The Independent reports that Arctic whales are “threatened by collisions and noise pollution as ships begin crossing melting sea ice.” Among other things, the article tells us that whales are more vulnerable to this recent intrusion because “noisy ships interfere with their communication and cause fatal collisions.”
It’s almost as if humans are trying to see how quickly we can destroy everything on this planet.
Alex Pasternack, Fast Company, reports on a recent U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit decision that ruled “[a] powerful speaker that’s capable of causing hearing damage and is used by a growing number of police around the world isn’t merely a ‘communication device’ but, potentially, an instrument of excessive force.” The court was addressing the appeals of two New York City police officers who were seeking qualified immunity in a lawsuit that accused “them of using unconstitutionally excessive force when they deployed a Long Range Acoustic Device (LRAD) at a Black Lives Matter protest in 2014.”
The 2nd circuit affirmed a decision last June in which District Court Judge Robert Sweet, of the southern district of New York, ruled that the sound emitted by a long-range acoustic device (LRAD) used by the New York City Police Department to order protestors onto sidewalks “could be considered a form of force.”
Chief Judge Robert Katzmann, writiing for the 2nd circuit, found that “purposely using an LRAD in a way that can cause serious injury in order to move non-violent protesters violates the Fourteenth Amendment.” Judge Katzmann added that, “this Court’s longstanding test for excessive force claims teaches that force must be necessary and proportionate to the circumstances … [T]he problem posed by protesters in the street did not justify the use of force, much less force capable of causing serious injury, such as hearing loss.”
It is never acceptable for any police force to use sound cannons against non-violent protestors. Period.
Imagine suing a U.S. federal agency about highway construction noise and actually winning! Of course, it took this Canadian group two decades to win, and in toto they won only $3.5 million. In the end, a typical family will receive about $3,000 to $5,000—that’s enough for a family to buy a single pair of hearing aids–so perhaps the whole family will take turns wearing them?
But what this case suggests is that legal action is a viable strategy—at least in regions where it’s understood that noise is public health problem and that, therefore, citizens are entitled to relief.
Are we there yet in the U.S.?
In addition to serving as vice chair of the The Quiet Coalition, David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: The Acoustics Research Council, American National Standards Institute Committee S12, Workgroup 44, The Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Working Group—a partner of the American Hospital Association. He is the lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0 (2012, Springer-Verlag), a contributor to the National Academy of Engineering report “Technology for a Quieter America,” and to the US-GSA guidance “Sound Matters”, and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics (LARA) at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. He recently retired from the board of directors of the American Tinnitus Association. 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.
My own tinnitus developed after a one-time exposure to loud noise, so my hearing remains good. But I wish I had known that a one-time exposure to loud noise could cause symptoms the rest of my life. That’s part of the message I’m trying to get out to the world.
Dr. Shore’s treatment is still in its experimental phase and no one can predict how much it will cost if and when it is approved by the FDA. Or, for that matter, if Medicare and private insurance programs will pay for it.
The most basic public health principle is that it’s far better, and far cheaper, to prevent illness or injury than to treat it. So while we wish Dr. Shore well, we hope those who do not yet have tinnitus, hyperacusis, or hearing loss take this sage–and free–advice:
Protect your ears! Avoid loud noise. Put in ear plugs if you can’t leave the noisy environment.
Remember, your ears are like your eyes or your knees: God only gave you two of them.
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.