Silencity

The Truth About Noise

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Supreme Court on airport noise: “Go away!”

By David Sykes, Vice Chair, The Quiet Coalition (with contributions by Jamie L. Banks, Jeanne Kempthorne and Gina M. Briggs)

The U.S. Supreme Court has refused to hear the airport noise case brought by the town of East Hampton, Long Island (of The Hamptons in New York).
This is an important case that The Quiet Coalition wrote about back in January and March.  This case is significant as it addresses an important issue of public health, because noise not only causes hearing problems, it also contributes to heart disease and other conditions.

There are 15,000 airports in the USA, 5200 of which have paved runways, and 376 have regularly scheduled flights. That’s a lot of neighborhoods and people exposed to the pollution and noise from take-offs and landings! Perhaps now that the Supreme Court has denied their petition for a writ of certiorari (i.e., seeking review of a lower court decision), the East Hampton group will join the 36 communities in the National Quiet Skies Coalition and press their congressional representatives to join the Congressional Quiet Skies Caucus. The Caucus has already petitioned the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and submitted a bill to Congress. But it’s going to take many more communities joining the battle to win this one.

Many people around the U.S.—on both sides of the airport noise problem—were watching to see what the Supreme Court would do. What the Court did was let the Second Circuit Court decision stand. That decision had invalidated the town’s restrictions on flights to and from the East Hampton Airport—which the town owns–after finding that the town did not have the right to impose the restrictions owing to a 1990 federal law that “limits the town’s authority to impose rules at the airport.”  NOTE: The FAA’s argument relied on federal preemption, and, in particular, the Town’s failure to comply with the procedural requirements of the federal Airport Noise and Capacity Act of 1990. The Second Circuit held that the Act applied even though the Town was had forgone federal funding for the airport.

Many locals were unhappy, with one telling the New York Times:

“The Supreme Court’s decision not to hear the case was ‘indicative of the fact that when it comes to our own airport, we don’t have local control,’ said Barry Raebeck…. ‘It strikes me as decidedly unjust, as un-American. This is what we’re all about, local control. We have federal agencies dictating. I consider the F.A.A. a lobbying group for airport operators. You don’t have any rights unless you’re in an airplane in their minds.’”

Is this the end of the matter? No. But getting a case to the Supreme Court is a long, time-consuming, and expensive process. We congratulate those who have been waging this battle so far and urge them: PLEASE TAKE THE NEXT STEP! We’re reminded of Theodore Roosevelt who said:

“…Credit belongs to the [people] who are actually in the arena…who err and come up short…who spend [themselves] for a worthy cause; who…know the triumph of high achievement, and who, if they fail, fail while daring greatly; [their] place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.”

We believe the key to winning the airport noise battle—indeed all battles about noise in America—is to challenge the FAA’s (and its parent, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s) long-held and politically convenient view that noise is “merely annoyance” with no appreciable effects on health or well-being. This is unfounded. In fact, the adverse health effects of noise are strongly supported by decades of authoritative evidence from medical and public health professionals. The use of the term “annoyance” is a shibboleth; that is, a term used to characterize the problem that is fundamentally wrong.

Noise control advocates now need to re-focus their efforts on the public health effects of noise—for which solid scientific evidence exists and continues to grow–and go back to court with new arguments until this battle is won.

David Sykes chairs/co-chairs four national professional groups in acoustical science: The Acoustics Research Council, ANSI S12 WG44, The Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Working Group. He is also a board member of the American Tinnitus Association, co-founder of the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics (LARA) at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0 (2012, Springer-Verlag), and a contributor to “Technology for a Quieter America” (2011, National Academy of Engineering). A graduate of the University of California/Berkeley with graduate degrees from Cornell University, he is a frequent organizer of and speaker at professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia, and the Middle East.

We couldn’t agree more

Will Pulos,Time Out New York, writes about a common scourge of the city in “Loud-ass motorcycles in NYC are driving us completely bonkers.” Pulos talks about how they thunder out of the blue, “disrupting the peace of everyone in their nefarious paths,” all in a shameless attempt to get attention. He describes the assault of the erupting sound “that echoes through the streets with fury and arrogance,” and with a perversely exquisite sense of timing–striking just as you put the baby down in its crib or you pour yourself an end of the workday adult beverage. VROOM.

What adds insult to injury is the motorcyclist loudly screaming down an otherwise quiet residential street, setting off car alarms in his wake. We instinctively know that is not an accident. Which leads one to wonder when U.S. cities will embrace something akin to an ASBO for what is obviously anti-social behavior.

There is no social utility in purposefully loud motorcycles, so we might as well go after the low hanging fruit.

 

An innovative approach to managing nightlife

Photo credit: amsterdamredlight

Gregory Scruggs, Citiscope.org, writes about how Amsterdam deals with being one of Europe’s top nightlife capitals. Scruggs reports that Amsterdam found an innovative solution to managing nightlife by creating the position of night mayor. Specifically, in 2012, Mirik Milan, a nightclub promoter, was appointed the first night mayor. He “parlayed his experience in the club scene into a successful role bridging a burgeoning afterhours industry with both a City Hall eager to promote nightlife and cantankerous residents tired of being woken up by drunken partiers at 2 o’clock in the morning.”

So, how has it worked out? According to Scruggs there have been some impressive wins. For promoters and clubgoers, there are now “24-hour licenses that allow a number of clubs located away from residential areas to operate at any time day or night.” But “[i]n more densely populated neighbourhoods where bars mingle with apartment buildings, trained social workers are paid to help keep the peace.” Finally, Milan “spearheaded nightlife-specific business improvement districts” where bar owners are required to pay into a fund to support various improvements, including those to reduce crime (i.e., lighting for back alleys), with a payoff of reduced violence, noise, and nuisance complaints two years later.

Further proof that the night mayor is a success is that London, Paris and Zürich all have night mayors now. And New York City may soon have a “nightlife ambassador” to serve as a liaison between city government and local nightclubs and music venues. There is no surer sign of success than imitation.

First link via Antonella Radicchi.

Tired of jets flying over your neighborhood? Here’s what FAA is (not) doing to help you

By David Sykes, Vice Chair, The Quiet Coalition

You may already know about the movement in Congress to address the problem of aircraft noise. A specific congressional caucus, The Congressional Quiet Skies Caucus, was formed to encourage the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to address the problem of aircraft noise around airports, specifically the problems caused by FAA’s “NextGen” program. “NextGen” is a bungled FAA program that has made the noise problem much worse for many communities across the USA–35 communities are already aligned with The Congressional Quiet Skies Caucus.

The noise problem applies to all airports, not just big-city transportation hubs. A recent Sun Sentinel article about NextGen problems in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida is a good piece to read about NextGen because it spells out what the FAA is—and isn’t—doing to “help” affected communities. Bottom line: If you squawk loud enough and long enough, they may agree to replace your windows and doors with “sound-insulating” ones—but how much money you might get depends on the assessed value of your house. But replacing doors and windows doesn’t stop the earth-shaking vibration from big jets, and it certainly doesn’t stop the noise outdoors in your backyard. As long as the FAA and its parent, the Department of Transportation, perpetuate the decades-old myth that noise is “merely annoyance” (i.e., has no appreciable effects on you other than to make you irritable), all you can do it take their money and suffer quietly. Only by changing the discourse and carefully spelling out that noise is a public health hazard will communities have the chance to turn this situation around.

The Quiet Coalition Chair, Daniel Fink, MD, asked me to add this note:

“Rest assured that if you are bothered by aircraft noise, you are not alone! ‘Noise as a Public Health Problem’ was the theme of the 12th Congress of the International Commission on the Biological Effects of Noise (ICBEN) which recently took place in Zurich. I presented two papers there and am now preparing a summary of what I learned. The European Union is well-aware of the adverse health effects of transportation noise (aircraft, rail, and road traffic noise) and is taking steps to minimize its effects. I also presented a paper on the adverse health effects of transportation noise at the Institute for Noise Control Engineering meeting on June 12 in Grand Rapids, Michigan.”

There’s another very hopeful perspective on this problem, although admittedly down the road a few years: the development of quiet (electric) aircraft. Lithium-ion battery-powered airplanes and helicopters have already been developed and flown in Germany and in the U.S. So take heart, quiet electric aircraft could very well be flying by 2027, the 100th anniversary of Charles Lindbergh’s historic transatlantic flight.

David Sykes chairs/co-chairs four national professional groups in acoustical science: The Acoustics Research Council, ANSI S12 WG44, The Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Working Group. He is also a board member of the American Tinnitus Association, co-founder of the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics (LARA) at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0 (2012, Springer-Verlag), and a contributor to “Technology for a Quieter America” (2011, National Academy of Engineering). A graduate of the University of California/Berkeley with graduate degrees from Cornell University, he is a frequent organizer of and speaker at professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia, and the Middle East.

Fido hates fireworks

Many dogs are afraid of fireworks, as the noise causes them to hide or howl with fear and anxiety. Trish Hernandez, The Taos News, tells you how you can protect your dog from this trauma. Her article offers a number of helpful solutions to help your pooch make it through the upcoming fireworks season (which can run all summer long in places like New York City).

First and foremost, Hernandez strongly suggests that you not leave your dog home alone, noting that “[d]ogs with phobic reactions to fireworks can easily panic and injure themselves in the process….[and] [m]any panicked dogs find ways to escape from their yards and can be further injured or killed while running loose.” That said, your home is the best place for your dog, and staying with him or her will help to keep them distracted (and a few extra treats won’t hurt). Hernandez also gives advice for people with multiple dogs, noting that “if one dog already exhibits a fearful or phobic response to the sound of fireworks, [you should] separate the dogs so that non-fearful dog does not “catch” the fear.”

It’s not just pets who suffer from firework noise, humans can too. An editorial in The Adirondack Daily Enterprise notes that “[t]he booms and bangs of fireworks can be particularly harsh for veterans suffering from post traumatic stress disorder,” adding that “[t]he sound of gunshot-like noises can trigger flashbacks, intrusive thoughts and even suicide.”

While taking steps to ease the trauma for humans and dogs is the obvious course, maybe we need to think about logical long-term solutions, like avoiding the trauma in the first place. For example, we could advocate for a ban on loud fireworks like the thoughtful residents of Collecchio, a town in the province of Parma, Italy. The local government there “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.

That is, instead of each of us trying to protect humans and animals from the trauma of loud fireworks, we could protect everyone by requiring the use quiet fireworks. Quiet fireworks have existed for decades, and they are just as vivid and colorful as their conventional cousins. But unlike conventional fireworks, they don’t traumatize animals or people or cause hearing damage.

Until that time comes, here are directions on how to make a DIY “Thundershirt” that will help your dog deal with anxiety.

 

New explanation for why older people can’t hear in noisy environments

Photo credit: Filipe Fortes licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

By Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

There are already several explanations about why middle-aged and older people can’t understand speech in noisy environments. One may just be high-frequency hearing loss caused by noise, which makes it hard to hear the higher-pitched consonant sounds (F, S, SH, T, V) that allow us to differentiate similar sounding words (Fear, Sear, Shear, Tear, Veer). (See the graph in this CDC Vital Signs Issue.) Another reason may be a phenomenon called “hidden hearing loss,” which is caused by noise damage to nerve junctions (synapses) in the inner ear.

And now a new report indicates that there may also be a brain or central processing problem. A study conducted at the Max Planck Institute in Germany, “analyzed what happens in the brain when older adults have trouble listening in loud environments.”  The researchers “monitored the brains of 20 younger adults ages 18 to 31, and 20 older adults in their 60s and 70s, during a listening task” in which constant background noise was played while participants were told to focus on certain targeted sounds.

What the researchers found was that “the younger adults were able to zero in on the target signals while filtering out the irrelevant noise,” but the older participants had “a harder time tuning out the background noise.” What remained unclear was whether the “degradation of the ear’s ability to hear actually leads to a decline in the brain’s ability to filter out noise and hear a single sound,” or whether “the brain’s listening ability erodes independently of any changes going on in the ear.”

As for why older people have a difficult time understanding speech in noisy environments, it most likely is that all three factors occur to varying degrees in various individuals. But one thing is certain, preventing hearing loss is simple: avoid loud noise. And improving the ability of people young and old to follow conversations is also simple: turn down the volume in indoor places.

Link via the UK Noise Association.

Dr. Daniel 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 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.

 

Can fireworks hurt babies’ ears?

Cat Bowen, Romper, looks at whether fireworks can hurt babies’ ears. Bowen, who is deaf, has a daughter who is hard of hearing, so she is particularly concerned about the impact of noisy fireworks, writing “that what little hearing we have, we want to protect at all costs.”

Bowen points to a Boys Town National Research Hospital report which states that “fireworks register at over 140 decibels of sound” and recommends safe distances for adults and children. Bowen writes that adults “need to be about 65 feet away from the fireworks to be considered safe,” but it’s more than double that for a child.

But what about babies? Bowen says that “it’s different with babies,” because there is no hearing protection gear made for infants under six months. So “[c]an fireworks hurt your baby’s ears?” “Absolutely,” says Bowen, who recommends that you limit your baby’s exposure, try using protective headphones, and “keep you and your baby as far from the fireworks as you can while still enjoying the view.”

Can noise cause fertility problems?

By Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

A report in the New Scientist indicates the answer is “maybe.” Researchers in Denmark conducted a study that found an exposure-response relationship between noise and difficulty getting pregnant. The researchers made their discovery by analysing data from the Danish National Birth Cohort, a project that ran from 1996 to 2002, and focusing on women who had tried to get pregnant during the project “if traffic noise data was available for where they lived.” The study was controlled for factors like poverty levels and nitrogen oxide pollution.

Earlier research had suggested that 80% of women who were actively trying to get pregnant usually did so within six menstrual cycles, but the research team found that “for every 10 decibels of extra traffic noise around a woman’s home, there was a 5 to 8 per cent increased chance of it taking six months or longer.”  The article notes that it “is unclear whether traffic noise may be affecting women or their partners.”

New Scientist quotes Rachel Smith of Imperial College London, who finds the link between traffic noise and health worrying. Says Smith, “[b]ecause traffic noise is common, even a small effect on health could feasibly have a large impact across a population.”

Just as the Danish study was released, a South Korean study was reported that focused on long-term exposure to a noisy environment and male infertility.  The study by researchers at Seoul National University, which ran for eight years from 2006-2013, looked “at male infertility by analyzing data from 206,492 men aged 20-59 and calculating the participants’ levels of noise exposure.”  3,293 of the participants had an infertility diagnosis.

The researchers “found that, after taking into account factors such as age, income, BMI and smoking, men who were exposed to noise over 55 dB at night (a level equivalent to a suburban street or an air conditioner and above the World Health Organization night noise level) had a significantly higher chance of being diagnosed as infertile.”  Dr. Jin-Young Min, the study’s co-author, noted that infertility was becoming a significant public health issue, adding that it was known noise affected male fertility in animals, but his study was the first to show the risk of environmental noise on male infertility in humans.

Both studies’ findings have to be replicated in other countries and by other researchers, but the data keep mounting and show that environmental noise pollution is a ubiquitous, pervasive, and dangerous health problem.

Dr. Daniel 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 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.

 

Being Hear

 

Photo credit: Michael Gäbler licensed under CC BY 3.0

Watch this excerpt from the new film “Being Hear,” about sound recordist and ecologist Gordon Hempton. The film, “[a]t once a profile, a guided meditation and a call to action,” follows Hempton as he records sounds on Washington State’s Olympia Peninsula, a national park that contains the continental U.S.’s only rainforest. Says Hempton,” Nature is music. I’m not asking you to get all theoretical here — I saying, just listen.”

To hear more of Gordon Hempton’s captured sounds of nature, check out his YouTube channel.