Silencity

The Truth About Noise

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Experimental device may cancel noise entering through windows

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

David Waldstein, the New York Times, writes about an experimental device that cancels noise that enters open windows. Waldstein notes that “[w]ith any sound, the best way to reduce it is at the source,” noting that the window is often the source of noise “because most noise enters a room that way.” He then introduces us to the device, developed by researchers in Singapore, that can be placed in a window to reduce incoming sounds.

While individuals living with traffic noises would probably welcome windows that could reduce sounds by ten decibels, as the article claims, my guess is they would advocate for less noise coming from the true sources: aircraft and road traffic. These same people still want to enjoy the outside parts of their homes as well as the interior.

The experimental device borrows from techniques used in noise-canceling headphones. Small speakers are placed in an opened window that emit sound waves that correspond to incoming sounds, which they then neutralize. Noise cancellation can be done for the sounds from overhead planes and traffic, but not for all possible incoming sounds, like firecrackers, car horns, or loud conversations. To include a broader range of sound frequencies would require larger speakers and larger windows.

An added benefit of the device, the researchers claim, is that the window can remain open. Because the city of Singapore doesn’t experience cold weather, since people want  to reduce their use of air conditioners, this is most desirable. But how would this work out in cities that have to keep their windows closed during the colder months of the year? The researchers do point out that their work is still in an experimental stage and that there are issues that they have to address before implementing their device in field studies.

Let me add that one complaint that has been voiced is that the device is not that attractive. But, as Waldstein concludes, “if it can neutralize the sound of the jet taking off from Runway 13 at LaGuardia, that is (soft) music to the ear.” Well, at least during the warmer months in New York City.

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.

People in PA fed up with fireworks

Photo credit: Steve Morgan licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Reading this report from WNEP television about Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania residents who have had enough of fireworks displayed, I learned that Wilkes-Barre is called the Diamond City. Who knew? Wilkes-Barre got that nickname in the 19th century, when it was a center of anthracite coal mining. But now, apparently, Wilkes-Barre is known for something else.

Fireworks have long been available in Pennsylvania, from where they are often illegally imported into communities where they are banned, especially New York City. In 2017, Act 43 repealed and replaced the Fireworks Act of 1939, allowing adults to buy and set off Roman candles, bottle rockets, and firecrackers.

This year’s July 4th celebration in Wilkes-Barre started early and continued after the holiday ended. Local police received more than 300 noise complaints. Community groups and the mayor are fed up, and are moving to have Act 43 repealed.

Kudos to the community groups and Wilkes-Barre’s mayor. Repealing Act 43 won’t just benefit the citizens of Pennsylvania, New Yorkers would be pleased to see fireworks sanity restored there, 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.

Pandemic delivers relief from aircraft noise to Minneapolis-St. Paul

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

As a researcher, I am well aware of how important it is to conduct studies in natural settings, not just in laboratories. A recent article by Janet Moore, Star Tribune, addresses how the COVID-19 pandemic created a natural setting observation where human reactions to aircraft noise before the onset of the pandemic could be compared with their reactions during the outbreak and then after things got back to “somewhat normal.”

Complaints related to noisy aircraft landings and departures at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport have been a constant reminder of how disturbing aircraft noise has been to the adjacent communities. This Airport has had “an uneasy, and sometimes, litigious relationship with its neighbors” for many years. In response, the Metropolitan Airports Commission (which owns and operates the Airport) has spent “nearly a half-billion dollars for building improvements for about 15,000 houses, apartments and schools to mitigate the noise.” Yet, noise complaints continued to be filed against the airport.

Then came the pandemic. The noise complaints fell considerably. With so many fewer planes, there was much less noise. People living near the airport were able to enjoy their backyard barbecues and breezes through open windows during the nighttime. One resident said, “I thought I’d die and had gone to heaven, it was so lovely.” Then the planes started coming back and this same resident noticed that the flights over the past month “are right back where they were” before the pandemic. Yes, noise complaints have gone up as well, according to the data collected.

With the airlines claiming that it is still too soon to say that passenger volume has returned to pre-pandemic levels, the noise levels at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport may still be lower than they were. Yet, there has been an increase in UPS and FedEx flights which could add to noise complaints. And more people are working from home, which could lead to increased noise complaints with people hearing daytime flights over their heads. It has also been conjectured that residents having experienced the quiet without the aircraft noise may be even more upset with the return of the noise and file even more complaints.

As I stated at the beginning of this writing, the pandemic has opened up the opportunity to study people’s reactions to an environment with less and more intrusive noise. More flights—more complaints; fewer flights—less complaints. Noise does intrude on the lives of people!

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.

More about fireworks and hearing loss

Photo credit: ViTalko from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

WTOP is an all-news radio station in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area. They recently ran this report on fireworks and hearing loss, citing the president of the American Academy of Audiology.

July 4th may be past, but according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission almost 200 people go to emergency rooms with injuries from fireworks every day in July.

Fireworks are dangerous for the ears, as well as for the fingers and eyes. The impulsive noise from fireworks can cause permanent hearing loss after only one exposure.

I agree with most fire chiefs and emergency room physicians and think it’s best to leave fireworks displays to professionals.

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.

Chemical earmuffs to prevent hearing loss?

Photo credit: Ben Dracup licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised when researchers try to develop a more complicated way of doing something that can already be done much more easily and much more cheaply. This article in The Hearing Journal reports research on chemicals that appear to prevent noise-induced hearing loss in an experimental animal model. The hope is that in the future chemicals can be developed that when taken by humans will prevent hearing loss after noise exposure.

Such a chemical might be helpful for those who can’t avoid loud noise, e.g., soldiers or police officers, or perhaps for those inadvertently exposed to loud noise.

For the rest of us, that may or may not ever come to fruition. But a much easier and cheaper way to prevent noise-induced hearing loss already exists. What is it? Simply this: Avoid exposure to loud noise, and if that can’t be done, use hearing protection like earplugs or earmuffs!

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.

Harmful transit noise can be reduced

Photo credit: William Davies has dedicated this photo into the public domain

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

I recently learned about another group of people being subjected to the harsh and dangerous noises emitted from a railway. In this case it is the Squamish Nation community in Vancouver whose lives are being disrupted by engine noise, engines idling in the middle of the night and early in the morning, and 100 decibel whistle blows at night at a protected crossing. In response to these complaints, the Canadian National Railway has commented that “there will always be some noise associated with operations.” The Railway goes on to say that it has made efforts to minimize their operations.

First, let me note the research that has demonstrated that noise is harmful to health and well-being and this includes railroad noise. Second, having been a consultant to the New York City Transit Authority on rail noise and knowledgeable about the underlying causes of rail noise, I feel comfortable in wondering whether the Canadian Railway has done everything it could to lessen its system noise. This is underscored by the railway simply saying efforts have been made to lessen noise without citing examples. I would also venture to assume that the railway might believe that reducing noise could be costly. In fact, by reducing noise the New York City Transit Authority actually saved money. The building of less noisy traction motors for its trains resulted in a more efficient motor that would last longer and smoothing the rails didn’t just lessen noise, it placed less stress on the city’s aging structure where stress can lead to increased breakdowns.

It has been over forty years since my first transit noise study which found that children in classrooms exposed to passing elevated train noise had lower reading scores. Yes, we were able to remedy the noise of the passing trains and the children’s learning improved. Now all these years later, I still find that individuals are being exposed to harmful transit noise and the agency in charge appears to accept the idea that the people living near the noise have to learn to live with it.

Thanks to the Noise Curmudgeon for the story link.

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.

Quiet Salish Sea lets scientists study endangered killer whales

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

When I saw this article about scientists studying killer whales in the Salish Sea, the first question I had was, “Where is the Salish Sea?” A quick online search revealed that it’s the complex set of waterways near Canada’s Vancouver Island, including the Strait of Juan de Fuca, Puget Sound, and the Strait of Georga and Johnstone Strait separating the island from the mainland. Increasing noise levels have been harming killer whales there, who rely on sound for communication and for echolocating food.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, however, there has been a 30% decrease in commercial shipping traffic into the Port of Vancouver from China. Decreases in other marine traffic have led to a noise reduction of about 75%.

The Salish Sea is murky due to sediments carried from the Simon Fraser River. Killer whales can see 5-10 meters in the water, but can find prey at greater distances and can communicate with others in their pod for kilometers.

Killer whales are also very social and are in almost constant communication with other members of their pods. But shipping noise, which has been doubling almost every decade for three or four decades, interferes with their communication.

We hope the COVID-19 lockdown’s quiet will allow scientists to learn more about killer whales, and that when marine traffic resumes, steps will be taken to make the waters quieter than they have been.

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.

Do protestors have the right to make too much noise?

Photo credit: Fibonacci Blue licensed under CC BY 2.0

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

Thank you Noise Curmudgeon for bringing our attention to this story about Planned Parenthood filing suit against noisy protestors. When ordinances prohibiting excessive noise are passed, citizens often complain that there is a lack of enforcement and the intrusive noises continue to impact on their health and well-being. This appears to be the case in Spokane where Planned Parenthood claims that demonstrators outside their health clinic engage in hourlong sessions of loud singing and music playing without any noise violations being issued to halt this behavior. The response from the police is that there were no grounds to issue violations. Thus, Planned Parenthood initiated legal action against the anti-abortion protesters who have been conducting religious services outside the health clinic.

Apparently, this legal action in Spokane is not the first involving a dispute centered on the rights of abortion protestors to engage in loud activities in front of health clinics. A noise law protecting an abortion clinic survived a challenge in West Palm Beach, Florida in 2013. Similarly, anti-abortion protesters in Jackson City, Mississippi were prevented from demonstrating loudly near a Jackson Women’s Health Organization. And Charlotte, North Carolina also passed a law in 2019 creating a buffer zone in front of medical facilities, including anti-abortion clinics, and as result, curtailed loud protests near these clinics.

One needs to understand that outside noises may intrude on doctors carrying out medical procedures as well as patients recovering from these procedures and this would be true of hospital facilities in general, not just abortion clinics. Thus, one can readily understand why anti-noise ordinances limiting loud demonstrations near health facilities are necessary. Hospital areas have long employed quiet zones around them and enforcing such zones does not go against the right to free speech.

Thus, recognizing that the city’s noise limits might hold the gatherings outside the Spokane health clinic illegal, a pastor at Covenant Church and the leader of the protestors stated that “[t]hey can keep us quiet with the sound ordinance, but they can’t stop us. So if we got to sing quiet, we’ll sing quiet.”

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.

The CDC says “Protect your hearing”

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

The National Center for Environmental Health at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises everyone to protect his or hearing during July, which is Fireworks Safety Month:

Of course, we agree.

We only have two ears, and unlike our knees, they can’t be replaced.

I’ll go one step further and recommend that fireworks on July 4th be left to professionals and not used at home. Every year, people lose fingers or eyes because they or someone who loves them sets off fireworks at home, with disastrous consequences.

Please stay safe this fireworks season and protect your ears, too.

Thanks to the CDC for helping educate Americans about how to protect our auditory health.

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.