Quality of Life

You can close your eyes, but you can’t close your ears

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This piece from technology writer Markham Heid discusses noise pollution. Heid writes about the work of noted researcher Thomas Münzel, MD, who’s 2018 study shows “the ties between loud noise and heart failure, heart attack, and stroke — as well as noise’s negative impact on a person’s sleep and cognitive performance.”

Münzel, Heid writes, asserts that noise that is “about 70 decibels — roughly the noise generated by a passing car — could be considered ‘unhealthy noise,’ because it can disturb sleep, and poor sleep is a risk factor for health issues ranging from heart disease to obesity to diabetes.” Münzel explains that the problem with noise when you are sleeping is that “[y]ou can close your eyes, but you can’t close your ears.”

And that’s why noise pollution makes us sick, causing hearing loss and the non-auditory health effects on the heart and damaging our mental health.

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.

Wind turbines in 2018

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

In October 1986, I presented a keynote address to the Community Noise Conference held in Toowoomba, co-sponsored by the Queensland Division of Noise Abatement and Air Pollution and the Australian Acoustical Society. The title of my talk was “Health Hazards of Noise.” In my talk, I spoke of noise as not just an urban phenomenon and gave examples of how residents in quieter communities can find themselves exposed to intrusive noises. One example I gave was the following:

Imagine how surprised a suburban couple were to wake up one morning to the sound of a windmill erected in the neighbor’s backyard.

In the 1980s we spoke of windmills, not wind turbines. Yet, in 1981, I actually had a court case involving a backyard windmill that was impacting on the health and well-being of a nearby neighbor. The judge in this case acknowledged the discomfort brought about by the windmill’s noise.

Now thirty years after my talk in Australia and after the court case cited above, we have a finding by an Australian Council regarding a wind farm stating that “noise is audible frequently within individual residences and this noise is adversely impacting on the personal comfort and wellbeing of individuals.” In several U.S. cases, courts have asked wind power operators to buy out noise-affected neighbors. A majority of the wind turbine cases argued in Australia, New Zealand, the U.S., Europe, and Canada, however, have found that wind turbine noise would not affect health adversely. This, despite the fact that there are published papers noting that the sounds produced by wind turbines are not being assessed properly and a number of studies reporting a link between wind turbine noise and potential health impacts.

Considering the growth of evidence suggesting the harmful impacts of wind turbine sounds on health, I believe that we need to continue to examine this link before we forge ahead in siting industrial wind turbines. And we also must continue to monitor the legal challenges to wind turbine impacts internationally.

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.

Scottish docs to begin prescribing rambling and birdwatching

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Scottish physicians on the Shetland Islands are going to start prescribing birdwatching, rambling, and beach walks to treat chronic and debilitating illnesses.

Being outdoors is good for one’s health and exercise is good for one’s health. As this recent article in JAMA shows, green spaces improve mental health, too.

And being outdoors is probably good for auditory health. As shown by the National Park Service noise map, without human intervention nature is very quiet.

One really doesn’t need any special equipment to enjoy the outdoors. Perhaps a hat, a long-sleeved shirt or a sweatshirt or jacket if it’s sunny or cool, and comfortable shoes.

We should all spend more time enjoying nature, while it’s still here to enjoy.

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.

A layperson’s guide to the WHO’s noise and health report

Photo credit: United States Mission Geneva licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

by John Stewart  

The new noise and health guidelines (pdf) published last week by the World Health Organisation could prove a turning point in the fight to persuade governments and industry to put in place more effective measures to tackle noise. The guidelines are not legally binding but, given the extent of the health problems associated with noise the report identified, it will be difficult for the authorities to dismiss them out of hand. Although the guidelines were published by the European office of the WHO and strictly apply only to Europe, WHO hopes and expects they will influence noise policy across the world. My summary of the guidelines can be found here (pdf).

The guidelines are tougher than those recommended by the WHO previously. The recommended limits are:

  • Road                    53Lden              45Lnight
  • Rail                      54Lden              44Lnight
  • Aircraft                 45Lden              40Lnight
  • Wind Turbines     45Lden       no recommendation*
  • Leisure                70 LAeq

* WHO felt that there was insufficient evidence to make a recommendation

The guidelines are stricter for air and wind turbine noise because WHO found that people get highly annoyed from these sources at lower levels than for road or rail noise. The benchmark used when recommending the safe thresholds was the level at which 10% of the population became annoyed by a particular noise source. For night noise a lower threshold was used on the basis that sleep disturbance created more serious health problems than annoyance. The night threshold was the level at which 3% of people were “highly sleep-disturbed.”

WHO stressed that, because, in its view, there is not yet enough research to make a recommendation about night noise from wind turbines, it does not mean that they are not causing problems. One of the report’s recommendations is that more wind turbine research is undertaken.

Wind farm and leisure were not covered in previous WHO reports. Leisure noise is harder to define than the other noise sources. WHO broadly defines it as recreational noise, including noise from personal audio devices. In light of existing evidence the WHO recommended that over the course of the year the noise from leisure sources should average out at no more than 70 decibels. It added one important caveat, though: a warning that very high levels of noise at a particular time–for example music at a rock concert–has the potential to damage hearing.

The WHO has made it very clear it does not want its report to sit on shelves gathering dust. It wants it to lead to action and has pointed the way in the report to solutions to reduce the number of people–currently running into hundreds of millions across the world–exposed to unhealthy levels of noise.

The World Health Organisation has done it job. It is over to us now–governments, industries, communities, campaign groups–to make sure we use it to create a quieter and healthier future for everybody.

John Stewart is the lead author of “Why Noise Matters,” published by Earthscan in 2011, and has worked and campaigned in the fields of noise and transport for over 35 years.

Sometimes you just need to find time for quiet

Father Michael Rennier writes about the Carthusians, a religious order started over 1,000 years ago by a young priest named Bruno. Bruno, according to Fr. Rennier, wanted to spend time in silence, but found his work interfered.  So he left his old life behind for the wilderness, and imposed one rule on those few friends who followed him–no talking.

Obviously Bruno’s life style choice is a bit difficult for most people to contemplate much less copied. Instead, Fr. Michael describes five ways that we can protect  moments of silence in our lives, noting that at his death Bruno’s friends “remarked that in place of words, his mouth was always smiling.”

 

 

No one told you drone delivery would be so damn loud

Photo credit: Sam Churchill licensed under CC BY 2.0

But some Australians know firsthand that living next to a drone delivery test site is pure hell. According to Lachlan Roberts, The Riot Act!, residents living near a delivery drone testing site claimed they “were disturbed by the noise and said it was ruining their quality of life.” Said one put upon neighbor, “[t]he drones are unbelievably noisy and they have a really, really loud, high-pitched whining sound.” The situation was particularly galling, the residents point out, because they believe there is no compelling reason for this “service.”

It’s not surprising that the drone operation is attracting complaints. Just last year a NASA study found that “people find the buzzing sound that drones make to be notably more annoying than that of cars or trucks, even when they’re at the same volume.”

The aggrieved residents would likely agree. One of them noted that he had 35 drones fly over his house in one day, adding his concern that there would be many more flights after the trial period ended.

Silicon Valley (or the start-up culture, more generally) rush to impose delivery drones and flying cars and the other shiny objects du jour on the world with the promise of awesome new technology and absolutely no concern about the costs that will be borne by the society at large.

Before imposing the endless whine of delivery drones on the masses, the promoters should be required to answer one question: what compelling need does this technology serve? Because the need should be compelling when a new service or product is launched that will expose the public to unwanted and harmful noise.

The Toronto Star says “Turn down the volume!”

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This editorial in The Toronto Star discusses the adverse health impacts of noise and Toronto’s efforts to work towards quiet.

The Quiet Coalition’s Bradley Vite is quoted, saying “[i]t took decades to educate people on the dangers of second-hand smoke…[w]e may need decades to show the impact of second-hand noise.”

Mr. Vite may be correct. It took too long for those responsible for protecting public health to take action to clear the air in restaurants, stores, workplaces, and buses, planes, and trains. People can still smoke, but not where others are forced to smell or breathe their exhaled smoke involuntarily.

I am confident that if enough people complain to enough elected officials about noise, laws and regulations will be written and enforced to make the world a quieter place.

The scientific evidence is overwhelming. There can be no rational doubt that noise causes hearing loss and has major non-auditory health effects, including sleep disruption, hypertension, heart disease, stroke, and death.

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.

Should we focus on clinical services or on preventing hearing loss?

Photo credit: Florida Fish and Wildlife licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This viewpoint article in the latest issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association by Frank Lin, MD, PhD, and colleagues at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and the Bloomberg School of Public Health, makes the case for expanding Medicare coverage of audiology services to help older Americans with hearing loss.

Dr. Lin and his colleagues are the leading researchers in the epidemiology of hearing loss. They have published a series of reports documenting the prevalence of hearing loss in older Americans and showing that hearing loss is strongly correlated with social isolation, depression, falls, accidents, and other conditions, all of which are associated with increased mortality in older people.

What’s missing from the article? Two things.

First, the report doesn’t explain that devices, whether they are hearing aids or over-the-counter personal sound amplification products, just don’t work as well as preserved normal hearing. The “elephant in the room” for hearing health care is the 30-40% non-usage rate among those who have obtained hearing aids, because in real-life situations, e.g., noisy stores or restaurants, these just don’t work as well as normal ears. The analogy I use is dentures. It really doesn’t matter if one has to have dentures made by a dentist and prosthodontist, or if one could walk into a drugstore or warehouse store and buy them. One’s natural teeth work better.

Second, the report doesn’t discuss the prevention of hearing loss. Continuing the dental analogy, it takes a lifetime of care, with daily brushing and flossing, regular cleanings, and dental work to keep one’s natural teeth one’s entire life. In contrast, avoiding noise-induced hearing loss is easy and costs nothing or very little–simply avoid exposure to loud noise. And if you can’t, wear hearing protection.

Remember: if it sounds too loud, it IS too loud.

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.

Airplane noise is an increasing problem in San Francisco

Photo credit: Jim Trodel licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This article discusses the problem of airplane noise from San Francisco International Airport (airport code SFO). One of the people affected was Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA), who lives near the airport. She was at home, rather than in Washington, because she was recovering from surgery.

As others have found, when they are at home all day rather than in the office, environmental noise pollution really is a problem. Often it’s gas-powered leaf blowers, but this time it’s airplane noise.

Airplane noise isn’t just an annoyance. Aircraft noise causes heart disease, strokes, and death.

Maybe the fact that an elected official is herself affected by airplane noise will lead to some federal action to help solve this problem.

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.

Living with misophonia

Photo credit: rawpixel.com from Pexels

Natalie Reilly, NZ Herald, writes about living with misophonia, the “hatred of sound.” Eating sounds are particularly enraging for Reilly, and she confides that she hates hearing her husband eat. Which could be a real problem, except he suffers from misophonia as well and, well, he hates the sounds she makes when she eats. And so this couple have found a solution to maintain marital bliss: one eats in front of the tv, the other eats in the kitchen.