Silencity

The Truth About Noise

Latest Posts

Noise complaints on the rise in NYC

Photo credit: Dan Nguyen licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

by Arline L. Bronzaft, Ph.D., Board of Directors, GrowNYC, and Co-founder, The Quiet Coalition

New York City, the city that has long been known to be noisy, is even noisier, according to an article by Shaye Weaver. Weaver writes that since February of this year, noise complaints in the city have increased “an astonishing 279 percent.” Firework noise was the overwhelming complaint in June, but complaints about loud music and parties led the list overall. The Bronx had the most complaints, with Staten Island registering the fewest.

Weaver states that “2020 has been a year like no other.” The pandemic has indeed changed the city and the lives of the residents in this city as well as people worldwide, in many ways, and 2020 will be known from now on as the “Year of the Pandemic.”

Weaver’s article doesn’t mention how the New York agencies that deal with noise complaints, mainly the Department of Environmental Protection and the police department, have been responding to the 311 noise complaint calls that have been directed to them. As someone who hears from New Yorkers who have not had their noise complaints resolved, I can say that I have had increased calls about noise in communities. My callers have reported to me that loud parties are being held near their homes and apartment buildings and there has been no interest from police or public officials to address their complaints. I have also been hearing from individuals who are organizing groups in their areas to give them a stronger voice when they approach public officials and community boards, and I have offered advice and asked to be kept informed about the activities to lessen the din.

I thank Weaver for her timely article and hope that she would do a follow-up focusing on the agencies responsible for addressing noise to ask how they are dealing with this large increase in noise complaints. We have laws on the books that have been written to curtail noise but unless they are enforced, they have little, if any, value.

Dr. Arline Bronzaft is a researcher, writer, and consultant on the adverse effects of noise on mental and physical health. She is co-author of “Why Noise Matters,” author of “Listen to the Raindrops” (children’s book illustrated by Steven Parton), and has written extensively about noise in books, encyclopedias, academic journals, and the popular press.  In addition, she is a Professor Emerita of the City University of New York and Board member of GrowNYC.

Beluga whales sing better in a quiet ocean

Photo credit: Diliff licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

I first saw beluga whales in the aquarium in Vancouver, Canada, and then last year in the wild in Canadian arctic waters. They are marvelous creatures, with a bulbous head that helps them vocalize and hear the vocalizations of other belugas.

A National Geographic television show discusses research showing that belugas sing better in quieter oceans.

For belugas, noise from ship motors is like ambient noise in a too-noisy restaurant. It makes conversation difficult.

Quiet is better for both animals and people.

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.

How to deal with noisy neighbors during COVID

Photo credit: Adrian Black licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

by Arline L. Bronzaft, Ph.D., Board of Directors, GrowNYC, and Co-founder, The Quiet Coalition

The subtitle of Kelsey Mulvey’s article in Real Simple on how to deal with noisy neighbors rang out to me: “Put the peace back in peace and quiet.” Noisy neighbors have long been a problem for people living in both private homes and apartment dwellings, but Mulvey notes that the stress of working from home during the pandemic may increase one’s need for greater quiet in the evening when one wants to relax. So how do we maintain the peace in an effort to seek quiet?

Mulvey’s article, based on advice from Erik Wheeler, a mediator at Accord Mediation in Vermont, focuses on how people can deal with noisy neighbors at a time when they are “on edge” and in need of advice that will not result in a screaming match or worse. He stresses that the individual making the noise may not be aware that sounds from their living space is intruding on a neighbor nearby, the person bothered by the sound must be ready to explain why some quiet is needed, and he or she must speak in a voice that is friendly and polite. Remember, Wheeler advises, have a conversation with your neighbor, not a confrontation. In New York City, some managing agents and landlords have sent out memos to dwellers urging them to make less noise during these difficult times which would facilitate requests to neighbors to “tone it down.”

I would also like to point out that the pandemic has increased the likelihood that neighbors working from home will experience noises from neighbors during the day that they had not heard before because they were at their workplaces. Then the pandemic came and those daytime noises, e.g. very young children running around and playing, were being heard for the first time. That is, there is a need to explain to neighbors that sounds from their dwellings are making it difficult to work.

On the other hand, people who are working from home for the first time have to realize that sounds they are now hearing during the day did not intrude on others before this pandemic. Now, their neighbors are being asked to alter established patterns of behaviors, and the behavior of their children. This will take even more understanding on the complainant’s part as well as patience.

Dr. Arline Bronzaft is a researcher, writer, and consultant on the adverse effects of noise on mental and physical health. She is co-author of “Why Noise Matters,” author of “Listen to the Raindrops” (children’s book illustrated by Steven Parton), and has written extensively about noise in books, encyclopedias, academic journals, and the popular press.  In addition, she is a Professor Emerita of the City University of New York and Board member of GrowNYC.

Leaf blowers used to disperse tear gas in Portland

Photo credit: Browning031 has dedicated this photo to the public domain

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This article in Truthout reports that members of the PDX Dad Pod are using leaf blowers to disperse tear gas fired by unidentified alleged federal agents in Portland, Oregon. PDX is the three-letter airport code for Portland.

Sounds like the PDX Dad Pod found the best and highest use for leaf blowers!

I hope the Portland dads are using safe, quiet, easy to use battery-powered leaf blowers, which are now available online and in the big box, do-it-yourself stores, too. And I hope they are handing out ear plugs, too!

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.

Age-related hearing loss is almost certainly noise induced

Photo credit: Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Hearing loss in old age is often called age-related hearing loss or presbycusis. This implies that hearing loss is part of normal aging, just like the need for bifocals called presbyopia. This article in the Society for Neuroscience’s journal reports that what is commonly called age-related hearing loss is really hair cell loss, indicative of auditory damage caused by noise

That was my conclusion based on a literature review, presented at the 12th Congress of the International Commission on the Biological Effects of Noise in Zurich in 2017.

Another recent report, this time in The Conversation, discusses research in fruit flies that may shed light on what the author calls age-related hearing loss. I don’t know how much noise fruit flies are exposed to–laboratory facilities are not quiet–but I suspect that the effects of whatever molecular changes occur in human ears with aging are compounded by cumulative noise exposure over one’s lifetime

Our ears are like our eye and our knees–we only have two of each. We don’t stare into the sun. We wear sunglasses when outdoors in bright light. In fact, sun exposure causes cataracts. We try not to injure our knees, although these can be surgically replaced.

And we need to protect our ears so they last us a lifetime.

Avoiding noise-induced hearing loss is simple: avoid exposure to loud noise, and if one can’t avoid that, use hearing protection.

Because if a noise 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.

Headphone use causes hearing loss

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This report from the Sydney Morning Herald discusses headphone use causing hearing loss. It uses a term I hadn’t heard before–“headphone culture”–to describe the ubiquitous use of personal audio systems to provide a continuous soundtrack for daily life. There is mounting evidence that noise exposure in everyday life is loud enough to cause hearing loss in a majority of urban dwellers, and that exposure is exacerbated by using headphones or earbuds to listen to music or podcasts for hours a day.

The only quibble I have with the article is that it cites the occupational noise exposure levels of 80 or 85 decibels as being the safe sound threshold. This just isn’t true. Noise exposure levels that don’t even protect all exposed workers from noise-induced hearing loss certainly aren’t safe for the public!

The problem with listening to a personal audio device using headphones or earbuds is that to overcome ambient noise so one can hear what one is listening to, as when walking down the street or riding a bus or subway to work, the volume has to be turned up to dangerously loud levels.

For parents, the problem with children using headphones so they can listen to music or watch a video without disturbing others is that the parents can’t monitor the sound level or what their children are listening to.

The article discusses safer headphones with a volume limit, but my conclusion is that listening to music or podcasts or audiobooks using headphones or earbuds is as bad for the ears as smoking is for the lungs and heart.

Most volume limiting headphones use the occupational 85 decibel recommended exposure level as the volume limit and that simply won’t prevent hearing loss.

There is no safe cigarette, and headphones or earbuds with a volume limit may be safer than those without a volume limit, but they are certainly not safe.

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.

 

The urban soundscape during COVID

Photo credit: Life Matters from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This thoughtful essay from Kate Wagner, writing for The Atlantic, discusses the push-pull forces affecting the urban soundscape. Wagner lives in Washington, D.C. She contrasts the quiet of her neighborhood during the COVID-19 lockdown with the noise of a Black Lives Matter demonstration near the White House.

With a background in acoustics, she had measured sounds a while ago. She noted a 6 decibel decrease in daytime noise. It was as quiet during the day as it had been at 2 a.m. She then goes on to discuss the tension between the desire of many for urban quiet, so they can hear the birds and not be woken from sleep, with the needs of commuters, delivery workers, etc., and juxtaposed with understanding the need for noise during demonstrations.

I am aware of research showing that the effects of urban noise fall disproportionately on poor populations and on people of color, but hadn’t thought about the inescapable fact that these impacts are not random, but are the end result of decades of government policy decisions. As Wagner notes, noise is stressful and causes adverse health effects.

We can hope that one of the outcomes of the current social turmoil will be a quieter, more peaceful, and more equitable world for all.

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.

Lockdown quiet a boon for Australian seismologists

Photo credit: Kate Trifo from Pexels

by Arline L. Bronzaft, Ph.D., Board of Directors, GrowNYC, and Co-founder, The Quiet Coalition

The pandemic had changed human behavior worldwide in that many people are now working from home, cancelling plans for travel, limiting their trips to stores and restricting their shopping, and communicating with family and friends largely through phone conversations, online video chats, and emails. Although there has been more activity lately, the changes in human activity during the pandemic has resulted in cleaner air and a quieter environment. And in Australia, this less noisy environment has provided “a boon for earthquake scientists,” as reported Meghan S. Miller and Louis Moresi in The Conversation.

In Australia, seismometers maintained by school students, referred to as “our next generation of geophysicists,” have reflected the change in school and schoolyard sounds during the pandemic. The schools that were closed down saw the disappearance of the usual sounds from students and teachers. By contrast, at one school which remained open, the seismometer reported the sounds that were commonly associated with schools. Then when restrictions were eased and schools were reopened, the noise levels “were back to ‘normal” except for what is usually observed for Saturday morning sports.” Sporting events did not return. That groups of students were keeping track of sound levels impacted by the pandemic is impressive and I believe they will put the information they have gathered to good use.

The article continues, describing how the quieter environment in Australian cities due to the pandemic also has allowed for the study of the occurrence of smaller earthquakes in certain areas that would have been “drowned out by the traditional background noise.” These observations are valuable to the scientists who can now use such data to determine potential “seismic hazards.”

If queried, I am certain that most people, if not all, would have opted for a world without this horrific pandemic that has taken many lives, exposed people to much pain and suffering, and cost so many people their jobs and livelihood. But what this article is pointing to are scientific observations this pandemic permitted that in the long run could protect our planet.

Dr. Arline Bronzaft is a researcher, writer, and consultant on the adverse effects of noise on mental and physical health. She is co-author of “Why Noise Matters,” author of “Listen to the Raindrops” (children’s book illustrated by Steven Parton), and has written extensively about noise in books, encyclopedias, academic journals, and the popular press.  In addition, she is a Professor Emerita of the City University of New York and Board member of GrowNYC.

Early signs of hearing damage seen in young concert goers

Photo credit: Thibault Trillet from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This report in The Conversation, a UK website, discusses research showing that young adults who regularly attend loud clubs and rock concerts have evidence of hearing loss. The hearing loss found falls into the “hidden hearing loss” category, so-called because it is not detected by standard hearing tests (“pure tone audiometry”), but only by techniques currently used only in research. These tests found subtle hearing loss and decreases in auditory signals sent to the brain. There were equal amounts of damage in musicians and non-musicians alike. It looks like all the young adults had too much noise exposure.

Hidden hearing loss is now thought to be the cause of the “speech in noise” problem, where middle-aged and older adults have difficulty following one conversation among many in a noisy environment. That’s a complex task for the ear and the brain, requiring lots of auditory information to be processed centrally. When the ear and brain are damaged, that doesn’t happen.

The only quibble I have with The Conversation’s report is that the authors make the common mistake of citing occupational noise exposure levels when talking about noise exposure in the public. Occupational noise exposure limits don’t protect workers from noise-induced hearing loss, and the UK’s 85 decibel exposure limit cited is certainly not safe for hearing.

The only noise exposure level that prevents hearing loss is a daily average of 70 decibels, which is much less noise than most urban dwellers around the world get every day.

Prevention of noise-induced hearing loss–hidden or not–is simple: avoid loud noise exposure and use hearing protection if you can’t.

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.

How loud noise affects your health

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This article, online and in the print version of Prevention magazine, discusses noise pollution and how loud noise can affect health. Loud noise causes auditory problems–hearing loss, tinnitus, and hyperacusis–but also has less known non-auditory health effects as well. These include sleep disturbances, hypertension, obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease, leading to increased mortality.

It’s relatively easy to protect one’s ears from auditory damage: avoid loud noise or use hearing protection if one can’t.

Protecting populations from the non-auditory health effects of noise will take concerted political effort to get legislation requiring quieter planes, vehicles, and trains passed and enforced.

But I believe if enough people complain to enough elected officials, a quieter world is possible.

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.