Public health

Madrid’s noisy nightlife is keeping residents awake

Photo credit: Jorge Díaz licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This interesting report documents complaints about noise in Spain’s capital city, Madrid.

It turns out that in Madrid making noise when and where one wants has an aspect of political expression that may be present in other cities and other countries but has special relevance in Spain. Franco’s Minister of the Interior coined the phrase, “[t]he street is mine.”  And the police dispersed any group of more than three people.

When democracy returned to Spain, leaders in Madrid made a lively street scene part of their newfound freedom. The mayor coined the phrase, “Madrid nunca duerme”- Madrid never sleeps.

And now that’s a problem.

All regulations restrict someone’s freedom. But if we are to live in increasingly dense and crowded environments, people can’t be free to do something that adversely affects others. After all, everyone must sleep sometime.

Smoking may be a useful example. People in the U.S. and Europe still have the right to smoke, but they can’t smoke where others have to smell and breathe their smoke.

And that’s how it should be with noise. People should have to right to deafen themselves with personal music players, or attend rock concerts, or patronize noisy clubs. They can ride loud motorcycles, too, but not where others can hear them.

Because people shouldn’t have the right to disrupt the lives of others with their noise.

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.

Study: Urban noise worst in poor and minority neighborhoods

Photo credit: Franck Michel licensed under CC BY 2.0

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

That noise is worse in poor and minority communities, especially in cities, is not new. Articles dating back to the sixties spoke to the impacts of noise in poorer communities, not just noises from outside the homes, but noises within the crowded apartments of large, urban cities. It was hypothesized that children whose classrooms were exposed to the noise of nearby elevated trains would suffer cognitively and this would result in poorer reading scores for these children.

Today, however, with modern technology allowing actual measurements to be taken in communities, we can more accurately measure community decibel levels and conduct studies as discussed here that find urban noise pollution worst in poorer, minority areas.

There is now an abundance of studies that have found that noise adversely affects mental and physical health. With better data to identify communities adversely affected by louder sounds, coupled with supportive literature linking noise to adverse mental and physical health problems, one would hope that the authors of the present research would have suggested ways to abate the noise. Sadly, the authors missed that opportunity, stressing instead that further research is required to deal with deleterious effects of noise.

One exception to the results of the research discussed above is a type of noise that tends to be an “equal opportunity offender.” Aircraft noise does not distinguish between poorer and more advantaged communities. Yet, one could say that individuals in more affluent neighborhoods are better organized to combat the overhead noises, though the citizens combating aircraft-related noises would not agree with the authors of this paper who state that “…the most successful U.S. noise reduction efforts have centered on the airline industry.”

The manner in which aircraft noise is measured by the FAA and the decibel level it has established as being intrusive falsely create the impression that far fewer people are affected by aviation noise. True, newer quieter engines are more efficient, but this does not allow one to conclude that aircraft noise is less bothersome. The use of inappropriate determinants to assess impacts, the increase in air traffic, and the new routes that have been deemed by citizens to be more intrusive speak more accurately to the adverse effects of aircraft noise.

In the end, whatever the source of noise or the community affected, one thing is obvious–environmental health researchers should go beyond publishing and seek ways to use their findings to improve the lives of individuals affected by deleterious pollutants such as 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.

How quiet should it be?

Lake Verynwy, Wales, Oct. 2017 | Photo credit: Dr. Daniel Fink

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

I recently wrote about measuring sound on an alpine hike, noting that the reading of the ambient noise level, which was in the low 40 decibels, was much quieter than we hear in our urbanized settings. I also noted that noise exposure, as part of the total daily noise dose, is what causes noise-induced hearing loss.

Another important adverse effect of noise–especially nighttime noise–is disruption of human activities, including sleep disruption. A measure of the noise impact on sleep is called the LDN, How quiet is it in a non-urban setting?

I hadn’t thought about this until last night. My wife and I are traveling in a remote part of Wales, staying at a hotel overlooking Lake Vyrnwy, a manmade reservoir supplying water to Liverpool 75 miles away. It took more than an hour of driving on one-lane country roads to get here. (It wasn’t that far, but at 25 mph, it took a while.) I woke up at night and realized how quiet it was: no sirens, no cars, no airplanes, no helicopters, no horn-based alerts when the neighbor’s son comes home from partying at 2 a.m. Curious, I fired up my Faber Sound Meter 4 app on my phone and measured the ambient noise at 33.7 C-weighted decibels. It was so quiet that the sound meter said there wasn’t enough data to report an A-weighted measurement. (I don’t understand the technical details of why this wouldn’t work.) Unweighted decibels measured 35.4.

Why is this important? Sleep disruption causes a stress response, a neuroendocrine response with increases in stress hormones and a parasympathetic nervous system response, with increased blood pressure and pulse. These involuntary physiological responses are what cause the increased morbidity and mortality reported from transportation noise exposure (and are discussed by Hammer, et al., and Basner, et al.). Yes, the experts think the evidence is strong enough to support a statement of causality, not just a statistical association or correlation. Even sounds as low as 32-35 decibels can disrupt sleep, causing microarousals as measured by EEG monitoring.

And now I know the answer to my question.  How quiet should it be? At night the natural sound level should be under 40 decibels, probably under 35 decibels, and not urban nighttime noise levels of 55 to 65 decibels.

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.

Yet another reason to protect your hearing

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

October is National Protect Your Hearing Month, and Jane Brody’s column in the September 26, 2017, New York Times science section gives yet another reason to protect your hearing: hearing loss is tied to cognitive decline. In fact, studies are underway to determine if preventing hearing loss or treating hearing loss will prevent cognitive decline, because the correlation between hearing loss and cognitive decline is well established.

I try to lead a healthy life. I never smoked. I walk an hour or more every day. I eat 5-7 servings of fruits and vegetables daily. My BMI is 24.5. I wear a hat and long sleeves to protect me from the California sun. I always use my seat belt when driving or riding in a car. But I knew little about the importance of protecting my hearing.

Unfortunately, my ignorance hurt me. A one-time exposure to loud noise one New Year’s Eve left me with permanent tinnitus and hyperacusis. I started wearing ear plugs at movies and sports events, and dined out rarely because almost all restaurants are painfully noisy for me. Then three years ago, after reading a different piece in the New York Times science section on hyperacusis, I was motivated to become a noise activist and to learn more about preventing auditory damage.

Researchers are working on drugs and other treatments to reverse noise-induced hearing loss, tinnitus, and hyperacusis, but currently the only treatments for hearing loss are hearing aids or, for the most severely affected, cochlear implants. And hearing aids aren’t like eyeglasses or contact lenses for common visual problems. They just don’t work as well as people would like to help them understand speech.

When I learned how bad noise is for the ears, that the only safe noise exposure level to prevent hearing loss is 70 decibels daily average noise exposure, that most Americans are exposed to dangerously high noise levels in everyday life, that many American adults have noise-induced hearing loss because of the excess noise exposure, and that hearing aids don’t work particularly well in helping people with hearing loss understand speech, I realized I had to protect my hearing.

Now I use earplugs at the movies, at sports events, even if I have to go to a noisy restaurant. And if I use a power tool, or even bang in one nail with a hammer, I use ear plugs or ear muff hearing protection. You should, 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.

New federal law deregulates and disrupts hearing aid market

Photo of Here One wireless smart earbuds courtesy of Doppler Labs

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

Who says this Congress can’t get anything done? Last week huge news appeared for 48 million Americans with hearing disorders, but the media barely noticed::

A new bipartisan law, the “Over-the-Counter Hearing Aid Act of 2017,” will deregulate the hearing aid market, dramatically lowering costs for consumers and releasing a surge of new technologies that will be sold over the counter, without a prescription. Yes, there will be losers as well as winners, but that’s the nature of change….

The new law responds to two federally sponsored reports issued last year (under the Obama Administration). The first report came from the President’s Council of Advisers on Science and Technology. The second was from the National Academy of Medicine. Passed the day before Congress adjourned, the new law creates opportunities for new technology innovators, eliminates the need to get a prescription, and dramatically cuts the cost by allowing substitutes, called “hearables” and “PSAPs” (Personal Sound Amplification Products), to be sold “over the counter.” The goal? a more efficient market that meets the needs of consumers.

As Noah Kraft, co-founder and CEO of Doppler Labs said, “[t]his industry is going to be completely disrupted. The question is by who?”

We have reported about this on several occasions over the past year, but the market disruption is getting underway much sooner that we anticipated thanks to quick action in the House of Representatives and the Senate, action that has emboldened nearly two dozen new entrants to enter the market ahead of schedule.

Who gains? 48 million Americans with incurable noise-induced hearing loss and millions more who are at risk from noise exposure. Who loses? The Big Six  who have dominated the hearing aid market for decades along with approximately 14,000 audiologists, the medical specialists whose services were previously required by the FDA to dispense and “fit” hearing aids to patients. The new Warren-Grassley OTC Act stipulates that the FDA must create a new category for “over-the-counter” hearing assistive devices and let them be sold freely, without intervention.

It’s no secret that the current Congress and the White House crave deregulation. Is deregulation potentially dangerous? Sure, but this is one instance where consumers will clearly benefit. Until now, hearing aids could cost you between $2,500 and $5,000 per ear, so $5,000 to $10,000 total. No wonder so few people have hearing aids—they weren’t covered by insurance or Medicare/Medicaid, so who could afford them? But now prices will drop to 1/10th of that—about $300 to $350 a pair–so lack of insurance coverage is less of a barrier.

We say thanks to the laudable bi-partisan cooperation between Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) for getting this done at a time when Washington seems mired in dysfunction.

What’s the downside of this deregulatory innovation? There are many unknowns, so caveat emptor (buyer beware) and stay tuned…. But for now, it’s “Hip Hip Hooray”—or should we say, “Hear Here”!

P.S.: Our chair, Daniel Fink, MD, cautions that the real solution to the epidemic of hearing disorders in America is NOT more affordable hearing aids, but rather, a badly needed and long-awaited public health effort to prevent hearing loss—and we wholeheartedly agree with him. Prevention can be encouraged by three means:

  1. Educating people about the dangers of prolonged exposure to noise above 70 dB (permanent hearing damage occurs at levels much lower than currently recognized);
  2. Resurrecting federal efforts to reduce noise (as is being done in Europe and Asia already, where noise is recognized as a public health hazard) from obvious sources like planes, trains, trucks, consumer appliances, construction and outdoor maintenance equipment, etc.; and
  3. Educating companies in industries like aircraft manufacturing, car and truck manufacturing, mining, construction, HVAC, and appliance manufacturing, etc. that noise is harmful to public health.

Prevention can be done: currently, the European Union regulates noise emissions from 50 classes of products. According to Dr. Fink, “a hearable or PSAP is a poor substitute for well-preserved normal hearing; it’s far better to avoid loud noise or to wear earplugs!”

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.

New York City construction noise complaints soar

Photo credit: G.M. Briggs

The NY Daily News reports that “[b]ooming construction and lax efforts by city agencies to control it have led to soaring noise complaints in the five boroughs.” Once again New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli is the source of this information, as his office audited construction noise complaints that were called into the 311 system and found that the number of complaints soared from “14,259 in 2010 to 37,806 in 2015, with the vast majority involving work taking place late at night or early in the morning.”

The Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and Department of Buildings (DOB) are primarily responsible for dealing with construction noise complaints. The “DEP is responsible for responding to 311 construction noise complaints,” and the “DOB reviews and approves building plans; conducts building inspections; and issues permits, including those for after-hours work.” DiNapoli’s auditors “selected a sample of noise complaints for 50 incident addresses….including the 30 locations with the highest number of construction noise complaints in the city (29 of these locations were in Manhattan) and an additional five locations with the most complaints in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island.”

Incredibly, the inspectors found there was “no excessive noise” for 211 of the 250 complaints, “and only three complaints resulted in violations being issued by DEP.”  Actually, it’s not so incredible, as the Comptroller’s Office notes that the “inspectors did not visit the locations until an average of five days after the noise was reported, and there were “no reports of meter readings performed at the sites to determine if noise levels were excessive.” In addition, “[w]hen making decisions to grant after hours work variances, DOB officials did not consider construction noise complaints made to 311, nor did they consider construction noise citations issued by DEP.” It’s not exactly surprising that noise complaints increased, given how few violations were issued.

As with his report about bars and nightclubs, DiNapoli made recommendations to address the increase in construction noise complaints. The DOB agreed to all three recommendations directed to them, while the DEP agreed to three out of six. Now we wait to see if it makes a difference.

Thanks to Jeanine Botta for the link to the Comptroller’s press release.

Attention commuters: put down your earbuds!

 

Photo credit: Pedro Figueiredo licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

A recent article in The Hearing Journal should give pause to mass transit commuters who use personal listening devices (PLDs) to mask background noise. Michelle Brady, AuD, Suzanne Miller, PhD, and Yula C. Serpanos, PhD, write that “[m]ass transit commuters are regularly exposed to excessive noise levels,” and note that use of PLDs “adds further stress on the auditory system as commuters listen at high volume levels to mask the background noise encountered during their daily commute.” By cranking the volume in areas of high noise, they note, commuters are “creating further risk of noise-induced hearing loss” (NIHL).

What makes NIHL insidious is that it “occurs in stages across several years,” and “[a]s such, its effects often go unnoticed.” Until they can’t be ignored, of course. The authors conducted a study on New York City commuters and found that “mass transit commuters in NYC do not completely understand the consequences of hearing loss and the proper use of PLDs.” They conclude that hearing health professionals need “to do a better job at educating the public about the risks of NIHL and safe listening habits.”

We agree that people need to be aware of the risks of NIHL, but also think there should be a role that government must play to protect citizens. And, of course, PLD manufacturers need to work with medical professionals and government to design safe PLDs that won’t deafen a generation.

 

Hearing loss is an occupational health hazard for musicians

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

It’s not surprising that hearing loss is an occupational health hazard for musicians, as highlighted in this recent report. After all, noise causes hearing loss. It doesn’t matter if the noise is from machinery in a factory, from a jet engine on the tarmac, or from loudspeakers at a rock concert. Whatever the source, the effect is the same.

And the type of music doesn’t matter, either, as noise-induced hearing loss is a problem for classical musicians, too.

The bottom line is this: hearing is precious. If hearing music is important to you–or hearing children or grandchildren speak, birds sing, whatever it is–protect your hearing.

How can you protect yourself? It’s easy. The auditory injury threshold is only 75-to-78 A-weighted decibels. That’s about the level at which ambient noise makes conversation difficult. If you are having a hard time having a conversation because of the ambient noise around you, it’s too loud. And if something sounds too loud, it IS too loud! Turn down the volume, leave the noisy place, always carry earplugs with you, and use them!

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.

London’s poised to do something about noise

Photo credit: Majophotography licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 ES

By Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

In the U.S., noise is widely considered “just a nuisance,” but in Europe noise pollution is recognized as a major health hazard. In the current political climate, and with the current administration and Environmental Protection Agency administrator, we don’t expect anything to be done about noise here–just as climate change is viewed in Washington as a Chinese hoax–but other countries and regions accept the science.

The World Health Organization’s Global Burden of Disease report quantified the numbers of productive years of life lost due to noise. The European Noise Directive tells governments what to do about environmental noise. And now London is proposing a comprehensive environmental strategy, which includes very strong actions to deal with environmental noise.

We think London’s comprehensive environmental strategy is a wonderful model for cities and states in the U.S. to follow.

Please share this link with your state and local representatives or your governor.

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.

Another adverse effect of traffic noise

By Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

New research in Denmark shows that people exercise less when they live near noisy roads. The researchers found that for every 10 decibel increase in traffic noise, people were 5% less likely to exercise.

In general, a few simple habits can have a dramatic effect on health and longevity:

  1. Don’t smoke
  2. Eat fruits and vegetables
  3. Maintain a healthy weight, and
  4. Exercise regularly.

Anything that discourages healthy habits–and traffic noise now seems to fall into this category–is bad for health.

And the reason why traffic noise seems to decrease exercise? It isn’t clear. It may be that traffic noise disrupts sleep, so people exposed to the noise just lack the energy to get moving, but whatever the reason this study provides yet another reason why cities must control traffic noise.

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.