Transportation Noise

Swiss study confirms transportation noise causes health problems

Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

It is well-known in Europe that transportation noise causes adverse health effects, including sleep loss, diabetes, hypertension, obesity, cardiovascular disease, and death. The World Health Organization’s European Office published a monograph on the burden of disease from noise, and the European Noise Directive lays out a government plan to deal with the problem. Studies in the UK, Germany, the Netherlands, and other countries have consistently shown this, most often with a relationship between greater noise exposure and worse health outcomes.

At the 12th Congress of the International Commission on the Biological Effects of Noise (ICBEN) meeting in Zürich in June–the world’s largest meeting on the health effects of noise–Swiss researchers presented the results of a study done in their country. The results are from an integrated research approach dubbed SiRENE (the acronym roughly translates to Short and Long Term Effects of Transportation Noise Exposure) looking at noise exposure, sleep patterns, clinical testing for sleep disorders and glucose metabolism, mathematical modeling of noise exposure for the Swiss population, and determination of noise-induced health risks for the Swiss population. The study is ongoing, but interim reports at ICBEN were consistent with reports from other countries: transportation noise exposure caused cardiovascular disease, hypertension, diabetes, and increased the risk of dying from a heart attack by 4% for each 10 decibel increase in road noise at home.

We are certain transportation noise has the same adverse health effects on Americans even if the research here is limited. Perhaps the best-known American study of the effect of transportation noise on health was done by Correia et al, looking at hospital admissions in the Medicare population in people living near airports. That study was limited in its scope and methods, but not surprisingly, transportation noise exposure increased hospital admissions here, too.

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.

Supreme Court on airport noise: “Go away!”

By David Sykes, Vice Chair, The Quiet Coalition (with contributions by Jamie L. Banks, Jeanne Kempthorne and Gina M. Briggs)

The U.S. Supreme Court has refused to hear the airport noise case brought by the town of East Hampton, Long Island (of The Hamptons in New York).
This is an important case that The Quiet Coalition wrote about back in January and March.  This case is significant as it addresses an important issue of public health, because noise not only causes hearing problems, it also contributes to heart disease and other conditions.

There are 15,000 airports in the USA, 5200 of which have paved runways, and 376 have regularly scheduled flights. That’s a lot of neighborhoods and people exposed to the pollution and noise from take-offs and landings! Perhaps now that the Supreme Court has denied their petition for a writ of certiorari (i.e., seeking review of a lower court decision), the East Hampton group will join the 36 communities in the National Quiet Skies Coalition and press their congressional representatives to join the Congressional Quiet Skies Caucus. The Caucus has already petitioned the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and submitted a bill to Congress. But it’s going to take many more communities joining the battle to win this one.

Many people around the U.S.—on both sides of the airport noise problem—were watching to see what the Supreme Court would do. What the Court did was let the Second Circuit Court decision stand. That decision had invalidated the town’s restrictions on flights to and from the East Hampton Airport—which the town owns–after finding that the town did not have the right to impose the restrictions owing to a 1990 federal law that “limits the town’s authority to impose rules at the airport.”  NOTE: The FAA’s argument relied on federal preemption, and, in particular, the Town’s failure to comply with the procedural requirements of the federal Airport Noise and Capacity Act of 1990. The Second Circuit held that the Act applied even though the Town was had forgone federal funding for the airport.

Many locals were unhappy, with one telling the New York Times:

“The Supreme Court’s decision not to hear the case was ‘indicative of the fact that when it comes to our own airport, we don’t have local control,’ said Barry Raebeck…. ‘It strikes me as decidedly unjust, as un-American. This is what we’re all about, local control. We have federal agencies dictating. I consider the F.A.A. a lobbying group for airport operators. You don’t have any rights unless you’re in an airplane in their minds.’”

Is this the end of the matter? No. But getting a case to the Supreme Court is a long, time-consuming, and expensive process. We congratulate those who have been waging this battle so far and urge them: PLEASE TAKE THE NEXT STEP! We’re reminded of Theodore Roosevelt who said:

“…Credit belongs to the [people] who are actually in the arena…who err and come up short…who spend [themselves] for a worthy cause; who…know the triumph of high achievement, and who, if they fail, fail while daring greatly; [their] place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.”

We believe the key to winning the airport noise battle—indeed all battles about noise in America—is to challenge the FAA’s (and its parent, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s) long-held and politically convenient view that noise is “merely annoyance” with no appreciable effects on health or well-being. This is unfounded. In fact, the adverse health effects of noise are strongly supported by decades of authoritative evidence from medical and public health professionals. The use of the term “annoyance” is a shibboleth; that is, a term used to characterize the problem that is fundamentally wrong.

Noise control advocates now need to re-focus their efforts on the public health effects of noise—for which solid scientific evidence exists and continues to grow–and go back to court with new arguments until this battle is won.

David Sykes chairs/co-chairs four national professional groups in acoustical science: The Acoustics Research Council, ANSI S12 WG44, The Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Working Group. He is also a board member of the American Tinnitus Association, co-founder of the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics (LARA) at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0 (2012, Springer-Verlag), and a contributor to “Technology for a Quieter America” (2011, National Academy of Engineering). A graduate of the University of California/Berkeley with graduate degrees from Cornell University, he is a frequent organizer of and speaker at professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia, and the Middle East.

Study: Noise and air pollution adversely affect heart health

Photo credit: G.M. Briggs

CTV News reports that a new European study has found that exposure to excessive traffic noise is linked to a higher risk of heart disease. What makes this study particularly interesting, is that “[a]lthough air pollution has already been linked to an increased risk of heart disease, stroke, asthma, and risk of death, and noise pollution linked to raised blood pressure, disturbed sleep, and an increase in stress hormones, until now little research has been carried out on the effects of noise pollution and air pollution — which are often found together — on health.”

For purposes of the study, “noise pollution” was defined as “noise louder than conversation level — around 60 decibels (dB).”  To determine the effect of noise pollution on health, “the researchers tested the participants’ blood for a range of biological markers that could indicate heart disease…and blood sugar levels, which are linked to heart disease, diabetes and stroke at higher levels.” After taking into account lifestyle factors (age, sex, smoking habits, etc.), the researchers found “an increase of just 5dB in noise levels was linked to 0.3% higher blood sugar levels than those living in quieter neighborhoods.”

But the bad news about noise pollution doesn’t end there. The researchers “also believe noise could be increasing the risk of heart disease by causing long-term psychological stress due to lack of sleep and an increase in the production of stress hormones.”

The results should not be entirely surprising. Anna Hansell, one of the authors of the new study, was the lead author on a study linking noise to adverse health effects in BMJ in 2013, and a senior author on another study  linking road traffic noise and cardiovascular morbidity, in 2015.

Additional studies will follow, as the researchers intend to continue their efforts “to add to the limited body of research in this area.”

 

Is a better sounding subway possible?

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

Stephen Nessen, WNYC, writes about the Second Avenue subway in New York City and the efforts that were made to improve the sound in its stations. He introduces us to Joe Solway of the international engineering firm ARUP, which designed the new Second Avenue stations.  Solway spent 15 years working on the subway, “figuring out how to eliminate squealing wheels and loud distorted announcements.” He lists the measures taken to make the experience as good as it could be given that “[t]he new system had to work with the existing system.” Among other things, Solway said that they redesigned the way the rails are fastened to the ground, encasing them in rubber that mitigates vibration, used better booths and cables and high quality speakers, and installed sound absorbing panels on the walls and ceiling.

So, did it work? Commuter Rafael Colon thought so. “It’s very quiet, like unusually quiet, not like when you take the number 6 train,” he said.

Click below to hear Nessen’s interview of Solway:

 

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.

Can Subway Noise Damage Your Hearing?

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

Sadly, the short answer is yes. And the longer answer is that some subway stations are more dangerous to your hearing than others.  Anil Lalwani, MD, an otolaryngologist at Columbia University Medical Center and NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, and his colleagues prepared a study that examined whether subway station design influenced noise levels. Dr. Lalwani and his team went to twenty stations in Manhattan and discovered “that the noisiest platforms shared one thing in common: curved tracks.”  Click the link above to view Dr. Lalwani’s video about this study, its conclusion, and to hear Dr. Lalwani’s recommendations about “what we can do to reduce the risk of long-term hearing damage from subway noise exposure.”

In a followup to his post on looking for a quiet car,

Dr. Daniel Fink, Chair of The Quiet Coalition, has written a post about disturbing noises automobile manufacturers purposefully add to their cars: There’s More To Car Noise Than Interior Sound. Dr. Fink’s second post was prompted by a reader who noted that while “[d]esign of the quietest interior possible has become highly competitive,” little thought is given to “the effect that automotive lock, locating, and security technology have on the residential soundscape.”  Simply put, automobile manufacturers have adopted sound as a default to confirm a car door is locked or to locate a car in a parking lot without thinking about the effect of adding all of these audible honks and beeps and warnings to an already noisy soundscape.

Fortunately, there are some steps car owners can take to disable or modify the audible alerts, but not without difficultly.  Click the link above to get Dr. Fink’s list of questions to ask about audible alerts before buying a car.

Looking For A Quieter Car?

By Daniel Fink, MD

As automobile makers have focused on fuel efficiency to meet federally mandated fuel efficiency standards, interior quiet has suffered.  But it is still possible to find quieter, more comfortable cars.

GM’s Buick Division might be a good place to start.  And these four links offer some other possibilities:

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.

Traffic noise is not a “mere annoyance”:

Harmful road traffic noise affects a quarter of Europeans.  Reuters reports on an the European Environment Agency (EEA) assessment of the impact of noise pollution which concluded that, “[h]armful levels of road traffic noise affect one in four people in Europe and raise health risks ranging from sleepless nights to heart disease.”  The EEA’s report noted that noise pollution is “a major environmental health problem in Europe,” putting “what it called the “European soundscape” under threat. 

Traffic noise was the main source of this damaging noise, according to the assessment, with railways, airports and industrial sites adding to the overall noise burden.  The EEA estimated that “environmental noise caused up to 10,000 premature deaths in Europe every year,” adding that “[m]ore than 900,000 cases of hypertension could be traced to noise.”  In response to these health threats, the EEA report calls for “better planning ranging from preserving quiet areas in cities to less noisy tyres on cars.”

Thanks to Antonella Radicchi for the link.

Let’s find out, shall we?

sports-car

Can electric sports cars be sporty without any engine noise?  The author of this piece, Jordan Golson, The Verge, suggests the answer is no, because he thinks noise = fun:

Not only does a noisy engine give a visceral thrill, knowing that there are thousands of tiny explosions happening to keep you going, but it just sounds awesome. It would be a shame to lose it, and carmakers know it. Bloomberg says Porsche has been looking at artificially inserting noise into the cabin, perhaps via the stereo like some other manufacturers have done, or amplifying the high-pitched hum of the electric motor.

I don’t know what the answer is, but a world without the roar of a Dodge Challenger Hellcat is a world that’s just a little less fun.

And so the rare opportunity to reduce the overall noise level in our soundscape will likely be ignored, as carmakers will rush to spend big bucks adding unnecessary noise to electric cars because engine noise “just sounds awesome.”  Sigh.