Quality of Life

Sound and the city

Photo credit: Ian D. Keating licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This excellent essay by on Curbed discusses urban noise levels. It’s a very comprehensive piece, discussing multiple aspects of urban noise and how it affects people.

Some urban noise is an unavoidable accompaniment to modern life, but much can be done to make cities quieter. These include enacting laws against excessive vehicle exhaust noise, horn use, aircraft noise including helicopter flights, and indoor quiet laws.

Of course, enacting laws isn’t enough. They must be actually be enforced. Crowdsourced reporting using smartphone apps can help with enforcement.

My only quibble with the Curbed article is that the author cites the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as recommending only 85 decibels (dB) for 8 hours to prevent hearing loss, but the link is to the National Instititue for Occupational Safety and Health. While part of the CDC, NOISH is charged with making recommendations for the prevention of work-related injury and illnes, not recommendations for the general public. So NOISH’s 85 dB exposure standard, actually 85 dBA*, is an occupational noise exposure level to prevent noise-induced hearing loss in the workplace–it’s not intended to be a safe exposure threshold for the public.

The NIOSH Science Blog post on February 8, 2016, specifically addressed this concern. And my research revealed that the only evidence-based safe noise level to prevent hearing loss is an average of 70 decibels a day.

Given the general misunderstanding of what is a safe noise exposure level for the average person, Furseth’s article raises important issues that I hope are starting to be taking seriously.  Cities have gotten louder and the effect of increased noise on residents and visitors is something that should be given serious attention.

*A-weighted sound measurements are adjusted to reflect the frequencies heard in human speech

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 in classrooms interferes with learning

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

After reading Dr. Paul W, Bennett’s article entitled “Are noisy Canadian classrooms hindering students,” I contacted him at the Schoolhouse Institute in Halifax, Canada. I indicated to him how surprised I was to read his article that “excessive classroom noise and disruptions remain largely undiagnosed and understudied in Canadian kindergarten-to-grade-12 education,” in light of the fact that I had conducted research and written extensively on the impacts of noise in classrooms for over forty years. I also added that were other studies similarly highlighting the need for quiet in classrooms.

We discussed his article in which he cited a global student survey conducted in 2018 that found that nearly 40% of Canadian students reported…”noise or disorder in most or all of their classes.“ Dr. Bennett said that this number was far more that that reported by Japanese and Korean students where the figures were low (under 10%). The figure for the U.S. was around 28%. While my writings primarily examined the impacts of noise from external and internal sources–namely, rail, airport, and poor acoustics in schools–Dr. Bennett also wrote about the disciplinary climate of the class contributing to “loudness” in classrooms. He also added that a deteriorating classroom environment can contribute to student bullying, absenteeism, and psychological harassment.

As a former professor of education, author of books on education, and director of an institute interested in improving the quality of education, Dr. Bennett thought it was important that Canadian educators become more aware of the effects of noise classroom disorder on student learning. Dr. Bennett was familiar with my research on the impacts of noise on classroom learning and I offered my assistance as he moves forward with his goal of stressing the importance of a quieter and more orderly school environment.

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.

 

Sociopaths on snowmobiles

Photo credit: Sebastian Voortman from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This report from Ontario’s BayToday discusses the problem of snowmobile exhaust noise there. Specifically, snowmobilers there are modifying exhausts with minimal decreases in weight but maximum increases in noise. Since most of Ontario’s snowmobile trails cross private land, the landowners bothered by the noise are closing down their trails, depriving snowmobilers with unaltered machines of their winter activities.

I’ve gone snowshoeing and cross-country skiing in remote locations, too remote or too steep to have snowmobile trails. The silence of the wintry landscape, broken only by the rustle of the wind in the bare trees and an occasional bird cry, is beautiful.

It’s a shame that sociopathic snowmobilers–winter’s equivalent of motorcycle riders with modified exhausts–are disturbing the forest quiet even more than those without modified snowmobiles.

The solution is simple: enforce existing laws against modifying snowmobile exhausts. Or to really make a change, enact laws allowing for confiscation of modified snowmobiles and the problem will cease.

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.

Readers react to Austrialian piece on restaurant noise

Photo credit: James Palinsad licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

A few days ago the Adelaide InDaily ran a column by food writer Rainer Jozeps about Adelaide “plague of shouty cafes and restaurants.”

And readers have responded.

Both Jozeps’ article and the responses could have been written about restaurant noise in any major city in the English-speaking world. Simply put, restaurants have become too loud and customers actively avoid the noisier ones.

It’s been a while since I’ve been to Australia, but restaurant noise is also a problem in England, Scotland, and Wales, and, of course, the U.S. On the other hand, restaurants in France, Italy, Spain, and Portugal–where food and dining may be more valued–seem quieter to me.

I haven’t seen any scientific studies comparing restaurant noise in different countries, but I would welcome them and anticipate that they would confirm my less than scientific observations.

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.

Zillow tracks noisy cities and neighborhoods

Photo credit: Daniel X. O’Neil licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This report in Atlanta Agent magazine, directed at the real estate industry, looks at a report by Zillow, a real estate site, that identifies Atlanta’s noisiest neighborhoods.

I wondered if Zillow tracked noise for other cities, too. The answer is yes, Zillow has a report that looks at the noise level of over 900 cities nationwide.

The only problem is that Zillow’s method is to estimate the noise level based on the National Park Service noise maps. That is, Zillow doesn’t measure actual noise levels.

I would suggest that Zillow might want to use the Department of Commerce’s transportation noise maps instead, since transportation noise is a major problem in many parts of the country. Transportation noise includes road traffic noise, aircraft noise, and railroad noise. Zillow adds that a lot of urban noise also comes from ambulances for those living near hospitals, and from sports stadiums.

Real estate professionals advise prospective home buyers to check out their properties at various times of the day. A quiet residential street may become a busy commuter cut-through during the morning rush hour, for example, or the preferred way home for parents picking up children at the end of the school day.

Renting isn’t the same long-term commitment as buying, but renters may also want to check out noise levels before signing a lease.

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.

San Franciscans press their congresswoman to arrest airport noise

Photo credit: Bill Abbott licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

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

Congresswoman Jackie Speier, who is featured in this Curbed article, is one of 16 members of California’s Congressional delegation who are actively involved in the 47-member Congressional Quiet Skies Caucus. Her San Francisco constituents have a strong chapter of the the Caucus’s regional support network, The National Quiet Skies Coalition, which has chapters in nearly two dozen states.

Last year, the 50 members of Congress who sit on the Congressional Quiet Skies Caucus thought they’d achieved meaningful change when they succeeded in getting specific noise-control requirements in the Federal Aviation Administration Reauuthorization Act of 2018, which was signed into law in October 2018. Sadly, the FAA doesn’t appear to be taking congress very seriously, as most communities near major U.S. airports have still not gotten any relief.

What’s insightful about the article above is that Congresswoman Speier is pressing for further changes—such as fines against airlines if they land planes during certain night-time hours. Few Americans know that there’s a global United Nations agency called the International Civil Aviation Organization, which is based in Montreal Canada. ICAO has regulatory authority over such matters as how much money can be levied as fines for noisy operation. This tactic used at the local level could help communities get the quieter conditions they yearn for, and the sleep they need.

If nothing else, fining airlines for noisy aircraft could stimulate those airlines to do what 50 airlines around the world have already done: purchase quieter aircraft–such as the 70% quieter Airbus A320neo when equipped with the American-made Pratt & Whitney “Geared Turbofan” engine.

We have no financial ties to airlines or aircraft manufacturers, but it seems essential to us for Americans to realize that quieter jet aircraft exist and are already flying safely around the world—but that only a couple of U.S. airlines have bought them. Why? Don’t we deserve quieter airports here in America too? Why do America’s airlines continue to buy noisy aircraft when quieter and more fuel-efficient alternatives already exist?

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.

9 ways restaurants have changed in the past decade

Photo credit: Arild Finne Nybø licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This piece by The New York Times food critic Pete Wells discusses the eight ways Wells thinks restaurants have changed in the past decade. I would add one more to his list: they have become noisier.

As documented by the creator of the restaurant noise app SoundPrint, restaurants and bars in Manhattan are unpleasantly, even dangerously noisy.

Many other reports over the decade, in newspapers ranging from The New York Times to the Boston Globe to the Philadelphia Enquirer to the Los Angeles Times, have documented noisy restaurants.

And, of course, the Zagat surveys report that restaurant noise was a leading complaint, first or second in most of the annual surveys.

Those of us old enough to remember when secondhand smoke used to bother us in restaurants know that we eventually were able to get smoke-free restaurants, bars, and then workplaces, airplanes, and in some cities and states even smoke-free beaches and parks. Our efforts were aided when the EPA designated secondhand smoke to be a Class A carcinogen with no safe lower level of exposure.

Noise is both a nuisance and a health hazard. Noise causes hearing loss, tinnitus, and hyperacusis, sometimes after a single exposure to loud noise. It can wake people from sleep, disrupt attention, interfere with children’s learning, and even cause non-cardiac disease like hypertension and cardiovascular disease. I recently summarized the nine evidence-based noise levels affecting human health and function. Based on the indisputable evidence showing that noise is harmful, I presented a new definition of noise at the 178th meeting of the Acoustical Society of America in San Diego, California, on December 3, 2019: Noise is unwanted and/or harmful sound.

Voluntary efforts to make restaurants quieter, and restaurant noise apps like SoundPrint and iHEARu are helpful, but by themselves are unlikely to lead to quieter restaurants soon.

I’m pretty sure legislation will be required. And if enough people complain to their elected representatives often enough and, I daresay, loudly enough, eventually legislation will be passed mandating quieter restaurants.

DISCLOSURE: I serve as unpaid Medical Advisor to SoundPrint.

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.

Apple picks Dr. Neitzel to crunch its noise app crowdfunded data

Photo credit: Cedrick Hobson licensed under CC BY 2.0

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

Listen to this 12-minute interview (scroll down to the 6th story) on Michigan Public Radio with The Quiet Coalition colleague Richard Neitzel, PhD, at the University of Michigan! Dr. Neitzel has gotten a lot of press recently because he was picked by Apple Computer to analyze the stream of crowd-funded data on public noise exposure that Apple has started gathering via it’s new noise app on the iWatch and iPhone.

For those of us who have spent years piecing together the troubled and obscure four-decade-long history of public noise exposure and how it was swept under the rug, Dr. Neitzel’s interview brilliantly sums up both the history of what happened and the tipping point that is occurring now—thanks in part to the availability of
crowd-sourced data from research tools that have never been available to epidemiologists before, namely, the new noise app on Apple’s iWatch and iPhone.

We hope we can put the troubled history of the noise issue behind us and look forward to brighter—and quieter—future thanks to Apple and Dr. Neitzel’s team who will
be watching and interpreting this data.

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.

Hearing loss in older age isn’t inevitable

Photo credit: Matheus Bertelli from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This review of David Owen’s book “Volume Control” from Canada’s National Post discusses the fact that hearing loss is not part of normal aging. Rather, most of it is the result of exposure to too much noise.

I agree with Mr. Owen, and with the reviewer.

My analysis of the medical and scientific literature, presented at the 12th Congress of the International Commission on the Effects of Noise, concluded that good hearing should last into old age. Unfortunately, modern life has become too noisy, with most Americans getting too much noise exposure in daily life.

Sadly, with noise exposure continuing unabated, I predict–and have predicted before–that hearing loss will become common in mid-life, not in old age, when today’s young people show the effects of hours of listening to personal music players at high volume.

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.

No hearing aids leads to divorce

Photo credit: Steve Johnson licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Is refusing to get needed hearing aids grounds for divorce? For Tina Welling, writing in The New York Times’ Modern Love column, it was.

She and her now ex-husband reached what appears for them to be a reasonable solution–they divided their house into two separate apartments, but they remain friends and sometimes walk their respective dogs together–but to me divorce seems to be a radical solution to a spouse’s hearing loss. As the writer explains, though, her husband’s refusal to get the hearing aids he needed crystalized her feelings about the marriage and made its problems unavoidable, so she took what she thought was necessary action after 52 years of marriage.

Studies show that there is a stigma to hearing loss and to wearing hearing aids, and that the average older person needing them waits 7 to 10 years before getting them. This isn’t rational–as this interview from the New England Journal of Medicine’s Catalyst site discusses, you’re still old, with or without hearing aids.

Other research shows that only about a third of older Americans who really need hearing aids get them.

And now, research is underway to see if wearing hearing aids prevents or delays the onset of dementia.

My advice: if you or a loved one needs hearing aids, don’t get a divorce. Get hearing aids instead!

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.