Quality of Life

Let’s hope this UK project comes to the U.S.:

Silence is golden in woodland for quiet reflection. Emily Flanagan, The Northern Echo, writes about Thorp Perrow Arboretum, a historic country estate, that is “the first garden in the north of England to take part in the Silent Space project, which invites public gardens to reserve an area where visitors can wander, or reflect silently away from phones and the distractions of modern life.” Flanagan tells us that Silent Space was the brainchild of garden writer Liz Ware, who felt that “[o]ur lives are very hectic and we rarely allow ourselves time to be quiet.”  Silent Spaces was established as a not-for-profit project in 2016, and a “handful of gardens that open to the public agreed to take part and to reserve an area where people could be silent.”

Click this link to learn more, including the rules governing silent spaces:

Once inside a Silent Space, we stop talking, turn off our phones and cameras, and switch off from social media. There are no other rules.

 

Noise isn’t just a city problem

On Banning Leaf Blowers.” Kaysen writes that “New Yorkers who leave the city for the suburbs often do so for three reasons: schools, space and silence.” But she adds that “silence, it turns out, can be a problem.” Why? Because while “suburban streets are certainly free of blaring horns, wailing sirens and, sometimes, even people…come springtime, they vibrate with the hum of lawn mowers, edgers, trimmers and leaf blowers; the accompanying noise continues until the last leaves fall from the trees in early December.”

So what can suburbanites do to quell the din?  Kaysen tells us that the Township of Maplewood, New Jersey is considering a ban on the noisiest and most noxious of a landscaper’s tools: leaf blowers. The township’s proposed ordinance prohibits commercial use of blowers from May 15 through September 30, and imposes strict limits as to use for the rest of the year. The ordinance also imposes fines, starting at $500 for the first offense.

The problem with leaf blowers is twofold. As Jamie Banks, the founder of Quiet Communities, a group that advocates quieter lawn maintenance equipment, states: “[I]t’s not just the noise. It’s the pollution.”  Kaysen adds that:

Most landscapers use leaf blowers with two-stroke engines, which are light enough to carry but produce significant exhaust and noise. The gas and oil mix together, and about a third of it does not combust. As a result, pollutants that have been linked to cancers, heart disease, asthma and other serious ailments escape into the air.

Despite there being alternatives–say, a rake?–there is pushback, of course. Residents who hate noise are facing off with residents who feel the ordinance will “hamstrung their gardeners, leaving their yards looking unkempt, with grass suffocating beneath piles of clippings.”  And landscapers insist that leaf blowers are essential, claiming that “when used properly, is not a nuisance.”  Used properly means at half speed, “which is significantly lower in noise volume, they’re much more efficient,” said Paul Mendelsohn, vice president of government relations for the National Association of Landscape Professionals.  Which makes us wonder why full speed is even an option.

Click the first link to read the entire piece.  It is well worth your time, particularly the bit about local hero Fred Chichester, 79, of Montclair, who, when he hears a leaf blower nearby, “gets into his 1998 Ford Escort wagon, one of his seven cars, and looks for the culprits, suing them in municipal court for violating the ban.” Fred then takes the landscapers to court, “about 20 times over the years.” And he usually wins.

 

Finding it hard to escape noise? This could be why:

In “A Map of Noisy America,” CityLab writes about the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics’ (BTS) new National Transportation Noise Map, which shows that “more than 97 percent of the U.S. population has the potential to be exposed to noise from aviation and Interstate highways at levels below 50 decibels or roughly comparable to the noise level of a humming refrigerator.”  The map also reveals that “[l]ess than one-tenth of a percent of the population could potentially experience noise levels of 80 decibels or more.” So that’s not bad, right? Well, yes and no.

CityLab notes that “noise doesn’t have to be particularly penetrating to be a public health menace,” adding that the World Health Organization “set a benchmark of recommended exposure to night sounds for Europeans” at 40 decibels.  Why so low?  Because studies have shown that sleep schedules are interrupted by noise over 42 decibels, “[e]xposure to road noise above 50 decibels (comparable to a quiet office) has been associated with higher risks of heart attack,” and noise has been linked to obesity and other maladies.

So check out the map and see how your community fares, but keep in mind that this map only looks at aviation and highway noise.  Next up?  The BTS states that “future versions of the National Transportation Noise Map are envisioned to include additional transportation noise sources, such as rail and maritime.”  We’ll keep you posted.

Sounding off on noise

Jeanine Barone, writing for Principa-Scientific International, interviews Arline Bronzaft, PhD, asking Dr. Bronzaft about her lifetime of fighting noise. Dr. Bronzaft, an environmental psychologist, is a professor emerita of psychology at Lehman College, City University of New York, and an expert witness in court cases and government hearings on the impact of noise on mental and physical well-being.  She also is a founding member of The Quiet Coalition.

Barone wonders whether noise has to be loud to affect people, to which Dr. Bronzaft responds that noise doesn’t necessarily have to be loud to affect someone because “[n]oise is any unwanted, uncontrollable, or unpredictable sound.”  Dr. Bronzaft describes the negative effects of noise on health and quality of life, including its impact on children’s learning.

That noise is understood to be detrimental to children’s learning is due in large part to Dr. Bronzaft’s landmark study of an elementary school adjacent to an elevated train track in New York City. On one side of the building “the classrooms were exposed to passing train noise every 4.5 minutes,” while on the other side of the building “the classrooms were not intruded upon by passing train noise.”  Dr. Bronzaft’s study showed that “[b]y the sixth grade, the children exposed to noise were nearly a year behind in reading.”

But Dr. Bronzaft didn’t conclude her study and move on.  Rather, she brought the data to the transit authority and convinced them to employ noise suppression technology on the nearby tracks.  Some years later she did a follow-up study that found that the noise had decreased and “children on both sides of the school were reading at the same level.”

Click the link to learn more about Dr. Bronzaft’s work

What’s the difference between noise and sound?

By Daniel Fink, MD

One of the heated discussions that sometimes occurs among those of us concerned about noise is the use of the terms “noise” and “sound.” Some people insist that we hear noise but measure sound. Others say the terms can be used interchangeably.

The word “noise” means “unwanted sound,” with an implication of being bothersome. One dictionary definition of noise is, “a sound, especially one that is loud or unpleasant or that causes disturbance.”   “Sound,” on the other hand, implies meaning, “a particular auditory impression.”

Nina Kraus, Professor of Communication Sciences, Neurobiology, and Otolaryngology at Northwestern University, has written an intriguing article for Scientific American that discusses new research that shows that our brains can actually tell the difference between noise and sound. Studies of brain waves, done at Northwestern, show that sound is understood by the brain while noise merely disrupts it.  And noise not only interferes with function, it can actually damage the brain:

Noise is more pernicious than an in-the-moment nuisance. Even a modest level of noise, over a long enough period of time (e.g. beeping garbage trucks, hair dryers, air conditioners), can cause damage to the brain networks that extract meaning from sound. Many of us don’t even realize our brains are being blunted and our thinking impeded by this invisible force.

So what can we do to protect our brains from damaging noise?  We can’t shut out all sound, because “the absence of meaningful sound also leaves a mark on the ability to process sound.”  Dr. Kraus adds that “there are distinct ways to tone and hone your listening brain.”  Namely:

You can learn a second language. The challenge of juggling two languages bolsters the auditory system and redounds to improvements in cognitive functions such as attention.

Another way to exercise your auditory brain is to play a musical instrument. This has a huge payoff cognitively and emotionally for children and adults alike. A few years of playing an instrument while in school sharpens the auditory system and can benefit language development in children. And this benefit lasts a lifetime.

Fascinating!  Even more supporting evidence for the goal of The Quiet Coalition: to make the world quieter, one decibel at a time.

Dr. 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 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.

Originally posted at The Quiet Coalition.

Noise, the “ignored pollutant.”

“The sonic backdrop to our lives is increasingly one of unwanted technospheric noise,” writes Paul Mobbs for the Ecologist.  Mobbs, an independent environmental researcher and author, explores the sounds of nature and the toll that noise takes “on our health, wellbeing and quality of life.”  He writes about a ritual he has engaged in from since before his teens, where a few times a year he goes for a walk “well before the dawn, in order to listen to the ‘dawn chorus.'” “Over that period,” notes Mobbs, “there’s been one inescapable change in the countryside around my home town of Banbury – noise.”

On his recent walk, Mobbs’ objective was to reach Salt Way, an old Roman salt route fringing the south-western quadrant of Banbury. “Due to its age Salt Way has exceptionally dense, wide and species-rich ancient hedgerows which demarcate it from the surrounding fields,” which Mobbs asserts is “[p]erfect for listening to birds.” Except that morning a slight breeze was wafting the sound of a large motorway that was over 2 1/2 miles away.  Reflecting on this walk, Mobbs examines lost tranquility and noise as a nuisance, and introduces us to ecopsychology as he ponders “the fundamental psychological human dependence upon the natural environment.”  It’s a fascinating piece that really should be read in its entirety.  Click the first link to do that.

 

Will the Supreme Court take on airport noise?

Photo credit: Matthew Grapengieser

East Hampton Petitions U.S. Supreme Court to Hear Airport Noise Case. Beth Young, East End Beacon, reports that East Hampton Town filed a petition for writ of certiorari asking the Supreme Court to overturn an appeals court decision on the town’s proposed airport noise regulations “that would rob East Hampton and thousands of other local airport sponsors of their ability to manage their airport, in the best interests of their residents.”  Young writes that in April 2015 the town adopted two local laws that established year-round curfews–a mandatory nightime curfew and an extended curfew on noisy aircraft–and “also enacted a third law imposing a one-trip-a-week restriction on noisy aircraft.”

The laws were challenged by “a group of aviation advocates.”  The district court upheld the two curfews but “issued a preliminary injunction against the one-trip-per week limit.”  On appeal, the Second Circuit issued a preliminary injunction blocking all three three local laws.  According to Young, “[t]he town maintains it has the right to exert local control over its airport after not taking federal funds for upkeep of the airport for several years.”  Said Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell in a press release Monday afternoon:

We followed the FAA’s advice and elected to forgo federal funding so that we could protect our residents. We engaged in a lengthy public process to identify meaningful but reasonable restrictions, and the District Court agreed that we met that test. But, with the stroke of a pen, the appeals court decision has federalized our airport and stripped us – and the thousands of similarly situated airports – of the ability to exert local control. We cannot let that decision stand.

The town filed its petition on March 6th, and the response is due on April 5th. In the event that the Supreme Court rejects the town’s petition, it will pursue other avenues for relief. Said East Hampton Councilwoman Kathee Burke-Gonzalez,”[t]he town board is pursuing all avenues for redress – both in the courts and in Congress – and we will continue the fight until we regain local control of East Hampton Airport.”

Walden, the video game?

Photo credit: Sarah Nichols

David Sykes, the vice-chair of The Quiet Coalition, muses about Walden, the video game, and how trying times compel us to seek stillness and tranquility.  So how exactly does Walden the video game differ from Grand Theft Auto? Like this:

Instead of offering the thrills of stealing, violence and copious cursing, the new video game, based on Thoreau’s 19th-century retreat in Massachusetts, will urge players to collect arrowheads, cast their fishing poles into a tranquil pond, buy penny candies and perhaps even jot notes in a journal — all while listening to music, nature sounds and excerpts from the author’s meditations.

And if you don’t leave enough “time for contemplation, or work too hard, the game cautions: ‘Your inspiration has become low, but can be regained by reading, attending to sounds of life in the distance, enjoying solitude and interacting with visitors, animal and human.’”

Kudos and best of luck to lead designer, Tracy J. Fullerton, the director of the Game Innovation Lab at the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts, and her team.

What’s the one thing never mentioned when discussing drone delivery?

 

Imagine 100 of these, overhead, constantly

Dyllan Furness, Digital Trends, writes about the U.S. military’s successful launch of “one of the world’s largest micro-drone swarms” in October in a piece titled, “The sound of 103 micro drones launched from an F/A-18 will give you nightmares.” Click the link to the piece and hit play on the video at the top of the page. The micro-drones can be heard starting at 2 minutes, 17 seconds.

We’re not sure if the sound will give you nightmares–although it is unnerving–but it did make us wonder about what would happen to our soundscape should Amazon and others succeed in convincing governments that drone delivery is a great idea. What you hear on the video is 103 micro-drones–small drones “with a wingspan under 12 inches.”  Now imagine a battalion of full-size, package-wielding delivery drones flying above your head. Just saying.

 

 

Despite complaints, restaurant noise continues unabated

by Daniel Fink, MD

Ever since I developed tinnitus and hyperacusis from a one-time exposure to loud restaurant noise, I have been looking for a quiet restaurant (see the Acknowledgements section at the end of my editorial in the January 2017 American Journal of Public Health, “What Is a Safe Noise Level for the Public?“).

It turns out I’m not the only one complaining about restaurant noise.

Restaurant noise is the number one complaint of diners in New York, San Francisco, Portland OR, and Boston.  In fact, the Boston Globe just recently wrote about diners’ dislike of restaurant noise in a piece titled, “Listen up: Restaurants are too loud!

Restaurant owners may think that noise increases food and beverage sales, and decreases time spent at the table, and they are right.  But what they cannot measure is how many meals are lost because people like me don’t go to noisy restaurants with family or friends, choosing to dine at home, instead, where we can converse as we enjoy our meal. Perhaps restauranteurs should consider that we middle-aged folks are more likely to spend money in restaurants than other demographic groups.  After all, for many of us our kids are done with college, our mortgages are paid off, we’ve been saving for retirement, and we have the disposable income to enjoy a nice meal out more frequently than in our youth.  If there were quieter restaurants, we might dine out more often instead of avoiding them because we would rather not have a side of hearing loss with our steak frites.

I guess that as long as the restaurants are busy, they will stay noisy. But if enough of us speak up–in the restaurants and to our elected representatives, asking them to pass laws requiring some limits on indoor noise–restaurants will eventually get quieter.

Dr. 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 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.