Noise

Irish commuters to be serenaded by birdsong at train stations

Photo credit: William Murphy licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

The Irish Examiner reports that the Irish train system, Iarnród Éireann, will be playing birdsong at train stations between 8:00 a.m. and 9:00 a.m. until November 29. The birdsong  recordings were made in Dublin during the lockdown quiet, which allowed people to hear birds instead of vehicle and train noise.

The newspaper reports that “On Chorus is a public art project by sound artist Christopher Steenson which aims to highlight the dramatic reduction in noise pollution in Ireland during the first Covid-19 lockdown.“ Steenson’s art work asks listeners to reflect on the relative quiet during the lockdown, and also is a gesture of appreciation to essential workers, who in Ireland were the only ones permitted to travel during the lockdown.

The birdsongs will be played from 8:00 a.m. and 9:00 a.m. Irish time here for anyone who wants to listen. Irish Standard Time is Greenwich Mean Time 0. In the United States, Eastern Standard Time is GMT -5, Pacific Standard Time is GMT -8. A series of photographs taken by Steenson will also be available on the site.

What a wonderful idea: making art from the silver lining to the terror and tragedy of the COVID-19 pandemic, as Steenson does, reminding us of the beauty of nature amidst man’s horrors.

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.

The pandemic’s changing soundscape

Photo credit: Sanaan Mazhar from Pexels

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

Bridget Read, The Cut, identifies the past eight months of the COVID-19 pandemic in terms of the dimmed and heightened sounds in her environment. She associates the start of the pandemic with the silencing of many of the customary sounds in the environment, e.g. less horn honking, no din from restaurants, the absence of the voices and shouts of children as they leave school at three p.m. On the other hand, the increase in ambulance sirens reminded her, as it did many of us, of the people who had fallen victim to COVID-19. This thought also brought us greater fear.

April brought on the sounds of clapping in the evenings to say “Thank you” to our hospital workers, postal workers and grocery store employees. In late May, Read writes that there was the explosion of sounds that accompanied the marches and demonstrations after the death of George Floyd at the hands of police. July 4th is generally recognized with fireworks, but July 4, 2020, brought about many more localized fireworks that actually started before the 4th and went on for weeks afterwards. But as the summer ended and autumn approached, Read writes that there was a quieter period as if people were holding their breath as they reflected on a potential second wave of the pandemic.

November was ushered in by long lines of people waiting to vote and quietly reflecting on who would be elected the next president. Then, on a warm Saturday in early November, Read was overwhelmed by cheers, clapping, car honking, and loud talking from the streets. Everyone seemed to be making lots of noise. What brought about all these sounds–Donald Trump had lost the election.

More excitement followed for the next few days with people rushing out into the streets to celebrate the election of Joseph Biden. Music seemed to be everywhere as people danced in the streets. These sounds that accompanied joy may have been brief, according to Read, but the joy was real.

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.

The Soundproofist podcast looks at noise

Photo credit: Magda Ehlers from Pexels

David M. Sykes, Vice Chair, The Quiet Coaliton

If you’re not already familiar with the Soundproofist podcast series based in San Francisco, we recommend tuning in. This well-produced podcast is exclusively focused on sound and noise. In two episodes podcast host Cary interviews our Quiet Coalition co-founder and colleague, Antonelle Radicchi, PhD, at the Technical University of Berlin, on soundwalks and her Hush City app. Dr. Radicchi spent part of last year here in the U.S., working with noise researchers at New York University. Her stay here culminated with her organizing a fascinating, day-long workshop at New York University on noise and the city.

“The Soundproofist” also recently interviewed our colleague Dr. Arline Bronzaft.

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.

The Freakonomics podcast hones in on noise

Photo of Stephen Dubner by Audrey S. Bernstein, licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

David M. Sykes, Vice Chair, The Quiet Coaliton

This new segment of the popular podcast “Freakonomics” hosted by Stephen Dubner was released on November 11. It features The Quiet Coalition’s own Dr. Arline Bronzaft as well as other researchers, including economist Dr. Josh Dean at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, behavioral ecologist Peter Tyack at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, Pawel and Margaret Jastreboff, emeritus medical researchers at Emory University, and Dr. Mack Hagood at Miami University in Ohio.

Dubner, co-author of the best-selling book “Freakonomics,” always focuses on fascinating anomalies, i.e., the unexpected impacts of human activities. In this episode he focuses on noise as what economists call an “externality”—a noxious byproduct that pollutes the environment for others but for which no one is held responsible.

Dubner interviews Dr. Bronzaft about her justly-famous work on the effects of train noise on kids’ performance in a New York City school. He interviews Dr. Tyack about his work with whales, whose lives—indeed their very survival—is impacted by the environmental externality of human-produced noise from underwater oil exploration, sonar, and ships’ engines.

Dubner then focuses on Dr. Dean’s work at the University of Chicago on the impacts of noise on human productivity, a little explored subject owing to the lack of official government interest in noise research in the U.S.

Take a listen.  This podcast is a fascinating hour-long program that does a wonderful job of exploring current research on noise!

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.

The effect of noise and comforting sound on humans

Photo credit: Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

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

I am a regular reader of the New York Times Tuesday Science section and was delighted to see two references to sound in the In Brief Section by Nicholas Bakalar on November 3rd (print version). In his brief titled “Noise May Raise Dementia Risk” Bakalar cites a study linking noise to increased risk for Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia. The authors, conducting a study on aging, looked at residents living in communities, both quiet and noisy, and found that community noise level resulted in a higher likelihood of cognitive impairment, as well as a risk for Alzheimer’s disease. The lead author, Jennifer Weuve, could only hypothesize about the connection but she suggested that excessive noise can result in sleep deprivation, hearing loss and changes in blood pressure—“all of which are associated with an increased risk for dementia.”

With so many people living longer lives today, this study suggests further research into the potential impact of long-term noise on one’s mental health. However, as stated numerous times before, there is enough evidence on the hazards of noise to our mental and physical health to warrant lessening noise pollution NOW.

The second brief is titled “Children: Not Picky About Lullabies” and cites a study led by Bainbridge and Bertolo in which the researchers found that lullabies, sung in many different languages and from different cultures, relaxed young infants. That infants can be calmed by songs from different languages, different cultures and different voices may also indicate that humans at the start do not center on differences amongst groups but upon similarities, namely the comforting sounds emanating from their voices.

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.

Battery-powered leaf blowers: Has their time finally come?

Photo credit: Coolkasun licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

As we have written about many times, gas-powered leaf blowers are the bane of both urban and suburban residents, especially now during the autumn leaf drop season. Previous generations just raked the leaves or let them provide a natural mulch in quiet corners of the yard, but the modern lawn care standard has become “no leaf left behind.”

Rakes are natural, quiet, and provide gentle exercise to the legs, trunk, and upper body. Leaf blowers, even battery-powered ones, aerosolize pet waste, tire waste, spores, and other noxious and toxic substances. And gas-powered leaf blowers are a major source of air pollution.

Despite the hopes of many, though, I don’t think landscape workers and many homeowners will return to using rakes, but three recent observations give me hope that gas-powered leaf blowers will be replaced with battery-powered models.

First, on trips to Home Depot, Lowe’s, and ACE Hardware, there were prominent displays of battery-powered leaf blowers in the desired “end cap” location, along the main aisles of the store.

Second, last Sunday’s Parade magazine had an insert from a well-recognized landscape maintenance tool manufacturer promoting its line of battery-powered equipment, with powerful 40 volt batteries.

Third, and perhaps most importantly, I’ve recently seen a number of landscapers and gardeners using battery-powered leaf blowers.

I’ve spoken to a few professional gardeners and they all tell me the battery-powered leaf blowers are more than powerful enough for them to do their job easily, they don’t have to fuss with gasoline or trying to start the two-stroke engine, and they don’t have a headache or ringing in the ears at the end of the day.

The Atlantic covered Washington, D.C.’s gas-powered leaf blower ban. And in testimony before the District Council, Atlantic Monthly editor James Fallows discussed the technological advances in lithium batteries that make battery-powered leaf blowers feasible.

Maybe battery-powered leaf blowers’ time has finally come?

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.

Pets suffer from noise exposure, too

Photo credit: Charles from Pexels

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

This piece from the UK is a reminder that pets suffer from noise exposure, too. Susan C. Kahler, writing for the American Veterinary Medical Association, reported that ecent research from Harris Polls showed that a whopping 44% of dog owners they surveyed said their pets suffer from noise exposure.

Kahler interviewed veterinary researcher Sharon L. Campbell, DVM, MS, DACVIM, who says that “[c]anine noise aversion—also known as noise anxiety or phobia—affects 67% of dogs in the United States.” Dr. Campbell lists triggers like fireworks, thunder, construction, sirens, street noise, sporting events, lawnmowers and landscape maintenance equipment, snowplows and garbage trucks as the most frequent outdoor noises that cause problems for pets. But she also lists the following indoor noises that can also trigger noise anxiety: doorbells, vacuum cleaners, construction, electronics (cell phones, microwaves), sporting events on TV, celebrations (family, friends), and smoke detectors.

What about treatment? Dr Campbell discusses three approaches: environmental management, behavioral modification, and pharmacologic agents—all of which can be very helpful. But the best first step is to get your pet’s anxiety or phobia diagnosed by a caring professional and then consider which treatment option to try. Dr. Campbell doesn’t talk about hearing damage or whether pets can suffer from tinnitus or hyperacusis, but that too is something to consider.

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.

The benefits of quiet during the pandemic

Photo credit: cottonbro from Pexels

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

Hearing that there has been an uptick in COVID-19 cases, I have decided to continue to reflect further on the relationship between sound and this pandemic. With more people being hospitalized with COVID-19, I recalled my papers, written years ago, about the importance of quiet in the hospital setting. I looked at more recent literature and found that studies are still being done in this area. Dr. Julie Darbyshire heads the SILENCE project in the UK which is examining the effect of noise and quiet on hospital patients. They are still warning us of the detrimental effect of slamming doors, hospital alarms and other noises in our hospitals and the importance of quiet when it comes to patient recovery. Dr. Darbyshire has been quoted as stating that massive health gains can come from quiet hospital time. She also notes that noise can be harmful to the staff as well.

Let me point out, as I listen to the frequent ambulance sirens passing my home in Upper Manhattan, that our city’s hospitals should also pay attention to the detrimental impact of these loud ambulance sounds on the city’s residents who are hearing them more frequently lately. I understand that ambulances must get their patients to the hospitals as quickly as possible but I also am familiar with the “less offensive” European emergency sirens being used—so should the hospitals.

With many of us confined to our homes during this pandemic I am assuming that you, like I, may be listening to music for greater comfort. A study found that listening to classical music lowers a raised heart rate and blood pressure, but especially interesting in this study was the finding that a pause in the music of two minutes brought about a period of relaxation and decreases in blood pressure and heart rate. Apparently, the silence also was beneficial to one’s heart.

One of the downsides of staying in more is that we are closer to our kitchens for longer periods of time. To those people who are concerned about the effect of extra pounds on their health, I believe you will pay heed to the studies that have shown that quiet leads to less eating. Those who listen to the sounds that accompany their eating rather than loud music on their earphones or a loud television program will eat less food. So while above, I suggested that you will be comforted by your music, do turn it off while eating. Of course, resist going into your kitchen more frequently.

Yes, the pandemic has interestingly brought greater attention to our ears and the sounds around us—both the harmful ones as well as those that bring us comfort and pleasure. Will we continue to reflect on how sounds and noise affect us when this pandemic passes?

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.

Can noise exposure influence the risk of dementia?

Photo credit: Oleg Magni from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Can noise exposure influence late-life cognition and the risk of developing dementia? That the answer might be “Yes” is suggested by a study in the latest issue of the medical journal Alzheimer’s & Dementia, the journal of the Alzheimer’s Association. I have read the article, although only the abstract is available at the link.

Researchers analyzed data collected from the Chicago Health and Aging Project, looking at 5,227 participants in the study. Noise exposure levels were estimated using accepted modeling techniques, and cognitive performance was measured using standardized tests. The populations in the four quartiles of noise exposure were largely similar in terms of ethnicity, socioeconomic status, smoking, alcohol consumption, physical activity, and body mass index.

Noise exposure level was correlated with mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease. An increment of 10 A-weighed decibels* in noise corresponded to 36% higher odds of mild cognitive impairment and 29% higher odds of a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease.

It is important to note that this is among the first studies of community noise and cognitive decline, the first such study done in the United States, and perhaps most importantly, that correlation does not mean causation.

But as the authors note, there are animal studies showing brain changes with noise exposure, and as I have noted many times, there is no evidence that unwanted noise exposure has any beneficial effects on humans or animals.

*A-weighting adjusts the frequencies in sound to match those heard in human speech.

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 I did during the COVID-19 lockdown (and before and after)

Photo credit: Bidvine from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

When I was in elementary school, a common assignment during the first days or weeks of school was to write an essay on the topic, “What I did during summer vacation.” I don’t know if schoolchildren today will be asked to write essays about “What I did during the COVID-19 lockdown” when they return to school in person, but this is my report, with a nod to October’s being National Protect Your Hearing Month.

What did I do during my abundant free time during lockdown? When I wasn’t working on noise activities I worked home-improvement or repair projects at our home, with a major project at my in-laws’ home as well. I won’t bore you with the entire list, but it includes:

  • Removing shelving and flooring from two large closets, patching the walls, repainting them, and installing new shelves and flooring.
  • Removing carpet from one room, patching the walls, repainting the walls, and installing new flooring.
  • Removing a warmer drawer in the kitchen, modifying the cabinet to fit the new warmer drawer, refinishing that side of the kitchen island, and installing the new warmer drawer.
  • Removing a trash compactor, finishing the inside of the cabinet, and installing the new trash compactor.
  • Cutting out wood rot in an exterior door frame, installing a new piece of wood, patching and filling the repair, sanding it smooth, and repainting the door frame.
  • Repainting the interior and exterior of the front door and the windows surrounding it.
  • Removing six exterior lights in front of the house and installing new exterior light fixtures.
  • Removing old water feeds for all toilets and sinks and replacing them with new shutoff valves and braided stainless steel water feeds.
  • Repaired the washing machine and replacing a leaking hose.
  • Reconstructing a large trellis at my in-laws’ house.

What’s the connection to National Protect Your Hearing Month? Every project was noisy. Demolition work is noisy. Power tools are noisy. And many hand tools, perhaps with the exception of a pliers or screwdriver, are noisy when used. Among the power tools used were a circular saw, a sliding compound miter saw, hand saws, drills, a nut driver, a hammer drill, a multitool, two different reciprocating saws, and a quarter-sheet sander. Hand tools included hammers, pry bars, crowbars, screwdrivers, chisels, scrapers, paint brushes and rollers, etc. Painting is quiet and plumbing is quiet, but all the other tasks were noisy. The only time I didn’t have my earplugs in was when I was painting or using pliers, a wrench, or a screwdriver.

And that’s my advice to you: If like many other Americans you’re doing repair and home improvement projects during the COVID-19 lockdownHome improvement projects are underway during COVID-19 please protect your hearing!

There is no such thing as temporary auditory damage, and the cumulative effect of loud noise will eventually cause hearing loss.

So even if you’re hammering in only one nail or cutting one board with your circular saw, wear hearing protection.

That’s my advice before, during, and after October, National Protect Your Hearing Month.

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.