Silencity

The Truth About Noise

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Thinking about downloading a sound measurement app?

Read this National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) review first:  So How Accurate Are These Smartphone Sound Measurement Apps?

Scroll to the end of the blog post for a November 2016 update to NIOSH’s initial 2013 study.

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.

Think you’re improving your health by going to a spinning class? Think again:

Study says loud music played during classes may contribute to hearing loss.  , Boston Magazine, reports on a Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary study that found that “the speaker-shaking beats at your local studio may contribute to hearing loss over time.”  According to Duchame, researchers using a smartphone app called SoundMeter Pro found that “[t]he average noise exposure in a single 45-minute cycling class…was more than eight times higher than the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health’s (NIOSH) recommendations for an entire eight-hour work day.”  Duchame notes with alarm “past hypotheses that exercise compounds noise-induced hearing damage,” adding that “[i]nstructors and repeat class attendees, logically, are at highest risk.”

Thanks to @QuietEdinburgh for the link.

The scourge that is car alarms

In “The Alarming Truth,” Ilana E. Strauss, The Atlantic, looks at the confusing ubiquity of car alarms.  “Car alarms don’t deter criminals, and they’re a public nuisance,” she notes, so “[w]hy are they still so common?  Why indeed.

Car alarms “do very little of what they’re intended to do,” says Strauss, adding that ,”[i]f two analyses done in the 1990s still hold, 95 to 99 percent of all car-alarm triggerings are literally false alarms.”  And then there are the very real costs.  Strauss writes:

Worse, car alarms may be affecting the health of the people around them when they go off. A report from Transportation Alternatives, a bicycle-advocacy organization, estimated that New York’s car alarms lead to about $400 to $500 million per year in “public-health costs, lost productivity, decreased property value, and diminished quality of life.” An estimate from an organization whose stated goal is “to reclaim New York City’s streets from the automobile” should be taken with a grain of salt, but the point still stands that car-alarm sounds are stress-inducing and sleep-interrupting.

As anyone awoken at 4:00 a.m. by a yowling alarm that will not stop knows, once the alarm is finally stopped–usually after a minute that feels like much more–returning to sleep is near impossible.  And for what?  According the Strauss, the answer is “nothing.”  The good news? Very few news cars come with alarms, but some owners still buy them in the after market.  Click the link above to read the whole thing.

Thank to @jeaninebotta for the link.

New Umbrella Organization Takes Aim at Noise

On October 1, 2016, members of nine scientific, medical, and legal organizations launched a national umbrella anti-noise group, The Quiet Coalition (TQC), hosted by the nonprofit organization Quiet Communities, to advocate for a quieter world. TQC brings together a diverse group of organizations and individuals, each with a unique focus or interest, in the fight against noise. It brings medical, scientific, legal, and other specialized knowledge to the public policy process to advocate for all Americans to make our world quieter, more sustainable, and livable. On December 7th, TQC’s website went live.

TQC recognizes that noise is like secondhand smoke, in that it is both a nuisance and a health hazard. Both environmental noise and secondhand smoke involuntarily expose large segments of the public to harmful conditions, increasing their risk of disease.  And decades of research show conclusively that excessive environmental noise adversely affects health, learning, productivity, and the environment.

Why have decision makers been so slow to regulate noise? According to a newly published editorial in the American Journal of Public Health by Daniel Fink, MD, Founding Chair of the TQC, the answer lies in public policy.  “Although noise was known to be a health hazard, it was treated as an environmental pollutant…with federal noise control activities assigned to the EPA.” These noise control activities were never adequately funded or supported, and federal and local health agencies were left with no meaningful responsibility. As a result, the issue has remained under the radar. TQC intends to change this now.

“The scientific evidence is incontrovertible: noise causes hearing loss and other health problems. We have a responsibility to speak up just as experts did when the dangers of smoking became known,” says Fink. Fink adds that “through recent discoveries, the mechanisms by which noise damages auditory cells, the nervous system, and the cardiovascular system are becoming clear.”  TQC Program Director Jamie Banks, PhD, notes that “[p]ublic health policy to protect the nation’s health from environmental noise is long overdue,” and declares that, “[TQC] will provide decision makers with the scientific evidence needed to make informed policy decisions.”

To learn more about TQC and it’s mission to protect the public from noise, visit the TQC website.

 

What Is A Safe Noise Level For The Public?

Dr. Daniel Fink, Founding Board Chair of The Quiet Coalition, explains that there are three safe noise levels, depending on which adverse impact of noise you want to avoid. It’s much lower than you think.  Click here to learn more!

 

Seattle’s construction noise is out of control —

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

and deadly.  and , writing for Crosscut, examine Seattle’s out-of-date noise code and how explosive growth means that “residents are being exposed to some of the most chronically high noise levels from construction of any city in the nation.”  Comparing Seattle’s noise code to 33 other cities, the authors find, among other things, that “only Seattle and Houston allow construction to continue as late as 10 p.m., on any day of the week.”  Construction noise day and night takes its toll, but what exactly is that toll?  Brenowitz and Rubel write that, “[b]eyond the obvious annoyance of noise, chronic exposure has detrimental health effects, including temporary and permanent hearing loss, increased blood pressure, and increased risk of stroke.”  Click the first link to read more.

Thanks to Todd Wildermuth for the link.

Once you teach a computer to see,

Shhhh.  It can hear you.

Shhhh. It can hear you.

it can teach itself to hear.  MIT’s computer science department, “using software image-recognition to automate sound recognition,” found that “once software can use video analysis to decide what’s going on in a clip, it can then use that understanding to label the sounds in the clip, and thus accumulate a model for understanding sound, without a human having to label videos first for training purposes.”  And humans are rendered even more useless than before.

Link via @BoingBoing.

Headphones marketed as safe for children aren’t!

kid-wearing-headphones

By Daniel Fink, M.D.

A new analysis on “the best kids’ headphones” by The Wirecutter, a product recommendations website owned by The New York Times, as reported in the New York Times science section, found that headphones marketed as “safe” for children’s hearing were louder than advertised. The Times’ article did not adequately reflect the extensive and thoughtful analysis by The Wirecutter’s reviewers, Lauren Dragan and Brent Butterworth. Their review deserves to be read (and reread) in its entirety, as it is without doubt the most complete and scientifically sound review about any noise topic that I have seen in the popular media.

The Wirecutter review mentions that two problems with headphones marketed as “safe for children”: (1) that the headphones are louder than they claim to be, and (2) that manufacturers are using an industrial-strength occupational noise exposure level as a safe noise level for children. The review doesn’t emphasize the latter point enough.

I discuss the origin of the 85 decibel noise exposure standard in detail in an editorial in the January 2017 issue of The American Journal of Public Health. The 85 decibel volume level at issue was developed by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) to protect workers’ hearing. It comes with strict time limits–an 8-hour day, 240 days a year, for a 40-year work career–and even then does not protect all workers from hearing loss. NIOSH discussed the difference between an occupational noise standard and a safe noise level for the public earlier this year in a blog post titled, “Understanding Noise Exposure Limits: Occupational vs. General Environmental Noise.” The NIOSH post makes it very clear that 85 decibels is not a safe noise level for the public, and it certainly is not safe for toddlers or children who may be listening to music or watching videos for more than 7 hours a day, every day. In addition, children, and especially teens, are exposed to other loud noise sources–action movies, sports event, etc.–so their total noise dose likely approaches dangerous levels.

Children’s ears may be more sensitive to noise than adult ears. First, there is no doubt that an 85 decibel headphone speaker is closer to a child’s eardrum because the external auditory canal is shorter in children than adults. (Noise follows the inverse square law, so the closer a noise source is to the ear the louder it is.) Second, it’s unlikely that children will limit their listening to just 240 days a year, on average they will live for almost 80 years, and in the course of their lifetimes they will undoubtedly be exposed to more noise, in gyms, parties, rock concerts, sports events, and the like. A child’s delicate ears have to last her a whole lifetime.

Studies of auditory acuity in so-called primitive populations show that significant hearing loss in old age is not inevitable. These studies are not available online, so I can’t provide links, but the classic studies were done in the 1960’s by Rosen and colleagues in the Mabaan population in the Sudan, and by Dickson and colleagues in the Kalahari Bushmen. Rosen found that the Mabaan could carry on a conversation at normal speech volumes while facing away from each other at a distance of 100 yards. Dickson wrote that the Bushmen could hear an airplane 70 miles away. As noted in The Wirecutter review, acute hearing was a matter of life or death for our primitive ancestors, either to find food or to avoid being a predator’s meal. The Rosen and Dickson studies suggest that hearing loss so commonly seen in the U.S. is likely not part of normal part of normal physiological aging, but rather is noise-induced hearing loss–i.e., the result of a lifetime’s exposure to excessive noise. If one starts listening to 85 decibel sound at age 3, hearing loss and hearing aids may be inevitable–and at an earlier age than in the past.

What can be done to protect children’s hearing from dangerous consumer products marketed to them? The federal agencies charged with protecting the public should do their jobs. The Federal Trade Commission should take enforcement action on the grounds of false advertising against vendors claiming that headphones with the 85 decibel volume limit are safe for children. They may be safer than headphones without a volume limit, but they are by no means safe, especially without recommendations for time limits on use. The Consumer Product Safety Commission should require warning labels on headphones, earbuds, and personal music players, stating “LOUD MUSIC CAUSES DEAFNESS!” The pediatric community should do more to educate parents about the dangers of noise for children. And parents must step up and demand truly safe products for their children or deny their children access to products that will destroy their hearing.

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.

New research shows reason why it’s easier to work in a coffee shop than in an open office

Startup Stock Photos

Photo Credit: Startup Stock Photos

And the short answer is that conversation and music is more distracting than meaningless noise.  Oliver Staley, writing for Quartz, reports on a study by Takahiro Tamesue, a sound engineer at the University of Yamaguchi, in which research subjects were asked to complete “tasks on computers, like counting the number of times an image flashed, while listening to both unintelligible noise and human speech.”  Tamesue concluded that “[t]he more meaningful noises, like conversations, were the most annoying, and proved to be the most distracting.”  That is, “meaningful noise” leads to “a greater decline in work performance.”

Can someone remind us again why open plan offices are so super awesome?

Thanks to Charles Shamoon for the link.