Noise

Paris is quiet

Photo credit: Margerretta from Pexels

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

With about 150 sound monitoring stations around Paris and its suburbs, Bruitparif, the agency that oversees the sound levels recorded by these stations, released two charts this week: one depicting the levels of sound before the coronavirus and one after this pandemic took hold. Bruitparif reported a considerable drop in noise emissions, especially near airports, along highways, and in neighborhoods with night clubs that are now shut down.

Yes indeed, the coronavirus pandemic has kept people indoors. Fewer are flying, traveling the roads, or using the rails. While at home, residents are not hearing construction sounds because of construction has been suspended. Paris and its nearby suburbs are much quieter as the graph in the article indicates. I prefer the word quiet to silent.

In 2016, New York University researchers launched a Sounds of New York City (SONYC) program that involves placing sensors in New York City that would provide data on the sound levels at the sites where these sensors would be placed. The data collected by SONYC were to be shared with the City’s Department of Environmental Protection to assist them in more effectively lessening the noise levels in the city.

One could now ask the New York University professors to compare the data collected before the virus took hold in the city with sound level data collected several weeks later. Although such an initiative was not envisioned by the NYU program when it was developed, its data collection could offer a “before” and “after” pandemic view of New York City sound levels.

Other cities, e.g. Berlin, have also gathered data on urban sound levels and have created noise maps from these data. It would be worthwhile to ask other cities whether they, like Paris, have created before and after the coronavirus pandemic noise maps. With noise pollution a major problem, primarily in urban areas, and a health hazard, such data might be useful in designing ways to lessen the adverse impacts from noise.

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.

Is there a link between noise and crime?

Photo credit: Cameron Casey from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Loud noise may be an indicator of crime–a domestic dispute, a physical altercation, or drug dealing, as discussed by The Quiet Coalition’s Arline Bronzaft, PhD–but a new paper provides startling evidence that noise, in this case aircraft noise, may cause violent crime.

Prof. Timo Hener at Aarhus University in Denmark studied crime under aircraft flight paths in Frankfurt, Germany. Frankfurt’s airport has a unique situation. Aircraft usually land and take off into the wind, to add additional lift. The wind in Frankfurt is usually from one direction, about 75% of the time, but when it shifts, aircraft land and take off in the opposite direction. Prof. Hener studied crime rates in areas under the flight paths. After adjusting for a number of factors, he found that a 1 decibel increase in aircraft noise caused aa 2.6% increase in assaults, usually on males by persons unknown to them.

It would be impossible to order the airport to shift flight paths and then study crime rates below the flight paths when this is done, but the changing wind directions allow an “experiment of nature” where the weather pattern provides the experimental intervention, and all the researcher has to do is collect the data.

The study needs editorial review by experts in the field and confirmation by other studies, but it is a fascinating study about possible additional adverse impacts of noise on human health and behavior.

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.

Women’s noise complaints often ignored

Photo credit: Sabine van Erp from Pixabay

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

For the past thirty years, as a member of the Board of GrowNYC, I have been charged with responding to New York City residents who reach out to our organization seeking help to resolve noise problems. My research and writings on the deleterious effects of noise on health and well-being, as well as my willingness to work with communities on their noise issues, have provided me with the experience to assist New York City residents with noise problems. With noise ranking high on the list of calls to the city’s 311 Helpline, it’s clear that noise is a major issue in the city and it should not be surprising when I report that I have been asked to assist many people.

Both men and women from all neighborhoods in New York City have contacted me but many more of those reaching out to me have been women, especially older women. What I have also noticed is that a large number of the women who contact me, most complaining about residential noise, have been generally dismissed when they contacted their managing agents or landlords. Thus, I decided to write about the dismissal of such complaints by women for The Woman’s Connection, hoping to call attention to a type of discrimination that has received little attention.

I believe that readers of Silencity, both men and women, will find my article on women’s noise complaints being dismissed worth reading. This knowledge may result in more attention being paid to women’s noise complaints, and, more importantly, lead to a greater number of them being resolved.

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 is still bad for health

This photograph of Dr. William H. Stewart is in the public domain

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

The World Health Organization has found that noise is bad for health, leading it to develop an Environmental Noise Guidelines for Europe. To prepare for the writing of this document, WHO commissioned systematic reviews of the published scientific evidence about this topic.

Systematic reviews are a well-recognized way of summarizing scientific evidence according to a pre-specified protocol to arrive at evidence-based conclusions.

The UK’s Department for the Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs recently commissioned a systematic review of newer scientific evidence about the effects of environmental noise on mental health, well-being, quality of life, cancer, dementia, birth, reproductive outcomes, and cognition.

And guess what? As WHO found, DEFRA also found that a lot of the evidence is not of the highest scientific quality, but there is still sufficient evidence to conclude that environmental noise is bad for health.

We wish health authorities in the U.S. would understand this soon. At The Quiet Coalition, we sometimes circulate draft blog posts among ourselves for input or comment or correction. TQC’s Arline Bronzaft, PhD, a pioneering noise researcher who showed that elevated train noise interfered with schoolchildren learning, offered these additional comments:

EPA stated in 1978 in Noise: A Health Problem, that “[i]t is finally clear that noise is a significant hazard to public health.” We need to remind EPA of this statement, made forty years before the WHO statement. Dr. William H. Stewart, former surgeon general, in 1969 acknowledged we did not have “every link in the chain of causation” but still warned us about dangers of noise.

Thanks to Dr. Bronzaft for reminding us that in the U.S. the health hazards of noise pollution have been known for decades.

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.

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.