Noise

My 4th Noise Activist Anniversary

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Anniversaries are special. We celebrate wedding anniversaries. Alcoholics Anonymous celebrates the anniversaries of those who are in recovery. Wounded military veterans celebrate their Alive Day, the day on which they were wounded. And yesterday was my anniversary, the fourth anniversary of my becoming a noise activist.

I developed tinnitus and hyperacusis after a one-time exposure to loud noise in a restaurant on New Year’s Eve, 2007. As midnight approached, they kept turning up the music louder and louder. My wife could tell that the noise was bothering me and suggested that we leave, but I didn’t want to offend our friends who had arranged the dinner. As soon as it was polite to leave, maybe 12:30 a.m., we did. My ears were ringing when we left, and the ringing never stopped.

I also found that noise that didn’t bother others hurt my ears: Movie soundtracks, the grind of a food processor, loud exhausts and sirens, and especially noise in restaurants. I’m a doctor and have always done what I could to stay healthy. But I had no idea that a one-time exposure to loud noise could cause tinnitus and hyperacusis for the rest of my life. When my wife would suggest an evening out, I would ask, “Can’t we eat at home?”

On December 2, 2014, I read an article about hyperacusis in the New York Times science section, written by journalist Joyce Cohen, who has since become a friend. I circled it in red and gave it to my wife, saying, “Honey, this is why I don’t want to go to restaurants any more. They are all too noisy. The noise hurts my ears. Just like it says in this article.” My wife finally understood that while I might have been getting grumpier with age, my dislike of noisy restaurants was caused by an auditory disorder.

So I decided to do something to make the world a quieter place. I reached out via email to the four experts cited in Joyce’s article. One thing led to another, and I ended up serving on the board of the American Tinnitus Association and helping create The Quiet Coalition, where I am the board chair.

I learned that I wasn’t the only person in the world with auditory disorders. Hearing loss, tinnitus, and hyperacusis are all too common. But auditory disorders are invisible, and largely occur in older people, who themselves are largely invisible in our society. Except for congenital deafness, auditory disorders tend to be ignored.

It’s been quite an odyssey. I found that via the internet, I could communicate with experts in various areas of noise, across the country and even around the world. At the urging of one of them, I submitted abstracts to scientific meetings about noise. Those were accepted for presentation, and I spoke at national and international scientific meetings. I have had publications based on my talks appear in peer-reviewed medical and scientific journals, and I have been quoted in articles and have advised national and international health authorities about noise. And I have learned, through the nonprofit Hyperacusis Research, how truly life-limiting noise-induced hearing problems can be. All because I read an article and decided to do something to make the world quieter.

The world is still too noisy, and I still can’t find a quiet restaurant, but apps like iHEARu and SoundPrint are now available.

And as more evidence becomes available about noise as a health and public health hazard, I am confident that an informed public will push legislators and public health officials to eliminate unnecessary noise.

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.

Is noise pollution making you fat?

This image is in the public domain in the U.S.

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

The discussion that stress may be linked to obesity has gone on for many years but an internet search of research linking stress to obesity will reveal that stress can indeed increase weight. One could now ask the question whether continuous noise intrusions from railways, roads, and overhead aircraft could be associated with obesity. The answer to this question appears to be “yes” with regard to road noise, “less so” with rail noise and “no” for aircraft noise in the research paper cited in this Environment International article.

While the authors of the paper cited above believe that additional research needs to be conducted, including effects of aircraft noise, to strengthen the data supporting the relationship between noise and obesity, they stress that with obesity being a major public issue worldwide, the existing data suggest that noise needs to be seriously considered as a contributing factor. They also point out that: “obesity could represent one pathway through which transportation noise impacts cardiovascular disease,” recognizing that studies have linked transportation noise to cardiovascular ailments.

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.

Fast food delivery by drones is going to be so awesome

Photo credit: www.routexl.com licensed under CC BY 2.0

Except when it isn’t. No surprise, food delivery drones in Australia driving people mad. The problem, of course, is the high-pitched buzzing sound the drones make as they scurry around. Feilidh Dwye, WeTalkUAV.com, writes that one woman said “she would take her kids away from the house several hours a week, just to escape the noise. ‘With the windows closed, even with double glazing, you can hear the drones,'” she added.

So imagine fleets of drones large enough to deliver a couple of pizzas and a six-pack of beer and think about how horrific the constant high-pitched buzzing will be. Just because some Silicon Valley sociopath has figured out another way to make a billion providing a “service” no one needs, doesn’t mean we have to accept it. The days of moving fast and breaking things is over.

No one told you drone delivery would be so damn loud

Photo credit: Sam Churchill licensed under CC BY 2.0

But some Australians know firsthand that living next to a drone delivery test site is pure hell. According to Lachlan Roberts, The Riot Act!, residents living near a delivery drone testing site claimed they “were disturbed by the noise and said it was ruining their quality of life.” Said one put upon neighbor, “[t]he drones are unbelievably noisy and they have a really, really loud, high-pitched whining sound.” The situation was particularly galling, the residents point out, because they believe there is no compelling reason for this “service.”

It’s not surprising that the drone operation is attracting complaints. Just last year a NASA study found that “people find the buzzing sound that drones make to be notably more annoying than that of cars or trucks, even when they’re at the same volume.”

The aggrieved residents would likely agree. One of them noted that he had 35 drones fly over his house in one day, adding his concern that there would be many more flights after the trial period ended.

Silicon Valley (or the start-up culture, more generally) rush to impose delivery drones and flying cars and the other shiny objects du jour on the world with the promise of awesome new technology and absolutely no concern about the costs that will be borne by the society at large.

Before imposing the endless whine of delivery drones on the masses, the promoters should be required to answer one question: what compelling need does this technology serve? Because the need should be compelling when a new service or product is launched that will expose the public to unwanted and harmful noise.

Silence, please! Is it really possible to mute the world?

Photo credit: Kat Jayne from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

In a word, no. But this fascinating essay mentions a 1957 science fiction story by Arthur C. Clarke predicting a machine that does that, and now scientists are working on actualizing that idea.

We’ll see how successful they are, and of course how much the new technology costs. But it seems to me that it’s much simpler to use existing technologies, or even just to enforce existing noise ordinances, than to try to develop a whole new technology. Acoustic technology is highly developed. Reduce noise at the source by design and material choices, and if that can’t be done, insulate, isolate, reflect, or contain the sound. And laws to reduce harmful and unwanted noise have long existed, including building codes, zoning codes, federal laws about vehicle mufflers, local laws about horn use, etc.

As noise pioneer Arline Bronzaft PhD wrote many years ago, it’s a matter of will, not of way, to make the world a quieter and more enjoyable place for all.

I sent these remarks to Dr. Bronzaft as a courtesy, to make sure she wanted to be quoted and to make sure I got it right. She replied with a wonderful insight: people don’t want silence, they want quiet so they can hear others talk, hear the raindrops fall, hear birds singing.

Of course, she’s right!

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.

Living with misophonia

Photo credit: rawpixel.com from Pexels

Natalie Reilly, NZ Herald, writes about living with misophonia, the “hatred of sound.” Eating sounds are particularly enraging for Reilly, and she confides that she hates hearing her husband eat. Which could be a real problem, except he suffers from misophonia as well and, well, he hates the sounds she makes when she eats. And so this couple have found a solution to maintain marital bliss: one eats in front of the tv, the other eats in the kitchen.

Reducing Loud Sounds and Noise: A Health Matter

Photo credit: Paul Sableman licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

The Quiet Coalition’s board member and co-founder Arline Bronzaft, PhD, has an important article in the latest issue of The Hearing Journal.

Noise bothers people but it’s more than a nuisance. It is a public health hazard causing auditory disorders, such as hearing loss, tinnitus, hyperacusis, and non-auditory health problems, like hypertension, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and death.

The scientific data about these problems and the causal nature of the relationships between noise and human disease is overwhelming.

There is always a need for more research, but there can be no rational doubt about the data. And the engineering techniques to make things quieter have been known since the 1960s. Making the world quieter is a political problem, not a scientific problem.

Those of us old enough to remember when restaurants, offices, planes, trains, and buses were filled with unwanted cigarette smoke know that banning smoking in public spaces has made the air we breathe cleaner, with dramatic impacts on health and well-being.

As with smoke, it will be with noise. If enough people complain to enough elected officials, or run for public office on a platform of making the world a quieter place, it can be made quieter, too.

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.

Measuring sound levels

Photo credit: Phonical licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

People sometimes wonder how to measure sound levels. Until recently, one had to buy a sound meter. OSHA-certified ones can cost more than $1000, although reasonable quality sound meters have long been available for less than $100, but technology changed all that. Now there are free or inexpensive sound meter apps for both Android and Apple smartphones.

I lack both the technical knowledge and the equipment to evaluate these, but fortunately researchers at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health have done the work.

The apps for iPhones are more accurate than those for Android phones due to standardization of hardware and software, but there are a lot of good free apps available.  NIOSH offers one that it developed for workers but is free to all.

But you really don’t need a sound meter app to know if it’s too loud. If you need to strain to speak or to be heard at the normal social distance of 3-4 feet, the ambient noise is above 75 A-weighted decibels (dBA) and your hearing is at risk. The auditory injury threshold is only 75-78 dBA. Regardless of what your sound meter says, or even if you can somehow converse despite the noise, if the noise is loud enough to bother your ears, that also indicates that your hearing is probably being damaged.

There are individual variations in sensitivity to noise. What is loud enough to bother you may not bother someone else. It’s clear that some people are more sensitive to noise than others, just as some people don’t get a sunburn even in the brightest sun and others don’t seem to gain weight despite what they eat.

So if the noise is bothering you, either leave the noisy environment or put in your earplugs.

As I often write, “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.

Meanwhile, in France…

Photo credit: G.M. Briggs (a game of pétanque in Bryant Park, NYC)

The Local France reports that a French mayor has banned ‘noisy’ pétanque playing  during “anti-social hours.” Seems harsh, butan “official document” notes that “the activity of pétanque playing causes repeated noise such as rattling balls, accompanied by the sound of loud voices and screams.” Anyone who has been in a sports bar during an “important” game will surely understand.

In any event, the mayor’s ban is reasonable–it is only from 11:00 p.m. to 8:00 a.m.–and exceptions will be considered.