The Commons

Noise is the next great public health crisis

Photo credit: Loozrboy licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coaltion

This wonderful article from Futurism.com discusses the major problem of noise pollution as the nation and the world become increasingly urbanized.

Few remember that the U.S., government policy, as voted by Congress and signed into law in 1972, is “to promote an environment for all Americans free from noise that jeopardizes their health and welfare.”

The article’s author, Neel V. Patel, cites extensively noise pioneer and The Quiet Coalition co-founder and board member Arline Bronzaft, PhD, who 45 years ago showed that environmental noise interfered with children’s learning.

As Patel writes:

It’s impossible to overstate how much noise pollution can wreak havoc on human health and safety. High noise levels can exacerbate hypertension, cause insomnia or sleep disturbances, result in hearing loss, and worsen a plethora of other medical conditions. All of these problems can aggravate other health issues by inducing higher levels of stress, which can cascade into worsened immune systems, heart problems, increased anxiety and depression — the list just goes on and on.

We at The Quiet Coalition agree.  So click the first link, read Patel’s article, and learn how the U.S. government’s active failure to regulate noise since 1981 all but guarantees that noise is the next great public health crisis.

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.

The sound of the city

Olga Yurkina, Worldcrunch, writes about how “some local governments [in Switzerland] are turning to sound specialists to make cityscapes easier on the ears.”  Yurkina introduces us to Fabian Neuhaus, an acoustician who runs a firm that specializes in sound architecture. While his company mainly works on upgrading the sound quality of industrial spaces and concert halls, Neuhaus believes that outdoor spaces “need to be properly ‘tuned’ to produce pleasant sounds.” “Unfortunately,” he adds, “it’s rarely a priority in an urban project.”

But not any more. Far-sighted public officials in two Swiss cantons are beginning to seriously consider acoustic features in urban design. To that end, the cantons have engaged Neuhaus’ firm to offer guidelines for “a well-designed soundscape along local roads.” “Instead of fighting against noise pollution afterward, we should include the acoustic dimension in the project from the very beginning,” asserts Neuhaus.

Urban planners are also thinking about the design of outdoor urban spaces and what can be done to make them more interseting and aurally pleasant. For example, Trong Maag, an urban planner in Zürich, notes that large uniform facades of glass and steel are “real torture for our ears,” while a gravel or sand path will offer “a soothing rustle,” trees can act as a sound barrier, and a green wall can absorb high-pitched sounds.  And other designers have come up with interesting options, like anti-noise modular screens “with flexible acoustic correction” or singing fountains. Designer Andres Bosshard hopes that at some future time “acoustics will be an integral part of urban design and we will create something with sound rather than just block noises.” After all, he adds, “[w]e have to keep in mind that in a city, sound is central to our sense of well-being.”

Click the link above to read this fascinating article in its entirety.

Link via Antonella Radicchi.