Quality of Life

NYC residents form task force against noise

Photo credit: Susan Sermoneta licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

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

Concerned about the rise in noise in Inwood and Washington Heights, and supported by the largest number of noise-related complaints filed this year to 311 by the Manhattan community board that encompasses these neighborhoods, a group of residents formed a task force to address the noise in their community, e.g. street noises, residential noises, loud fireworks, and noisy vehicles. These two groups, named WAHI and Inwood for Respectful Decibel Levels, at their press conference, called on city agencies, elected public officials and their Community Board 12 members to support them in their efforts.

Over forty years ago, I had conducted study on the impact of elevated train noise on children’s classroom learning at their school in Inwood and found that the reading scores of children attending classes exposed to the train noise were significantly lower than children on the quiet side of the building. The results of this study were published in an academic journal but also shared with the community residents and their public officials. Working with the community and their elected officials, we were able to get the Transit Authority to lessen the noise on the tracks and the Board of Education to place sound absorbing materials in the noisy classrooms. A study following these two abatements found that children on both sides of the building were now reading at the same level.

Thus, it was not surprising that the Inwood/Washington Heights group would ask for my assistance to combat the noise they are now experiencing in their neighborhood. The fact that the community had played a role in lessening the noises at a district school earlier has given them confidence as they move forward to reduce the noise levels in their community today. The community also knows that today there is far more research demonstrating that noise is harmful to both our mental and physical health.

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.

Dementia isn’t inevitable, and neither is hearing loss

Photo credit: Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This new study from the Alzheimer’s Cohorts Consortium, published on an open access basis in the medical journal Neurology, reports that dementia rates appear to be on the decline in Europe and North America. Analyzing results from seven different research studies, the Consortium found that the incidence of dementia declined 13% per decade in the last 40 years, with a confidence interval of 7-19% per decade. The decline was more pronounced in men than in women.

It is difficult to find the cause for the decline, but the researchers think it is due to a focus on treating cardiovascular risk factors, including reductions in smoking, better blood pressure control, and the use of antithrombotic medication. The article states, “[w]hile none of these has been specifically intended to halt cognitive decline, decades of cardiovascular risk management have likely had substantial effects on brain health, supported by reduction of small-vessel disease on brain imaging in more recent years.“

Why am I writing about a decline in dementia in a blog about noise issues?

Is it because research shows that hearing loss is a possible contributing factor to the development of dementia? No, although that statement is accurate.

The reason is that dementia used to be thought of as an inevitable part of aging, but that’s not true. Many cases of dementia have a vascular cause, and can be prevented by treating cardiovascular risk factors.

Similarly, hearing loss is thought to be part of normal aging, as shown by the use of the terms “age-related hearing loss” and “presbycusis”.

I presented a paper at the 12th Congress of the International Commission on the Biological Effects of Noise in Zurich in 2017, reviewing literature that showed that hearing loss was not an inevitable part of aging but largely represented noise-induced hearing loss. A recent research paper from the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary confirms that conclusion using ear tissue from post-mortem specimens.

I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating: If a noise sounds too loud, it is too loud.

If you protect your hearing–by avoiding loud noise and using hearing protection when you can’t–you should be able to hear well when you get old. And maybe you’ll reduce your chance of developing dementia, too.

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 returns to New York City

Photo credit: Chris Schippers from Pexels

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

When the pandemic hit New York City in full force in late March and then worked its way into April and May, city residents began to speak of a positive result of the lockdown—the city sounded quieter. There were far fewer construction sounds, car honks, and gatherings of people on corners. Instead of overhead jet blasts, people in Queens could hear birdsong. But the increased ambulance sirens were painful reminders that illness had befallen this city and cities around the world.

It is now August and the quiet has passed, according to this New York Magazine article by Justin Davidson. Davidson writes that New York City is getting loud again, and he welcomes the return of intrusive sounds because they indicate that people are now going back to work and construction and repairs of buildings are no longer on hold. Davidson believes the quiet that hovered over the city during lockdown wasn’t really pleasurable. The evening streets lacked sounds of laughter, music from nearby restaurants, and even disagreements between people passing by, Davidson writes, while acknowledging that there were loud sounds at 7:00 p.m. celebrating the wonderful hospital workers tending to the sick.

Now Davidson finds himself bothered by nearby generators and its pulsations, which he says are “nudging my heartbeat to accelerate, like an IV drip of bad news.” His article cites research that demonstrates that such noise can affect mental and physical well-being, and notes, citing Emily Thompson’s “The Soundscape of Modernity,” that noise was one of the outcomes of urbanization. Yet, he found that when he visited a rural area, he encountered a number of noises in that environment as well.

This article also presents the opinion of critic Kate Wagner, which appeared in The Atlantic, who believes responses to sound speak to our social and political views in that fights over noise may be fights over “power and control.” Newcomers to certain quieter communities may advocate for more night life in the area while others moving into the city from the suburbs want a quieter town. Wagner, according to Davidson, believes that attempts to “shush” a city amounts to the “imposition of suburban values on an urban context.”

Davidson concludes his article by aching for the return of the sounds that characterized New York City before the pandemic. Then, he says, we will know that the city has “healed.”

While I, too, want to hear the wonderful sounds of the city again—children laughing, baseball fans shouting, and sounds of crowds leaving theaters and waiting for autographs of their favorite actors—I also believe that we should continue to advocate for the lessening of the din, e.g. lower construction tool sounds, less car honking, and the like.

A less noisy New York City will still be an exciting, vibrant city and a healthier one as well.

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.

Noise complaints on the rise in NYC

Photo credit: Dan Nguyen licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

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

New York City, the city that has long been known to be noisy, is even noisier, according to an article by Shaye Weaver. Weaver writes that since February of this year, noise complaints in the city have increased “an astonishing 279 percent.” Firework noise was the overwhelming complaint in June, but complaints about loud music and parties led the list overall. The Bronx had the most complaints, with Staten Island registering the fewest.

Weaver states that “2020 has been a year like no other.” The pandemic has indeed changed the city and the lives of the residents in this city as well as people worldwide, in many ways, and 2020 will be known from now on as the “Year of the Pandemic.”

Weaver’s article doesn’t mention how the New York agencies that deal with noise complaints, mainly the Department of Environmental Protection and the police department, have been responding to the 311 noise complaint calls that have been directed to them. As someone who hears from New Yorkers who have not had their noise complaints resolved, I can say that I have had increased calls about noise in communities. My callers have reported to me that loud parties are being held near their homes and apartment buildings and there has been no interest from police or public officials to address their complaints. I have also been hearing from individuals who are organizing groups in their areas to give them a stronger voice when they approach public officials and community boards, and I have offered advice and asked to be kept informed about the activities to lessen the din.

I thank Weaver for her timely article and hope that she would do a follow-up focusing on the agencies responsible for addressing noise to ask how they are dealing with this large increase in noise complaints. We have laws on the books that have been written to curtail noise but unless they are enforced, they have little, if any, value.

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.

Experimental device may cancel noise entering through windows

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

David Waldstein, the New York Times, writes about an experimental device that cancels noise that enters open windows. Waldstein notes that “[w]ith any sound, the best way to reduce it is at the source,” noting that the window is often the source of noise “because most noise enters a room that way.” He then introduces us to the device, developed by researchers in Singapore, that can be placed in a window to reduce incoming sounds.

While individuals living with traffic noises would probably welcome windows that could reduce sounds by ten decibels, as the article claims, my guess is they would advocate for less noise coming from the true sources: aircraft and road traffic. These same people still want to enjoy the outside parts of their homes as well as the interior.

The experimental device borrows from techniques used in noise-canceling headphones. Small speakers are placed in an opened window that emit sound waves that correspond to incoming sounds, which they then neutralize. Noise cancellation can be done for the sounds from overhead planes and traffic, but not for all possible incoming sounds, like firecrackers, car horns, or loud conversations. To include a broader range of sound frequencies would require larger speakers and larger windows.

An added benefit of the device, the researchers claim, is that the window can remain open. Because the city of Singapore doesn’t experience cold weather, since people want  to reduce their use of air conditioners, this is most desirable. But how would this work out in cities that have to keep their windows closed during the colder months of the year? The researchers do point out that their work is still in an experimental stage and that there are issues that they have to address before implementing their device in field studies.

Let me add that one complaint that has been voiced is that the device is not that attractive. But, as Waldstein concludes, “if it can neutralize the sound of the jet taking off from Runway 13 at LaGuardia, that is (soft) music to the ear.” Well, at least during the warmer months in New York City.

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.

People in PA fed up with fireworks

Photo credit: Steve Morgan licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Reading this report from WNEP television about Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania residents who have had enough of fireworks displayed, I learned that Wilkes-Barre is called the Diamond City. Who knew? Wilkes-Barre got that nickname in the 19th century, when it was a center of anthracite coal mining. But now, apparently, Wilkes-Barre is known for something else.

Fireworks have long been available in Pennsylvania, from where they are often illegally imported into communities where they are banned, especially New York City. In 2017, Act 43 repealed and replaced the Fireworks Act of 1939, allowing adults to buy and set off Roman candles, bottle rockets, and firecrackers.

This year’s July 4th celebration in Wilkes-Barre started early and continued after the holiday ended. Local police received more than 300 noise complaints. Community groups and the mayor are fed up, and are moving to have Act 43 repealed.

Kudos to the community groups and Wilkes-Barre’s mayor. Repealing Act 43 won’t just benefit the citizens of Pennsylvania, New Yorkers would be pleased to see fireworks sanity restored there, too.

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.

Harmful transit noise can be reduced

Photo credit: William Davies has dedicated this photo into the public domain

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

I recently learned about another group of people being subjected to the harsh and dangerous noises emitted from a railway. In this case it is the Squamish Nation community in Vancouver whose lives are being disrupted by engine noise, engines idling in the middle of the night and early in the morning, and 100 decibel whistle blows at night at a protected crossing. In response to these complaints, the Canadian National Railway has commented that “there will always be some noise associated with operations.” The Railway goes on to say that it has made efforts to minimize their operations.

First, let me note the research that has demonstrated that noise is harmful to health and well-being and this includes railroad noise. Second, having been a consultant to the New York City Transit Authority on rail noise and knowledgeable about the underlying causes of rail noise, I feel comfortable in wondering whether the Canadian Railway has done everything it could to lessen its system noise. This is underscored by the railway simply saying efforts have been made to lessen noise without citing examples. I would also venture to assume that the railway might believe that reducing noise could be costly. In fact, by reducing noise the New York City Transit Authority actually saved money. The building of less noisy traction motors for its trains resulted in a more efficient motor that would last longer and smoothing the rails didn’t just lessen noise, it placed less stress on the city’s aging structure where stress can lead to increased breakdowns.

It has been over forty years since my first transit noise study which found that children in classrooms exposed to passing elevated train noise had lower reading scores. Yes, we were able to remedy the noise of the passing trains and the children’s learning improved. Now all these years later, I still find that individuals are being exposed to harmful transit noise and the agency in charge appears to accept the idea that the people living near the noise have to learn to live with it.

Thanks to the Noise Curmudgeon for the story link.

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.

Noise and pollution increase as countries, states reopen

Photo credit: Ion Ceban @ionelceban from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This New York Times article reports that gaseous pollutant emissions are surging as countries and states reopen economic activity.

We have covered several reports about the coronavirus lockdowns causing noise and vibration levels to decrease, but I haven’t yet seen a report about the effect of reopening on noise levels.

I wrote about the eerie nighttime quiet of a curfew beginning at 1 p.m. in the afternoon. A little noise may be reassuring, or at least familiar, but too much noise is a problem.

My own observation is that in the west Los Angeles area, noise levels are definitely increasing. Automobile, truck, and motorcycle exhaust noise can be heard day and night. And there are more airplanes in the sky.

It will be interesting to see what happens with noise levels as the economy reopens more.

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.

If it makes more noise than a rake, protect your hearing

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention just published this fact sheet about protecting your hearing when doing yard care. All power tools, whether gasoline or electric, make enough noise to damage hearing. In general, electric tools are quieter than those powered by two-stroke gasoline engines, and they also don’t produce noxious and toxic gaseous emissions.

One of the big technological advances in yard care in the last year or two is the widespread availability of powerful battery-powered yard care equipment, including leaf blowers, hedge trimmers, even lawnmowers. These are now available online or in any of the big-box home improvement stores. There’s no need to worry about extension cords or shock hazards.

Other than my wife, children, and grandchildren, gardening is my first love. From 2005-2014 I served on the board of the Theodore Payne Foundation for Wild Flowers and Native Plants, Inc. When I was termed out from that service, I became a noise activist, focused on trying to make the world a quieter place. But I’d much rather be quietly working in my garden.

Raking leaves, trimming a plant, or pulling a weed, using hand tools as gardeners have done for centuries, is quiet and contemplative.

Only rarely will I use an electric pole trimmer to cut pesky branches that I can’t reach without getting on a ladder, but I’ll put in my earplugs first. Because if a yard care tool is louder than a rake or a pruning shears, it’s loud enough to cause hearing loss.

So when you are doing yard work, use earplugs or earmuff hearing protection now to avoid hearing aids later. And if you hire someone to maintain your landscape, insist that the workers are provided hearing protection. They are at special risk for hearing loss as well as other noise-related health problems.

Thanks to our friends at the CDC for helping educate the public about the dangers 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.

COVID lockdown yields cleaner, quieter environment

Photo credit: nevil zaveri licensed under CC BY 2.0

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

While the pandemic lockdown has created havoc in our lives and aroused an anxiety as to what our “new normal world” will look like, it has, unexpectedly, provided an opportunity for researchers to examine its impacts on the surrounding environment. The air appears to be cleaner and the soundscape quieter. This cleaner, quieter environment enabled Indrajit Mandal and his colleagues to study the effects of COVID-19 on the environment near the Dwarka river basin in Eastern India after nearby stone quarrying areas were locked down. The data collected after the lockdown were then compared to data collected pre-lockdown.

The results of this study indicated a reduction in particulate matter and noise level. The adjacent river water quality was also found to be improved. The findings on noise demonstrated that “noise level is dropped to <65dBA which was above 85dBA in stone crusher dominated areas in pre lockdown period.” This is indeed a significant drop in noise! In their discussion section, the authors cite studies that have examined the adverse impacts of a higher particulate matter concentration, poorer water quality, and increased noise levels on human health.

This paper concludes by noting that now that we know that a temporary lockdown can improve the environment, we should be encouraged to seek ways to provide for a sustainable environment while still supporting a sustainable economy. This sustainable environment would also benefit other species who share this earth with humans. A “successful control of pollution sources can give a lively earth and it can establish the right to life in our planet earth.”

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.