Weaponized sound

Sound waves might damage soldiers’ brains

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This NPR report discusses brain damage from concussive blasts when shoulder-fired rockets are launched. This isn’t surprising. An animal study reported structural, genetic, and biochemical changes in rat brains when they were exposed to loud noise.

Most civilians aren’t exposed to blast injuries, but we are exposed to lots of noise.

The Marines discussed in this study didn’t have a choice about noise exposure.

We do.

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.

Noise as a weapon

 

Twenty former and current tenants are suing their landlord for using “relentless, noisy construction that exposed them to cancer-causing dust as part of a campaign to get rent-stabilized tenants out and high-priced luxury condo buyers in.” The landlord in question? Kushner Companies. Yes, that Kushner.

Anyone living in New York City knows that certain unscrupulous landlords employ tactics to force rent stabilized tenants out of apartments that are then quickly renovated and rented out at much higher market rates.  Among the weapons used to drive tenants from the buildings is noise. In this case, tenants “described hammering and drilling so loud it drowned out normal conversation,” along with rats running through walls, and never-ending dust that covered everything. Unfortunately, these horrific practices are rote with certain landlords, as they do everything they can to make life so miserable for tenants living in rent stabilized apartments that the tenants see no other option but to leave.  Hence the dust, the commotion, and the soul-crushing noise.

We hope the tenants suing Kushner Co. win and are generously compensated for the hell they were put through.

Justice prevails: Federal court rules sound cannon can be excessive police force

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.

After Cuba can the U.S. still claim noise is just an “annoyance”?

Photo credit: Stevenbedrick licensed under CC BY 3.0

by David M. Sykes, Vice Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Are you following the Cuba episode on “weaponized sound”? If so, here’s some additional reading.

Nobody’s certain what’s going on there. Is it a hoax? A Trumpian cover for pulling the U.S. embassy out of Havana?

No. It could be both real and very ironic….

What’s interesting to those of us who are concerned about the epidemic of noise in America and the effects of that noise on everyone’s health, is this:

The official posture of several intimidatingly large U.S. federal agencies—for example the Departments of Commerce and Transportation and the EPA—is that noise is nothing more than “annoyance.” That policy has been in place for over 35 years. But if noise is merely “annoyance” how has it been “weaponized” by some foreign adversary?

The latest speculation is that the “sonic attack” in Havana might have involved “infrasound.”

Fact is, In the U.S. infrasound is poorly understood precisely because there’s been so little funding to research it. Why? Because if noise doesn’t matter, if it’s merely “annoyance,” then just ignore it. And so the U.S. has ignored noise for decades, but that may be coming to an end.

Perhaps the decades of ignoring noise and its impact on health will now change and researchers will have to unscramble some wily adversary’s “secrets” because they appear to be in use against us. Ironically, by ignoring the importance of sound and noise for nearly four decades, the U.S. has fallen behind and will have to scramble to catch up.

But that’s an old story, isn’t it?

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.

Dear god, no!

It will be like this, but horrible | Photo credit: Cliff licensed under CC BY 2.0

The Noise Curmudgeon alerts us to the horribly misguided marketing idea–because it must be the marketing department that’s behind this–that is the Nissan Canto. You see, electric cars tend to be quiet, so some sound must be engineered so that they can be heard by blind people listening for aural clues, other pedestrians, animals, etc.  Rather than engineering a traditional car engine sound for the Canto, Nissan has decided to be clever and will torment us with a “singing car.”  And by singing they mean making a variable high pitched annoying drone that will drive poeple mad.

Hear it for yourself:

Oh, that’s not so bad, you may be thinking. Then imagine a street filled with “singing” cars.

My god.

Havana mystery: Weaponized sound or ‘spooky action at a distance’?

U.S. Embassy in Havana | Photo credit: Escla licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

by David M. Sykes, Vice Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Albert Einstein never accepted quantum physics, proving that geniuses don’t know everything. One phenomenon he couldn’t explain—now known as “quantum entanglement”–he simply dismissed as “spooky action at a distance.” But it has lately (decades after Einstein’s death) been proven.

Something else that’s not understood yet is the odd case of “weaponized sound” that appears to have sickened people at the U.S. embassy in Havana, Cuba. This piece in Wired Magazine, as well as this article in The New York Times, are by far the best so far on this mysterious and unexplained situation.

If you, like we, have been pondering this, wondering if an LRAD was involved or perhaps some secret source of weaponized infrasound or ultrasound, don’t expect a definitive answer just yet. Adam Rogers, the author of the Wired piece, and Carl Zimmer, of The New York Times, dug deeper than most and even talked to some scientists (in the U.S. and Russia) to see what, in anything, anybody knows. The answer is this: it’s still a mystery, but stay tuned because they’re gradually eliminating possibilities. The most probable scenario involves a combination of ototoxic chemical exposure with some form of weaponized sound. Yes, there are many ototoxic chemicals and drugs, that is, chemicals and drugs the exposure to which can destroy your hearing, including several chemotherapy drugs.

Is this kind of lethal combo possible? Probable? Likely?

Whatever it is, it apparently is NOT an LRAD. Yes, it’s true that LRAD’s are being distributed to and used by police forces since 2009, but whatever has been going on in Havana, that’s not the answer. Stay tuned.

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.

“Health attacks” by inaudible sonic waves are real

Photo credit: Tess Watson licensed under CC BY 2.0

James Hamblin, The Atlantic, writes about the attacks on American and Canadian diplomats in Cuba in his article, “What Are Sound Weapons?” Hamblin starts his piece by describing the incidents which caused several Havana-based diplomats to suffer headaches, balance issues, and even severe hearing loss. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Hamblin notes, refered the to incidents as “health attacks.” And the AP reported that “U.S. officials concluded that the diplomats had been attacked with an advanced sonic weapon that operated outside the range of audible sound and had been deployed either inside or outside their residences.”

The weaponization of “energy waves with frequencies outside the range that the human ear can detect” is not new, writes Hamblin, and the health effects from exposure to inaudible sonic waves are real. Hamblin shares the story of residents of Kokomo, Indiana, who in 2001 experienced “annoyance, sleep disturbance, headaches, and nausea.” The U.S. National Institutes of Health investigated the matter but “couldn’t pin down the cause of the Indiana residents’ symptoms as infrasound.” The report, however, “did confirm that infrasound can cause fatigue, apathy, hearing loss, confusion, and disorientation.”

In the end, U.S. officials don’t know if Cuba is responsible or some third party, with the suggestion offered that the actor could have been “Russia, China, North Korea, Venezuela, or Iran.” But Hamblin adds that the attack is hardly sophisticated, as “[n]oise-induced hearing loss affects around one in four people,” although the source of noise is more mundane for most of us: loud concerts, shooting guns, and everyday failures to protect our hearing. Says Hamblin, “fascination with this sort of attack can be a reminder that it is worth arming ourselves in daily life against the more quotidian forms of sonic weaponry.”

The unintended consequences of (failed) diplomacy

 

U.S. Embassy in Havana, Cuba (photo: U.S. State Department)

, McClatchy, reports on the mystery surrounding a sonic device used against U.S. and Canadian diplomats stationed in Cuba that caused hearing loss. Johnson writes that it is known that the “U.S. military deploys nonlethal noise and radiation weapons to incapacitate aggressors,” like a device that “can hit you with sound that will make you not be able to stand up” or that can “literally heat up water molecules under the skin’s surface.” And, of course, “[r]esearchers have also experimented with ultrasonic and infrasonic frequencies above and below the level at which humans can hear,” which, in some cases, “can cause physical discomfort at high intensity.” “They call them brown tones,” said Vahan Simidian, the CEO of HPV Technologies Inc., a firm that makes “long-range speakers that can send sound as far as two miles.” Why do they call them brown tones? Because they “can make you sick to your stomach.” And you can guess what happens next.

But the device used in Cuba was different. How? This device caused hearing loss in those it targeted. So why did Cuba purposefully deafen the diplomats? Vince Houghton, an intelligence historian employed by the International Spy Museum, speculates that it was a run-of-the-mill harassment campaign that got out of hand. Says Houghton:

The most likely scenario to me is this was used to harass, to annoy, to kind of goof off and be, like, ‘Ha ha! Let’s make them sick to their stomach. Let’s make them dizzy.’ And then, ‘Oh crap, it went too far…’

Houghton also believes that someone else was involved in developing this weapon, because the technology would be too “resource intensive” for “cash-strapped Cuba.”

The Cuban government responded by stating that it “has never permitted, nor will permit, that Cuban territory be used for any action against accredited diplomatic officials or their families, with no exception.” Meanwhile, The Washington Post reports that “investigators were looking into the possibilities that the incidents were carried out by a third country such as Russia, possibly operating without the knowledge of Cuba’s formal chain of command.”

The only good news from this twisted tale is that the unknown sonic device was probably intended only to harass, not disable. But when we read this piece our first thought was this: what if the resources marshalled to create this and the other appalling sound-based weapons were spent instead on educating the public on how to protect their hearing or distributing ear protection to vulnerable populations? That is, why do we accept that there is always money for weapons, but so little for public health?

Thanks to Bill Young, PhD, a noise reduction advocate from Stamford, Connecticut, for the link to The Washington Post article.