Silencity

The Truth About Noise

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Are we deafening our children?

Photo credit: M Pincus licesned under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This review of headphones designed for toddlers and children states that the headphones have “a toddler-safe 75 decibel maximum, a hearing-health friendly 85 decibel maximum, and a louder 94 decibel maximum in-flight mode.” The reviewer goes on to state, “[w]e highly recommend that parents set the volume no louder than the 85 decibel mode for optimal hearing safety.” These statements document a complete misunderstanding of the dangers of loud noise for hearing and of children’s health. These headphones may be safer for children’s hearing than headphones without volume limits, which can put out 100-110 decibels (dB), but they are certainly not safe for children’s hearing.

To my knowledge, there are no studies of noise exposure and hearing loss in children. But children are not small adults, and noise exposure standards derived from studies on adults cannot be applied to them.

The 85 dB standard for safe listening is derived from the 85 A-weighted (dbA)* recommended exposure level for occupational noise. It is not a safe noise exposure for the public. The only evidence-based safe noise exposure limit to prevent hearing loss is a time-weighted average of 70 decibels for a day, and even that is probably too much noise exposure to prevent noise-induced hearing loss.

Let me state my thoughts as clearly as I can: A-weighted decibels typically measure 5-7 decibels lower than unweighted decibels. The 85 dBA noise exposure standard does not protect all exposed workers from occupational hearing loss over a 40-year work career, even with provision of hearing protection devices, strict monitoring, time limits for exposure, and regular audiograms, backed up by OSHA inspections and workers compensation law. Noise loud enough to deafen factory workers or heavy equipment operators over a 40-year career just isn’t safe for a little toddler’s delicate ears, which must last a whole lifetime, into her or his 80s or 90s.

The World Health Organization recommends only one hour exposure to 85 dBA noise because one hour at 85 dBA averages out to 70 dB for the day, even if there is zero noise for the other 23 hours, which is impossible.

In 2018, I was able to get the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority to take action agains Amazon because it was falsely advertising that headphones using the 85 dB volume limit were safe for children’s hearing. The Federal Trade Commission’s Division of Advertising Practices has declined to take enforcement action here, and the Consumer Product Safety Commission declined a request to require warning labels about possible auditory damage on headphones and personal music players. And the American Association of Pediatrics has also declined to issue advice for parents about noise exposure as strong as its recommendations against sun exposure.

Am I falsely alarmed? I don’t think so. A Dutch study in 2018 showed that children age 9-11 who used headphones already had signs of auditory damage, compared to those who didn’t.

Besides, children should be talking with other children, or with parents, grandparents, and others, not listening to music or the soundtracks of their screen devices. A recent study showed that screen time is correlated with brain changes in the tracts involving speech.

My advice to parents: no headphones and limit screen time. Protect your children’s ears and talk to them about why.

*A-weighting adjusts noise measurements for the frequencies heard in human speech.

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.

“Volume Control,” David Owen’s superb new book

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

David Owen is a wonderful essayist who writes for The New Yorker, so we at The Quiet Coalition were thrilled with his recent piece, “Is Noise Pollution The Next Big Public Health Crisis?” When he interviewed me, he mentioned that he had a book coming out soon on noise and health. It was released on October 29. Called “Volume Control: Hearing in a Deafening World,” Owen leads readers on an odyssey exploring the world of hearing loss in America.

If you are concerned that noise pollution really is the next big public health crisis–the new secondhand smoke–get a copy of this book and read it.

My hope is that Owen’s book will crack open wider public interest in this subject, one that already affects 48 million Americans. If you haven’t already seen Owen’s video on the subject which followed his New Yorker essay, watch it now.

David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: QCI Healthcare Acoustics Project, ANSI Committee S12-WG44, the Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Committee. He is lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0” (Springer, 2012), a contributor to the NAE’s “Technology for a Quieter America” and the GSA’s “Sound Matters,” and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics at Rensselaer Polytech. A graduate of UC-Berkeley with advanced degrees from Cornell, he is a frequent organizer of professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

Univ. of Texas band members now wear ear plugs

Photo credit: Klobetime licensed under CC By-SA 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This article in The Daily Texan reports that Longhorn Band members now wear earplugs.

Noise-induced hearing loss in musicians of all types is an occupational or recreational hazard, regardless of what instrument or type of music one plays. In fact, music students have been used as subjects in studies of the effect of noise exposure on hearing, compared to those studying other subjects.

My advice is simple: all musicians–in high school and college bands and at the professional level–should use hearing protection.

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.

Engineers on noise pollution

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

You might wonder whtether engineers are interested in America’s noise problem? According to Interesting Engineering, the answer is yes—and they can help you.

When you’re ready to address a noise problem in your city, town, townhouse, house, or apartment complex, these are the kinds of people you should call. In America, there are three engineering societies whose members specialize in noise control and acoustics:

  1. The National Council of Acoustical Consultants (NCAC),
  2. The Institute of Noise Control Engineering (INCE), and
  3. The Acoustical Society of America (ASA), the premier international scientific and research society in this field, which publishes the world’s leading peer-reviewed journal in Acoustical Science, The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America.

David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: QCI Healthcare Acoustics Project, ANSI Committee S12-WG44, the Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Committee. He is lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0” (Springer, 2012), a contributor to the NAE’s “Technology for a Quieter America” and the GSA’s “Sound Matters,” and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics at Rensselaer Polytech. A graduate of UC-Berkeley with advanced degrees from Cornell, he is a frequent organizer of professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

David Owen’s new book on how noise is destroying our hearing

Photo by Laurie Gaboardi, courtesy of David Owen

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

NPR interviews New Yorker staff writer David Owen about his new book, “Volume Control.” Owen makes several salient points:

  • Hearing loss in old age is the result of cumulative noise exposure.
  • Hearing loss doesn’t just affect hearing, but affects general health and function. People with hearing loss have more frequent hospitalizations, more accidents, and die younger.
  • Hearing loss and tinnitus are the leading service-connected disabilities for military veterans.
  • There is no cure for tinnitus and hyperacusis can be an even worse problem, without treatment or cure.

My advice is that you must protect your hearing. Because if something sounds too loud, it is too loud.

We only have two ears. Wear earplugs now, or hearing aids later.

DISCLOSURE: I was interviewed by David Owen for his The New Yorker article, “Is Noise Pollution the Next Big Public-Health Crisis?,” and I am acknowledged in his book.

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.

Controlling the roar of the crowd

Photo credit: Gloria Bell licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This article in The New York Times describes efforts by the Philadelphia Eagles and other professional and college sports teams to accommodate those with sensory challenges, “who can be most acutely affected by the overwhelming environments.”

Noise levels in many arenas and stadiums are high enough to cause auditory damage. The world record stadium noise is 142.2 A-weighted decibels (dBA)*, which exceeds the OSHA maximum permissible occupational noise exposure level of 140 dBA.

We wish the sports teams and the arenas and stadiums in which they play would do more to protect the hearing of everyone attending the game.

And since they probably won’t do this–crowd noise is weaponized to favor the home team, especially in football where it interferes with the visiting team hearing the quarterback calling the play–the public health authorities should step in.

*A-weighting adjusts sound measurements for the frequencies heard in human speech.

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.

Where to find some peace and quiet in New York City

Photo credit: Giorgio Galeotti licensed under CC BY 4.0

Matt Koff, a stand-up comedian and The Daily Show writer, offers his “Top 5 Places In NYC To Get Some F$%king Peace And Quiet.” It’s a short list, but thoughtful except for one suggestion.  Koff suggests a ride on one of New York City’s many ferries.  While we agree there is something calming about a ferry ride, the engine noise is shockingly loud.

So bring a pair of ear plugs with you as you take the ferry to Red Hook, another of Koff’s suggestions with which we wholeheartedly agree.

Noise disrupts sleep. Could this be linked to Alzheimer’s?

Photo credit: Alyssa L. Miller licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

The most common definition of noise is “noise is unwanted sound.” We at The Quiet Coalition recently came up with a new definition: noise is unwanted and/or harmful sound. The specific evidence-based sound levels associated with adverse health and public health hazards are summarized in my article in Acoustics Today, “Ambient Noise Is ‘The New Secondhand Smoke.'”

Sounds as low as 30-35 A-weighted decibels* can disrupt sleep. Uninterrupted sleep is important for both daily function and health. Nighttime noise is increasing, caused by aircraft noise, road traffic noise, emergency vehicle sirens, horn-based alerts, and sounds from clubs, bars, and concerts, with the specific noise source(s) depending on where people live.

It has been known since 2013 that sleep is necessary for cellular cleaning functions in the brain. A new study, reported by NPR, extends this research to Alzheimer’s disease. It has been known for some time that poor sleep is associated with Alzheimer’s disease, and patients with Alzheimer’s disease don’t sleep well. The new study shows that there are waves of cerebrospinal fluid occurring every 20 seconds during sleep, preceded by electrical activity. The electrical waves appear as slow waves on an EEG. Those with Alzheimer’s disease have fewer slow waves on their EEGs.

I have only read the NPR report, not the underlying article in Science, and I’m not 100% sure the cause-effect relationship between sleep disruption and Alzheimer’s has been clearly established. Which really came first, the sleep problems or the Alzheimer’s disease? Nonetheless, the study underscores the importance of a good night’s sleep.

Noise pollution is a public health problem. And one wonders if the increase in Alzheimer’s disease is due in part to increased nighttime noise levels.

*A-weighting adjusts sound measurements to reflect the frequencies heard in human speech.

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.

World Economic Forum honors TQC scientific advisor, Dr. A. Radicchi!

Hush City app’s icon (c) Antonella Radicchi 2017

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

The Quiet Coalition just received news that the Hush City app, developed by Dr. Antonella Radicchi, our scientific advisor and Senior Research Associate and HEAD-Genuit Foundation Fellow at the Technical University of Berlin, has been recognised and honored by the World Economic Forum among the “4 clever projects fighting noise pollution around the globe.”

Hush City app is a free citizen science mobile app that helps crowdsourcing quiet areas worldwide.

Watch the WEF’s video by clicking here and scrolling to the end of the story.

In the spring 2019, Dr. Radicchi was on a research stay at New York University in New York City, working with other anti-noise advocates there. We were pleased to co-host her stay in America.

Congratulations, Antonella! We firmly believe in crowdsourcing data about quiet areas as a “democratic” as well as scientifically valid method that will start to make the world a quieter place for all.

David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: QCI Healthcare Acoustics Project, ANSI Committee S12-WG44, the Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Committee. He is lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0” (Springer, 2012), a contributor to the NAE’s “Technology for a Quieter America” and the GSA’s “Sound Matters,” and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics at Rensselaer Polytech. A graduate of UC-Berkeley with advanced degrees from Cornell, he is a frequent organizer of professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

Japanese residents living near U.S. air base compensated for noise

Photo credit: Hideyuki KAMON licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This report in the Japan Times covers legal proceedings about a court case in Japan, where residents living near the Iwakuni Air Base are subject to noise from military jets. The Hiroshima High Court upheld a prior ruling, raising the damage award to 735 million yen (approx. $6,795,810).

We hope there will be similar legal cases in the U.S., but we hope even more that quieter jet engines will be required for all airplanes and flight paths will be adjusted to minimize noise exposure for those living near airports.

Thanks to Yishane Lee, editor of Hearing Health magazine, a publication of the Hearing Health Foundation, for informing us of this article.

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.