet Coalition and David Sykes, Vice Chair, The Quiet Coalition

As Justice Louis Brandeis noted long ago, America’s “laboratories of democracy” are its individual communities, and its state and local governments. In their new book,“Our Towns,” Deborah and James Fallows describe their search for local success stories occurring in cities and towns across the U.S., despite the partisan gridlock in Washington D.C.

We hope you enjoy reading the statement below from the editors of The Atlantic, and we strongly urge you to click on the links which provide further exploration of areas where America is thriving and succeeding:

If the future of the federal government seems bleak, James Fallows offers an unlikely source of hope: the decline of the Roman empire. Rome’s fall, he writes, including the collapse of central governance, ushered in a sustained era of creativity at the local level, which in turn led to cultural advancement and prosperity. In America, it may be up to states and the private sector to function in the areas where federal governance has failed, from climate change to higher education. And if anyone knows what’s happening in America’s local communities, it’s Fallows, who for years has traveled the country to explore how smaller towns are tackling challenges that seem insurmountable from the national perspective. He writes: ‘A new world is emerging, largely beyond our notice.’”

Making change at the local level can be very, very hard if you’re faced with organized and well-funded opposition from outside the community—as the Fallows discovered when they helped lead a noise control initiative in their own hometown, Washington DC. But a carefully coordinated and locally-controlled process of community change there yielded the results that residents were looking for.

Jamie L. Banks, PhD, MSc, is the Executive Director of Quiet Communities, Inc. and the Program Director of The Quiet Coalition. She is an environmentalist and health care scientist dedicated to promoting clean, healthy, quiet, and sustainable landscape maintenance, construction, and agricultural practices. Dr. Banks has an extensive background in health outcomes and economics, environmental behavior, and policy.

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.

CDC to run noise PSAs in Times Square

Photo credit: Jose Francisco Fernandez Saura at Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is “making noise about noise,” posting public service announcements on the world’s largest digital billboard at the proverbial “Crossroads of the World,” Times Square in New York City. The 15-second PSAs are scheduled for Thanksgiving week and the week before New Year’s Day.

The CDC’s public health message about the need for people to protect their hearing is very direct.

We hope everyone pays attention.

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.