Peace and Quiet

Quiet helicopters already exist! Now get charter groups to use them

Photo credit: FaceMePLS licensed under CC BY 2.0

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

The Quiet Coalition (TQC) heard recently from a local government official asking for advice about noisy helicopters and what could be done to address constituent complaints. It’s a great question with a straightforward answer: quiet helicopters already exist. Airbus makes them and here’s a case study of an American hospital–the University of California San Francisco—that is using one. Nothing new needs to be invented here—what’s needed is public pressure on helicopter users to substitute quiet craft for the loud ones that annoy you and your neighbors.

It’s no surprise that the quiet helicopter is made by Airbus, because Airbus has worked long and hard, under pressure from the EU Parliament, to develop quiet aircraft of all kinds. Here is a demonstration and review of the Airbus Colibri EC120B (4-passenger) quiet helicopter, which has a larger “cousin,” the EC130B (6 passenger) model.

You might say “this is NOT a truly quiet helicopter.” True, but it’s a heck of a lot quieter than what we’re exposed to now, which is an improvement—and one that could be substituted immediately. For those who want even quieter helicopters, take a look at this next-generation, all-electric helicopter from Germany (Germany has very strict noise-control regulations, which led to the development of this electric craft).

If you’re also concerned about airport noise from jet aircraft, please know that TQC is interested in this subject and has written about it several times over the past year. And, as with helicopters, quiet jet aircraft are already available–again from Airbus. Why do the Europeans have a leg up on the design and production of electric aircraft? Because the EU Parliament has worked long and hard to limit community noise and has strongly encouraged Airbus to address this problem. American companies should take note and get in the game before the EU wins it.

We at TQC believe that “technology substitution” (i.e., accelerating the adoption of quiet alternatives) is the only foreseeable, politically practical way to solve noise problems in America. TQC co-founder Jamie Banks, founder of Quiet Communities, has already demonstrated the practicality of technology substitution in another area where community noise has been growing problem–noisy and inefficient but cheap 2-cycle gas-powered leafblowers and lawn mowers. Her group has found that communities can change their local soundscapes by insisting that landscape maintenance crews use quieter, battery-powered electric devices.

True, it may take some organizing locally to get your local government to stand up and fight the plague of noise, but it can be done!

With regard to noisy helicopters, citizen groups need to apply direct pressure on the local owners and operators of these craft, petitioning them to substitute commercially available, quieter equipment. That is a much faster route to solving your neighborhood noise problem than trying to get a FAA representative or regional airport authority to develop and implement noise-control regulations. The regulatory approach seems only to lead to frustration and inaction. Aim for the operator’s pocketbook!

In addition to serving as vice chair of the The Quiet Coalition, David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: The Acoustics Research Council, American National Standards Institute Committee S12, Workgroup 44, The Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Working Group—a partner of the American Hospital Association. He is the lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0 (2012, Springer-Verlag), a contributor to the National Academy of Engineering report “Technology for a Quieter America,” and to the US-GSA guidance “Sound Matters”, and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics (LARA) at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. He recently retired from the board of directors of the American Tinnitus Association. A graduate of the University of California/Berkeley with graduate degrees from Cornell University, he is a frequent organizer of and speaker at professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia, and the Middle East.

Quiet’s hard to come by

Russell Wangersky, The Telegram, writes about being somewhere so quiet that he could hear two birds flying 20 feet above him.  He describes the sound their feathers made as they moved through the air–“It is a sound that almost defies description: both a swoosh and a rustle, and a hint of the sweep of a soft brush–a sound he notes he will likely never hear again. And that experience prompts his essay on sound and modern living, as he considers “how much sound there is all around us, and how that complication of noises gets ever-larger.”

Click the link to read this thoughtful essay.

 

 

Local airports are a problem too

Photo credit: Addison YC licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Local airports are a problem for those who live near them.

Airports big and small–from Logan in Boston and Reagan in Washington to the airports in the Hamptons and Santa Monica–have been in the news recently for noise and air pollution problems.

And now it’s Teterboro Airport’s turn in the spotlight.

I lived under the flight path to the Santa Monica Airport from 1991-2009, so I saw (or perhaps heard) the transition from single-engine Beechcraft, Cessna, and Piper aircraft, with a rare Beechcraft King Air two-engine plane from time to time, to Gulfstream 3, 4, and 5 jets. The single-engine planes didn’t make much noise, but not so for the jets.

A few things happened simultaneously. Thanks to airline deregulation, the number of passengers flying increased dramatically, without a corresponding increase in airport capacity. Because of this, airline service quality declined. After September 11, 2001, things got much worse. The security regulations made it unpleasant and time-consuming to travel on commercial flights, even in first or business class. The rise of the multi-millionaire and billionaire classes, thanks to strong markets and federal tax policies favoring wealthy investors, meant that many more people could afford to charter small jets, purchase fractional jet ownerships, or even buy their own planes.

As F. Scott Fitzgerald is reputed to have said, “the rich are different from you and me.” Why put up with the hassles of going through airport security and waiting for the boarding announcement when your limousine can drop you off and your private jet’s crew will load your bags while your custom-ordered meals are being delivered? Of course, the costs of these luxuries aren’t just borne by the rich. Those living near the airports put up with the noise and pollution.

In Santa Monica, the community finally rose in opposition and after a lengthy legal battle, succeeded in getting the airport to cease operations in 2028. Noise and safety concerns–a Gulfstream jet produces a lot more pollution and noise than a single-engine plane, and if one ever crashes it will cause a lot more damage than a small plane–were the major issues.

I hope I live ten more years to see (and hear) this happen. And I hope that those living near other small airports are successful in their efforts to control noise and pollution problems, too.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He serves on the board of the American Tinnitus Association, is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’s Health Advisory Council, and 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.

UK noise activist honored by the queen

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

UK noise activist Gloria Elliott, chief executive of the Noise Abatement Society, was honored by HRH Queen Elizabeth with the Order of the British Empire for her work fighting noise.

As detailed in this article, she received the honor exactly 26 years after her father did for similar activities.

We don’t have similar honors in the U.S., but perhaps some day someone will be awarded a Presidential Medal of Freedom for freeing Americans from noise pollution and its attendant adverse health effects on hearing, blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and death.

I hope it’s soon.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He serves on the board of the American Tinnitus Association, is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’s Health Advisory Council, and 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.

Low Frequency Noise May Account for the Intolerability of Gas Leaf Blowers

Photo credit: Dean Hochman licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Jamie Banks, PhD, and Erica Walker, PhD

Boston, MA —Complaints by many residents over commercial gas leaf blower use may be explained by a strong low frequency component, according to a pilot study conducted by researchers. The study found low frequency noise from commercial gas leaf blowers persisted at high levels for 800 feet from the source. Low frequency sound travels over long distances and penetrates walls and windows. “Our finding helps explain why so many people are complaining about the effects this noise is having on their health and quality of life,” said Jamie Banks of Quiet Communities and co-author of the study. “At these levels, operating even one gas leaf blower can affect an entire neighborhood.”

Loud noise is known to harm hearing and non-hearing health, causing cardiovascular disturbances, psychological distress, and disruptions to learning and concentration. Vulnerable populations include landscape workers, children, senior, and people with hearing and neurological disorders, such as autism. More than 100 million people in the US are estimated to be exposed to harmful levels of environmental noise.

The study appears online Nov 3, 2017 in the Journal of Environmental and Toxicological Studies. It is the first in the U.S. to explore the characteristics of sound from gas-powered lawn and garden equipment.

Sound from leaf blowers and a hose vacuum—equipment commonly used in landscape maintenance—was over 100 dbA at the source and decreased over distance. However, the low frequency component persisted at high levels. “From a community perspective, the sound ratings supplied by manufacturers do not take frequency into consideration,” said co-author Erica Walker, a recent graduate of the doctoral program at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “Our findings suggest that reporting more information on a sound’s character may be a step in the right direction,” she adds.

A Finnish study presented in 2004 also found strong tonal and low frequency components among various brands of commercial gas leaf blowers. These are the types of sound poorly tolerated by humans and which become amplified in indoor settings.

The dB(A) is the standard used by manufacturers to rate the sound of their equipment and is the metric communities use to set regulatory policy. “We now know that this metric breaks down in instances where there is a significant low frequency noise component,” said Walker. In fact, in the International Institute for Noise Control Engineering and the National Academy of Engineering have both indicated that the dB(A) is not sufficient for describing the impact of sound that contains a strong low frequency component.

Gas leaf blowers are identified as sources of harmful noise by the US Centers for Disease Control, US EPA as well as the national landscape industry association. “People need to recognize that this type of noise is not just an annoyance, it is a public health problem. We need think about prevention,” said Banks.

For more information:

Jamie Banks: jlbanks@quietcommunities.org

Erica Walker: erica@noiseandthecity.org

Originally posted at Quiet Communities.

Think before you honk

Photo credit: Erik Drost licensed under CC BY 2.0

Silence the Horns has written a thoughtful piece on horn-honking in New York City. No doubt other cities are similarly plagued by this relentless and pointless noise, but in New York City it is an endless, soul-crushing litany and no one in power is doing anything to stop it. Silence the Horns posits that horn honking is a form of aggression, bullying at its loudest, and we agree.  They write:

It is troubling that in a city like New York, groups of commuters can throw tantrums in their cars, bullying three-year-olds with their horns, and not one legislator steps up and says, “Enough is enough.” It is also troubling that so many are forced to listen to hours of horn honking tantrums outside their homes on residential streets while others in the same city are blessed with relative quiet day and night, often due to chance. Would we accept this tantrum throwing behavior standing in line at the supermarket, or the bank? No way. Why is it acceptable to bully others while sitting in a vehicle?

The answer, of course, is that it isn’t acceptable for a relative handful of bullies to disturb everyone else’s peace and quiet, and the time has long been ripe for a governmental response. But given the level of governmental dysfunction in this era, is it reasonable to expect change?

We believe change is inevitable, as study after study shows that noise exposure adversely affects health and wellbeing. So what can you do? Silence the Horns notes that “[e]veryone is somebody’s constituent,” and suggests you start locally and work your way on up.  If enough of us remain engaged, change will come. 

Click here to read the entire piece.  It’s well worth your time.

 

Alarming: No end to hospital noise

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

Three years ago, the voluntary hospital accreditation body in the U.S. known as The Joint Commission issued a “National Patient Safety Goal” about the problem of “alarm fatigue” in American hospitals.  When the Joint Commission speaks, hospitals usually listen because their ability to participate in the Medicare program depends on the Commission’s approval. So what’s happened?

In a word: nothing. Last week, in a paper presented at the Acoustical Society of America meeting in New Orleans, the distinguished researcher and former ASA president Eileen Busch-Vishniac spoke about this continuing failure to address patient safety in hospitals.

What’s alarming about this situation is that 11 years ago Dr. Busch-Vishniac, when she was Dean of Johns Hopkins’ School of Engineering, published a nationally recognized paper on this very problem, a paper that has become a classic in her own field. Furthermore, in 2011 she was recognized for this work and invited by the Food and Drug Administration, the Joint Commission, and the Association for the Advancement of Medical Instrumentation to speak to national leaders of the healthcare profession about this problem at the first national meeting convened to focus on the problem of “alarm fatigue.” Thereafter Dr. Busch-Vishniac has continue to write and speak about the subject, for instance in this piece last year.

Noise in hospitals—of which “alarm fatigue” is the most egregious example—is a problem precisely because it endangers the health and even the survival of the thousands of people whose health is already severely compromised (they are hospitalized, after all). It’s critically important.

What this deplorable situation illuminates is the long-standing refusal of federal, state and local agencies in America to recognize that noise is, as one prominent medical authority stated, “much more than a nuisance.” Indeed, it is a serious public health problem. Why can’t the most “at risk” population in America—people hospitalized for their illnesses—have access to the peace and quiet they need to recover? If you are bothered by noise—from aircraft, or from motorcycles, or from leaf blowers or from any other source—keep in mind that you are not alone: even the sickest among us who are being treated in hospitals cannot escape the din.

Nobody is listening—yet—despite the evidence. In the meantime, we congratulate courageous and stubborn researchers like Dr. Busch-Vishniac who continue to push for change.  We need you, Dr. Busch-Vishniac. The money to fund research is hard to come by, but please don’t give up!

In addition to serving as vice chair of the The Quiet Coalition, David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: The Acoustics Research Council, American National Standards Institute Committee S12, Workgroup 44, The Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Working Group—a partner of the American Hospital Association. He is the lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0 (2012, Springer-Verlag), a contributor to the National Academy of Engineering report “Technology for a Quieter America,” and to the US-GSA guidance “Sound Matters”, and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics (LARA) at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. He recently retired from the board of directors of the American Tinnitus Association. A graduate of the University of California/Berkeley with graduate degrees from Cornell University, he is a frequent organizer of and speaker at professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia, and the Middle East.

The EU wants quiet, fuel-efficient airplanes sooner

Photo credit: Airbus

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

Some encouraging news this week from the BBC on the EU’s effort to develop quiet, fuel-efficient aircraft engines. Here’s how the BBC summarizes the situation:

Modern jets aren’t nearly as noisy as their predecessors from a couple of decades ago, but they still make quite a racket on landing or takeoff. If your house is close to the airport that’s bad news. Electric motors are a lot quieter, so they could allow more night flights, especially in airports close to city centres. And of course, there’s the question of emissions. Electrified aircraft, like hybrid cars, should be cleaner than conventional models.

If you live near an airport or beneath a glide path, you’re certainly wondering how soon “quiet” aircraft might appear, right? Well, according to the BBC, so do Airbus and it’s partner Siemens, as the BBC writes that “[t]he firms want to fly a demonstrator version of the plane by 2020, with a commercial application by 2025.”

If that’s not soon enough for you then get in touch with your Congressional representative and tell him/her that you want them to support the work of the Congressional Quiet Skies Caucus and the National Quiet Skies Coalition.

In addition to serving as vice chair of the The Quiet Coalition, David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: The Acoustics Research Council, American National Standards Institute Committee S12, Workgroup 44, The Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Working Group—a partner of the American Hospital Association. He is the lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0 (2012, Springer-Verlag), a contributor to the National Academy of Engineering report “Technology for a Quieter America,” and to the US-GSA guidance “Sound Matters”, and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics (LARA) at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. He recently retired from the board of directors of the American Tinnitus Association. A graduate of the University of California/Berkeley with graduate degrees from Cornell University, he is a frequent organizer of and speaker at professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia, and the Middle East.