Public health

Looking for a quiet place?

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This review of a science fiction horror movie, A Quiet Place, discusses the movie’s basic premise, namely: “Living an isolated existence, the onscreen duo are trying to protect their children from an unseen menace. As the trailer tells us, if they hear you, they’ll hunt you.“

That’s a very interesting premise for a movie, regardless of what the menace is. The hearing sense evolved from a primitive vibration sense, which developed in primitive one-celled organisms to help them either find food or avoid becoming another organism’s food. Humans and our invertebrate, vertebrate, and primate ancestors evolved in quiet, as shown by the National Park Service noise map. And there was no selective advantage to any protective mechanisms from loud noise; in fact, from the external ear to the auditory canal to middle ear and inner ear adaptations, everything possible was done for the human ear to amplify sound.

This is why noise is so bad for humans. And all parents would be wise to protect their children from the unseen menace of noise causing hearing loss.

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.

 

Join us and others in measuring noise

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

There are now at least two apps to measure and report restaurant noise, and two apps to measure and report outdoor noise or urban soundscapes.

Anyone concerned about noise, as we are, should install one or more of these apps on his or her smart phone and start reporting noise levels.

All of these apps are free and rely on crowdsourcing to get city wide data. So down load one–or all of them–and help gather data to make your city or town a more tolerable place. Data from SoundPrint was used in a study presented at the 174th meeting of the Acoustical Society of America documenting excessive noise levels in restaurants and bars in New York City.

The apps are listed alphabetically in each category:

For restaurant noise:

iHearU

SoundPrint

For urban soundscapes:

Hush City App

NoiseScore

DISCLOSURE: I serve as Medical Advisor for SoundPrint.

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.

Loud music can damage classical musicians’ hearing, too

Photo credit: Derek Gleeson licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

When we think of music damaging the ears, we think of rock musicians, many of whom unfortunately have noise-induced hearing loss or tinnitus, or of young people going to clubs or rock concerts. We don’t think of classical musicians.

But loud noise doesn’t discriminate–it can damage anyone’s ears, including workers, hunters, and yes, even a professional viola player.

These two reports describe an ongoing legal case in London, where a viola player has sued the Royal Opera House for damage he claims occurred during a Wagner performance, despite wearing ear plugs.

The Royal Opera House is claiming that such damage isn’t possible, and that it isn’t responsible, but I would disagree. It’s hard to study the effects of intermittent or impulsive noise exposure even in the occupational setting, but several facts are well-established:

  1. extremely loud sound can cause mechanical disruption to structures in the inner ear;
  2. there are marked variations in individual sensitivities to noise damage, which are not well understood; and
  3. many people do not get sufficient protection from ear plugs due to poor fit or improper use, even with instruction and practice.

The resolution of this case is not up to us but within the purview of the court.

But the lesson we can all learn is that “if it sounds too loud, it IS too loud.”

And if noise is bothersome, that’s the signal to leave immediately, before your ears are damaged. After all, unlike knees or hips, they can’t be replaced.

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.

NY Comptroller: Noise is a serious issue in New York City

And New York Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli’s report concludes that silencing excessive NYC noise a major challenge. DiNapoli notes that “[n]oise in New York City is a significant quality of life and public health concern.”

We agree.

So does Arline L. Bronzaft, Ph.D., professor emerita, City University of New York, chair of the Noise Committee of GrowNYC, and co-founder of The Quiet Coalition, who notes that “[r]esearch shows that noise is not only a nuisance, but more importantly, has adverse effects on our mental and physical health.”

You can read DiNapoli’s report here (pdf).

 

New Yorker writer worries about her ears–you should be worried, too

Photo credit: Scott Robinson licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

New Yorker staff writer Amanda Petrusich is worried about what noise is doing to her ears.

She’s right to be worried. We all should be worried.

As the world has gotten louder–perhaps because “everyone knows” that 85 decibels is safe because the National Institute for Deafness and Other Communication Disorders tells us “long or repeated exposure to sound at or above 85 decibels can cause hearing loss”–a vast uncontrolled experiment is taking place in the U.S., with 320 million subjects.

Gregory Flamme and colleagues showed that 70% of adults in Kalamazoo County, Michigan got total daily noise doses exceeding Environmental Protection safe noise levels for preventing hearing loss.

Not surprisingly, researchers at the Centers for Disease Control reported a year ago that 25% of American adults have noise-induced hearing loss, including many people without any occupational noise exposure.

Remember, if it sounds too loud, it IS too loud! If you can’t carry on a normal conversation without straining to speak or to be heard, the ambient noise is above 75 A-weighted decibels, which also happens to be the auditory injury threshold.

Your ears are like your eyes or your knees. You only have two of them. Keep them away from loud noise and they should last you your entire life.

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.

When in doubt, sue—Canadians did and won

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

Hard to believe that Canadians could be as litigious as we are down here in the U.S., but this Canadian group won their noise suit.

Imagine suing a U.S. federal agency about highway construction noise and actually winning! Of course, it took this Canadian group two decades to win, and in toto they won only $3.5 million. In the end, a typical family will receive about $3,000 to $5,000—that’s enough for a family to buy a single pair of hearing aids–so perhaps the whole family will take turns wearing them?

But what this case suggests is that legal action is a viable strategy—at least in regions where it’s understood that noise is public health problem and that, therefore, citizens are entitled to relief.

Are we there yet in the U.S.?

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.

Pursuing an invisible threat

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Prof. Richard Neitzel, of the University of Michigan and a co-founder of The Quiet Coalition, views noise as an invisible threat. In this university news release, he discusses some of his research and its implications for health.

Watch Dr. Neitzel talk about noise pollution and his career studying noise pollution exposure and health outcomes:

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.

Ringing ears is a sign of permanent damage to hearing

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This article from the Cleveland Clinic makes the point that ringing in the ears–the technical term is tinnitus–after loud noise exposure indicates that permanent damage has occurred to the ears.

That’s good to know. I didn’t know that before a one-time exposure to loud noise ten years ago caused tinnitus for the rest of my life.

But I disagree strongly with two things Sharon A. Sandridge, PhD, Director of Clinical Services in Audiology at the Cleveland Clinic, says in the online article.

One is her statement, “[a]s you get older, it’s natural to experience some hearing loss.”

No, it’s not natural to experience hearing loss with age. Hearing loss with age is very common, but it is not part of normal healthy aging, representing largely noise-induced hearing loss. I spoke about this last year at the 12th Congress of the International Commission on the Biological Effects of Noise in Zurich.

Dr. Sandridge’s second erroneous statement, with much more serious implications, is “[a] majority of people are safe listening to 85 dB for eight hours.”

This is just wrong! The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) doesn’t think so and neither do I.

Eighty-five decibels–actually 85 A-weighted decibels (dBA) which usually measure 5-7 decibels lower than unweighted sound measurements–is the occupational noise exposure standard from NIOSH that even with strict time limits doesn’t protect all exposed workers from hearing loss.

The mathematics of the logarithmic decibel scale mean that after 2 hours of 85 dBA noise exposure, it is impossible to attain the only evidence-based safe noise level to prevent hearing loss, 70 decibels time-weighted average for 24 hours.

Most Americans are exposed to too much noise. Because of that, about 25% of American adults have noise-induced hearing loss, including many without any occupational exposure.

We’re running a great natural experiment–does noise exposure cause hearing loss?–and the answer is obviously “yes”.

And statements like those of “experts” like Dr. Sandridge, minimizing the health risks of noise exposure, are unfortunately part of the problem.

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.

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.

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.