Silencity

The Truth About Noise

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Yes, this is possible:

fireworks

Italian town to use silent fireworks as a way of “respecting their animals.”

We assume that noise is an inevitable part of many activities, but it doesn’t have to be.  Excite Travel writes about the town of Collecchio, in the province of Parma, Italy, where the local government has “introduced new legislation forcing citizens to use silent fireworks as a way of respecting the animals” by reducing the stress caused by noise from conventional fireworks.

Pet owners know that the sound of fireworks really disturbs their pets.  It’s only noise, the effect on pets can’t be that bad, right?  Wrong.  As Excite Travel writes:

The explosions caused by fireworks have been known to give some domestic pets heart problems, nausea, tremors, debilitating fears and light-headedness. We all know that animals have far more sensitive hearing so you won’t be surprised to read that firework displays can leave pets with “acoustic stress”.

Kudos to the town of Collecchio for showing that there are ways to enjoy traditional activities without the burden of unnecessary noise.

Top Democratic representative seeks study on effects of airplane cabin noise,

man-in-airplane-cabin

expresses concern about the long-term effects of airplane cabin noise on flight crews.  The Hill reports that Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), top Democrat on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, has written a letter to the Government Accountability Office raising concern “regarding permanent hearing loss and damage that airline personnel may suffer from by being exposed to loud noises for long periods of time.”  Representative DeFazio “expressed frustration over the lack of comprehensive data about cabin noise levels even though the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has established noise decibel limits.”  To encourage the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to act on his request, The Hill reports that DeFazio “hinted that the results of the study may influence the next long-term reauthorization of the FAA, as the agency’s current legal authority expires next September, and urged “prompt and expedited completion” of the requested report.”

We will follow this story as well as others focusing on citizen complaints about the FAA’s NextGen program.  It looks like some accountability may finally be in the offing.

 

Hope (eventually) for New Yorkers:

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To Create a Quieter City, They’re Recording the Sounds of New York.  Emily S. Rueb, The New York Times, reports on the Sounds of New York City, or Sonyc, a joint project by New York University and Ohio State University, which aims to create an aural map that “will help city agencies monitor and enforce noise pollution, and will empower citizens to assist in the process.”  Researchers from both universities “are training [their] microphones to recognize jackhammers, idling engines and street music, using technology originally developed to identify the flight calls of migrating birds.”  Ten-second snippets of audio will be collected, labeled, and categorized “using a machine-listening engine called UrbanEars.”  The researchers hope that the sensors “will eventually be smart enough to identify hundreds of sonic irritants reverberating across the city.”

The program, which is in the first phase of the five-year project, is primarily funded by a $4.6 milion grant from the National Science Foundation.  The article explains how the researchers are capturing the audio snippets, examines the problems inherent in placing the devices used to monitor noise (read: pigeon poop, among other things), and discusses the “antagonizing effects of noise.”  Rueb looks at how the data may be used to help address noise complaints, writing that eventually “an app called Urbane will allow users to interact with the data, while another app will complement 311 reporting and possibly help New Yorkers track how complaints are handled.”

One hopes the program is a success because, as Rueb tells us, the city has only 53 noise inspectors to serve all five boroughs.  It will be interesting to see if the city, armed with the program’s data, will make a serious attempt to enforce its noise ordinances.

 

The Devil’s Hair Dryer:

Quiet before the storm.....

Quiet before the storm…..

Hell is other people, with leaf blowers. David Dudley, The Atlantic City Lab, writes about “[t]he tragedy of the leaf blower,” a tool of doom that creates air and noise pollution with abandon yet is sadly beloved in the U.S.  Dudley explains that “[t]he crude little two-stroke engines used by most commercial backpack-style blowers are pollution bombs,” with a third of the gasoline spewing out, unburned, “in an aerosol mixed with oil in the exhaust.”   That aerosol mixes with the “fine-particulate crap” the blower stirs up, and blowers can exceed 100 decibels for the operator, with the sound carrying hundreds of feet away, disturbing everyone in its wake.  It’s an informative piece, but the best part is in the first paragraph where Dudley shares the story of an ex-neighbor from hell who is known around his block as: “The Asshole With the Leaf Blower.”  It’s a fun and informative read, so click the link to read the whole piece.

In his post, Dudley notes an article published days earlier by Adrian Higgins, the Washington Post’s Gardening columnist, titled: “We know you love your leaf blower, but it’s ruining the neighborhood.”  In it Higgins focuses on noise pollution created by leaf blowers, noting the odd phenomenon that noise is less irritating to its creator than to its recipient.  Higgins reaches out to Erica Walker, a doctoral student at Harvard University’s Chan School of Public Health, who explains that the reason for this is that “[r]ecipients of nuisance noise have no power over it.”  Walker, we are told, “spent a year recording noise levels at 400 locations” across Boston, where she found that the leaf blower was a major contributor to the aural assault inflicted on Bostonians throughout the city.

Why focus on leaf blowers?  Because the leaf blower is an effective distributor of unwanted sound.  Higgins writes:

In a recent paper written with Jamie Banks, of an organization named Quiet Communities in Lincoln, Mass., Walker measured the sound from a commercial-grade gasoline blower at various distances. Even from 800 feet away, the noise was above the 55-decibel threshold at which sound is considered harmful by the World Health Organization, she said. Another problem is that the machines emit a low-frequency sound that is not measured conventionally but which travels long distances and penetrates building walls.

Higgins states that most cities don’t specifically address leaf blowers in their noise ordinances, but even if they did effective enforcement of those ordinances is lacking.  Walker tells Higgins that there are two fallacies that fuel the ineffectiveness: one is the “mind-set that if you live in an urban environment, you put up with noise,” and the other is that noise is simply an annoyance.  Walker disagrees:

Cities don’t have to be cacophonous, she said, and noise isn’t just an irritant; it harms one’s health. Studies have shown that tens of millions of Americans are at risk of hypertension and heart disease from the effects of noise.

HIggins asks Walker what has to be done to make the world quieter.  She responds that “we need a fundamental shift in how we regard noise so that society sees it on the same plane as the environmental imperatives of recycling and reducing air pollution.”

We couldn’t agree more.  Click the link to Higgins’ article to read the entire thing.  It is well worth your time.

City Lab link via Antonella Radicchi.

 

 

And the world just got a little bit quieter:

Rejoice! Apple removes irritating startup chime from MacBook Pros.

We can’t help but think that the removal of any noise–even something as seemingly innocuous as the startup chime on a MacBook Pro–is a good thing.  That manufacturers insist on using sound to indicate that some act or thing was achieved really needs to end.  One hopes Apple’s move will herald similar action by other computer manufacturers until eventually one common layer of sound comes to an end.

Link via @jeaninebotta.

The deleterious effects of noise are so obvious that even the Daily Mail recognizes it (in their own special way):

stress

How noise can make you FAT, stressed and more likely to have a stroke.  Headline aside, the article is fairly straight forward and thoughtful.  Among other things, the article notes that:

According to the World Health Organisation, noise pollution is one of the most pressing threats to public health, second only to air pollution, and responsible for a range of conditions from stress and sleep problems to heart disease and strokes — it can even make us fat.

The piece highlights the known health risks of noise and suggests ways in which readers can bring peace into their daily lives.  It’s worth the read, really.

 

 

Why is Big Pharm focusing on new treatments for hearing loss and other auditory disorders?

Because they smell money, of course.  And because they sniff a potentially big money-making opportunity, the pharmaceutical industry is racing to find treatments for a host of auditory disorders.  It’s a shame there’s no money in prevention, because noise-induced hearing loss and most cases of tinnitus and hyperacusis are 100% preventable.  So if you don’t have hearing loss, tinnitus, or hyperacusis yet, save yourself some cash and limit your exposure to noise now.  Or try your luck and hope that at least one pharmaceutical company finds a cure before you experience symptoms.

 

 

Yet more evidence that noise damages health:

doc-w_-stethoscope

Negative Effects of Loud Noise on Our Bodies.  Eleni Roumeliotou, Primal Baby, writing for Mother Earth News, looks at the significant negative effects of noise.  Roumeliotou states that a “study published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives in 2004, reports that a single session of exposure to very loud noise (100 decibels) for 12 hours caused a significant increase of DNA fragmentation in the adrenal gland cells.”  Distressingly, even though “[c]ells possess sophisticated molecular tools to repair DNA breaks” within 15 minutes to two hours generally, when exposed to the single exposure in the loud noise study, “cells were unable to repair their DNA even after a day of not being exposed to noise.”

And there’s more.  Click the link above to read about the effect of noise on the cardiovascular system.

Link via Quiet Communities.

 

 

This is fascinating:

crash-photo

Mercedes-Benz E-Class will blast pink noise at you just before an accident, to protect your ears.  That’s right, in an effort to cut down on “hearing damage caused by the deafening crunch of a car crash,” Mercedes-Benz is going to “blast[] pink noise through the stereo when you’re about to hit something.”  What will the pink noise do?  It will “trigger a fascinating physical response…known as the acoustic reflex, or stapedius reflex – an involuntary muscle contraction in the middle ear that effectively dampens the vibrational energy that’s transferred to the cochlea.”  Essentially, the reflex action will reflect some of the noise from a crash back through the ear drum, thus avoiding the inner ear.  Click the link to learn more.

 

 

 

Citizens fight back against report that minimizes complaints about jet noise

planeJet Noise Is No Joke For Residents Burned By Report About Airport Complaints.  WAMU, American University Radio, reports that “[h]omeowners along the Potomac River in D.C., Virginia, and Maryland are angrily responding to a report claiming that a ‘small, frustrated minority of citizens is affecting aviation policy’ by swamping the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority with thousands of complaints about flights leaving Reagan National Airport in Arlington.”  The report stated that one resident was responsible for the lion’s share of the complaints, implying that jet noise was not a significant issue to other residents in affected areas.  WAMU found another story when they went out to those neighborhoods to speak to residents who deal with a constant barrage of jet engine noise:

To folks whose days and nights are filled with the sound of jet engines overhead, the Mercatus Center report failed to capture the extent of the problem. They say the proof that noise pollution impacts more than a “small, frustrated minority of citizens” is that MWAA formed a working group consisting of people from neighborhoods across the region, and the FAA currently is working with civic associations and neighborhood representatives to potentially alter flight paths to mitigate noise.

Long and short, the reason for the complaints is the FAA’s new NextGen program, “which uses satellite-based navigation to assign planes to direct routes to save fuel and time.”  The program was implemented throughout 2015 in the Washington metropolitan area, giving rise to a spike in complaints.  And it’s not just an issue in D.C.  NextGen has created problems throughout the country, spurring residents to ban together to fight back against plane noise exacerbated by NextGen.