Public health

A quieter world is possible

Photo credit: Leon Macapagal from Pexels

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

As a long-term researcher and writer on the adverse effects of noise on mental and physical health, as well as a strong advocate for a quieter and less noisy world, I was delighted to read two articles in this Sunday’s New York Times real estate section today, March 29th, that focused on the appeal of more quiet and less noise in our lives.

The page one article, entitled “A Window of Opportunity,” states that “[t]hanks to noise reduction technology, living near train tracks is not a problem.” It goes on to explain that developers are now building near rail tracks and people are more willing to live near these tracks because improvements in window technology such as double-pane windows can significantly lessen the intrusive noise from passing trains.

The second article, entitled “Built-In Quiet is Part of a Suburb’s Appeal,” focuses on how living near a cemetery brought considerable quiet to a community of home dwellers because so much space in this New Jersey town is taken up by the cemetery. As one resident said about the cemetery, “to me, it’s beautiful.”

Apparently, these two articles mean that people are more conscious of the hazards of noise and more desirous of living in quieter surroundings. Furthermore, the articles should be reassuring to the anti-noise messengers in that people have been listening to them regarding the dangers of noise and the positive effects of quiet.

As a New York City resident, most of my attention today is focused on the coronavirus pandemic and the effects it has had on people around the world. Yet, I can’t stop from thinking about my noise work because it has taken up so much of my time these past forty years. I have also read articles that this pandemic has resulted in less air pollution and less noise in New York City and other cities as well.

So, I began to wonder if this quiet, to which more people are being exposed, may be comforting to them, especially when there is so much around them to fear. If so, is it not possible that after the pandemic passes and people are able to get on with their lives again, that they might remember the comfort and pleasure quiet brings into one’s life? Is it not possible, that we might see more people joining in to lessen the noise around us? I can dream, can’t I?

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.

 

One woman’s search for a noise-free life

Photo credit: Jeffrey Czum from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

In this well-written essay in The Guardian, Emma Beddington describes how noise bothers her and what she does to try to deal with it. Her piece is too distressing to call “delightful,” but I’m sure many could write similar essays about how they try to deal with the noise that bothers them in their everyday lives.

The most common definition of noise is “unwanted sound,” and this definition fits here, but I recently proposed broadening this definition to “noise is unwanted and/orharmful sound.” Even noise levels low enough not to cause auditory damage can be perceived as stressful, and stress is bad for health.

Some noise may be a natural part of urban or rural life. But except, perhaps, for those in certain religious orders, people want quiet and not silence.

And while there are some remedies we can employ to try to quiet the din forcing its way into our homes, reducing noise at its source will always be better than double-paned windows, sound insulation, or noise-cancelling headphones.

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 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.

Noise pollution in Arizona

This photo of an F-16 Fighting Falcon taking off from Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona is in the public domain

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This podcast from Arizona Public Media discusses noise pollution in Arizona. The particular issue in the Tucson area is fighter jet noise from Davis-Monthan Air Force Base. A-10s are noisy but still quieter than F-16s. Residents are now concerned about the possible stationing of new F-35 jets, which are much louder.

The first half of the podcast is citizens explaining their noise problems in the Tucson area. The second have is an interview with The Quiet Coalition’s Richard Neitzel, PhD, on the faculty of the University of Michigan School of Public Health. Prof. Neitzel is heard at about minute 16 of the podcast, where he discusses the adverse effects of noise on health.

Aircraft noise pollution is well-studied as a health and public health hazard, and is known to cause hypertension and other cardiovascular disease and also interference with learning in schools located beneath flight paths. Do click to listen to the podcast, as it’s well worth your time.

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.

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.

Realtor.com claims to have address-specific noise data

Photo credit: Daniel Frank from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

According to Realtor.com, the most important considerations for a home buyer are price, schools, commute, crime, and noise. The site now claims to have address-specific noise data and other features that allow the prospective home buyer to assess the noise level and noise sources online.

Experienced real estate professionals, and homeowners who have learned the hard way, by experience, advise prospective homebuyers to check out a property at different times of the day, and different days of the week. What is a quiet residential street at mid-day may be a busy thoroughfare on a school morning, or a commuter cut-through during the evening rush hour. A quiet suburban property one day may be under a flight path when the wind direction changes another.

We can’t speak to the accuracy of the noise measurements, or the validity of the information now available online. We’re just happy that more and more attention is being paid to the damaging effects of 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.

We’re lucky there’s no third-hand sound

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

In studying the health effects of cigarette smoke, there’s smoking itself, secondhand or environmental tobacco smoke, and third-hand smoke. Third-hand smoke is the residue that secondhand smoke leaves on surfaces such as furniture or clothing. You are exposed to third-hand smoke when you rent a car in which someone has been smoking, or are assigned a hotel room in which previous occupants have smoked.

Many if not most non-smokers find the smell of third-hand smoke unpleasant. And as with secondhand smoke exposure, third-hand smoke exposure has now been shown to convey hazardous chemicals.

Our noise colleague John Drinkwater coined the phrase “Secondhand Sound is the new Secondhand Smoke.™️” In an article about a new definition of noise, I used his insight, pointing out that unwanted noise is like secondhand tobacco smoke, both a nuisance and a health hazard.

We’re lucky that as of now acoustic scientists haven’t found third-hand sound!

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.

Electric air taxis may be exciting, but are they silent?

Photo credit: BM für Verkehr und digitale Infrastruktur licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

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

You have to watch this very cool video on electric air taxis. It all seems very exciting, but why don’t we hear them in action?

As you may remember, I voiced my concern about two new sources of sky borne noise that were spurred by the 2018 signing of the FAA Re-Authorization Act: (1) the imminent appearance of drone-delivery services in our neighborhoods, and (2) the growing interest in all-electric vertical take off & landing air taxis. Some thought this was pure hype from Uber—an attempt to pump up their stock before their IPO awhile back. But there’s actually quite a bit of investment in technology for small, short-hop, eVTOL aircraft.

The idea’s been out there for a lifetime that small aircraft could be wheeled out of our garages, leap straight up into the air and whisk us off to…someplace besides a crowded freeway. Will regulators shut it down? Unlikely. In fact, they’re actively encouraging development of eVTOL aircraft, particularly in Europe, where, as you likely know, they pay much more attention to community noise than we do here in the U.S.

But what about the noise—not to mention the air accidents—from the burgeoning, uncontrolled growth of drone delivery services and air taxis? Yes, they’re electrically propelled, but they’re not silent.

Who cares about this? It’s time for the Congressional Quiet Skies Caucus to re-convene and get back to work. They got the FAA Re-Authorization done (that took six years), but now it’s creating new problems that nobody seems to be thinking about.

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.

Is your music making you deaf?

Photo credit: Harrison Haines from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Is your music making you deaf?  That’s the title of this post from BWorld online.

The answer, technically, is no. Deafness means congenital absence of hearing, or profound hearing loss. Loud music won’t make you deaf. But loud music can certainly cause hearing loss.

Hearing loss and tinnitus are occupational hazards of being a rock musician. And loud music is a threat to auditory health of concert goers and clubgoers and those who listen to loud music on their personal listening devices.

We recommend avoiding loud music all the time. There is no such thing as temporary auditory damage.

If the music (or any other sound) sounds too loud, it IS too loud. Turn down the volume, leave the area, use hearing protection, or accept that you’ll probably need hearing aids in the future.

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.

(Re)learning to run without headphones

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

In this delightful essay in The Atlantic, writer Talmon Joseph Smith describes what happened one day when he was out on a run and his smartphone, the source of the almost constant soundtrack accompaniment to his daily life, died. He titled his essay “Learning to Run Without Headphones,” but my guess is that he knew how to run before he discovered headphones. But he certainly rediscovered the joys of listening to the world around him and thinking his own thoughts without being distracted by a constant soundtrack.

The World Health Organization calls a music player and associated headphones or earbuds a “personal audio system.” A 2017 Nielsen survey reported in Forbes Magazine found that the average American listens to a PAS for 4.5 hours a day, up sharply from 3.8 hours daily in 2016 and only 3.3 hours daily in 2015. And a 2017 report is already out of date.

I can’t access the report myself, so I don’t know if they only surveyed PAS users or the entire population. If the survey group included the entire population, including people like me who never listen to a PAS, the number of hours PAS users listen to their devices is much greater than 4.5 hours daily.

PAS use has already been shown to cause hearing loss and tinnitus (ringing in the ears) in children as young as 11. It’s probably doing the same to adult ears, too.

The tag line on a popular credit card advertisement asks, “What’s in your wallet?” Concerning PAS use, I would ask, “What’s in your ears?” If you’re turning up the volume loud enough to drown out the rumble in the subway car, or other conversations in the bus, on your daily commute, or traffic noise when running or walking, you’re probably damaging your hearing.

And just as important, you’re missing out on important time with your own thoughts, as well as the sounds of nature if you’re outdoors.

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.