Silencity

The Truth About Noise

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Yes, you can put a dollar figure (well, euros) on the impact of noise:

The (VERY) high cost of noise.  Acoustic Bulletin writes about a study published last June by the French Agency Against Noise (Conseil National du Bruit) and the French Environment Agency (ADEME), where the two agencies tried to estimate the total cost of noise pollution in France.  In the end, they determined that the cost was 57.2 billion euros in social costs.  Yes, that billion.  So what was included in this impressive figure?  The study focused on six categories of noise:

  • Impact of traffic noise on health
  • Indirect costs of traffic noise (for example, on real estate)
  • Workplace accidents and hearing loss caused by occupational noise
  • Distraction in the workplace and productivity loss
  • Impact of noise in educational premises
  • Impact of neighbourhood noise

At 18 billion euros, the study shows that the cost of open plan offices is very dear.

Which makes us pause and wonder about the cost of noise pollution is in the United States, which has a population about five times larger than France but no Agency Against Noise.

 

 

Here’s some cultural appropriation we can get behind:

A look at Switzerland’s and Germany’s strict noise laws for Sundays and holidays.  How just how strict are these noise laws?  How does “no lawn-mowing, no drilling, hammering, sawing, or even heavy trucks on the roads” sound?  Like music to our ears!  Except, of course, no loud music either.  According to The Wayfarer,  it is “also advisable to keep the noise down (and we mean way down) between 8 p.m. and 7 a.m. to avoid complaints/fines,” adding that noise complaints are “such a big deal in these cultures that there are attorneys specializing in noise law.”

Good to know our cultural norms haven’t taken over everywhere.  What we wouldn’t give to see Switzerland’s and Germany’s approach to noise adopted in the U.S.

Link via @NoiseFreeZone.

Real estate survey shows number one complaint about neighbors

is noise.  Real estate firm Trulia surveyed users about “neighbor pet peeves” and found that noise was the number one pet peeve, and that millennials were more likely to complain about noise than Gen Xers and Baby Boomers.  In fact, the survey showed that 83% of millennials identified noise as their biggest pet peeve, while only 71% of Gen Xers and 54% of Baby Boomers did.  So much for the belief that noise is something that only older people complain about.  it would be interesting to survey millennials about noise in restaurants, bars, and coffee shops, since restauranteurs apparently believe that loud restaurants are bustling, convivial, and perceived as “lively and successful,”  rather than uncomfortable, challenging, and painful.

Why were Prince George and Boomer Phelps photographed wearing ear muff hearing protectors?

No doubt you’ve seen the photos of Prince George and Boomer Phelps wearing ear muff hearing protectors.  Did you ask yourself why?  Daniel Fink, M.D., a leading noise activist, explains:

These little boys aren’t working in noisy factories. They aren’t going to the shooting range.  They aren’t going to a rock concert.  They are just doing things that normal little boys like to do, going to an air show or watching daddy swim.  But Prince George’s parents and Boomer’s parents know one important thing: NOISE CAUSES DEAFNESS.

Dr. Fink states that the places and events parents bring their children to–whether by choice or circumstance–are often loud enough to damage hearing permanently.  Unlike British royalty or Olympic athletes, most parents simply don’t know that their children could suffer permanent hearing damage by being in a loud place with no hearing protection.  Dr. Fink believes that the lack of warnings highlights a general failure by the medical community, which should be advising parents to protect their children’s hearing.  He notes that respected online parenting resources make no general recommendations about protecting children from noise, mentioning only the dangers of infant sound machines for babies and loud music for teens.

It’s not just the medical community that is failing children.  Federal and state governments do little to inform citizens of the danger loud noise poses to health or to protect them from noise exposure.  There is very little regulation of noise in public spaces and absolutely no oversight of consumer products that can damage hearing.

Dr. Fink states that “there is an increase in hearing loss in young people, perhaps because parents don’t know the dangers of noise for hearing.”  He notes that race cars produce sound up to 130 decibels, air shows can produce sound up to 130 decibels, rock music concerts can reach 110-115 decibels, action movies range between 100-125 decibels, and sporting events can be loud, too, at 100-120 decibels.

Children can also be exposed to loud noise at home.  Personal listening devices can reach up to 115 decibels, a sound level that is guaranteed to damage hearing if exposure is more than a few minutes, and yet there is no government mandated warning for the purchasing public.  In addition, there are headphones marketed specifically for children that use a 85 dBA occupational noise exposure limit as a volume limit to prevent hearing loss.  “The commonly cited safe noise level of 85 decibels is really an industrial-strength occupational noise level developed by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health for workers,” says Dr. Fink.  He adds that “even with strict time limits of noise exposure, some workers exposed to this noise level will develop hearing loss.  One thing is for sure: 85 decibels is not a safe environmental noise exposure level for the public and certainly not for children.”

And Dr. Fink has an impressive ally in his fight against the misuse of the 85 decibel industrial-strength standard.  In May 2016 , the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) posted content addressing Environmental Noise Exposure and Health, in which it stated that in 1974 the Environmental Protection Agency recommended that the average daily noise exposure be limited to an average of 70 decibels for a whole day, with no more than one hour at 85 decibels.  The CDC noted that World Health Organization also “recommend[ed] that noise exposure levels should not exceed 70 dB over a 24-hour period, and 85 dB over 1 hour period to avoid hearing impairment.”

So what can you do to protect your children’s hearing?  Treat noise like you treat sun exposure.  When you take your child to the beach, you protect his or her eyes and skin by giving them sunglasses, a hat, and by applying sunscreen.  If noise caused vision loss instead of hearing loss, everyone would be more vigilant in addressing it.  So apply the same degree of vigilance when your child will be exposed to noise as you would when your child is exposed to full sun.  Dr. Fink advises that the best thing a parent can do is to not bring a child, at whatever age, to loud events.  “If that can’t be avoided,” he cautions, “then at the least protect your child’s hearing with ear muff style hearing protectors.”  That is, follow what Prince George’s parents and Boomer Phelps’ parents do.  Dr. Fink, a father of two, adds that, “the best way to make sure your kids do something is for you to model the behavior yourself.  If it’s loud enough for your children to be wearing hearing protection, you should be wearing it too.”

 

 

Manmade noise is hurting wildlife:

Traffic noise reduces wild owls’ foraging efficiency.  A team of researchers from Hokkaido University in Japan have found that traffic noise reduces the foraging efficiency of wild owls by up to 89%.  Said Futoshi Nakamura, one of the co-authors of the study, “[b]ehavioral changes in acoustic predators can alter the interactions between prey and predators, and possibly have negative consequences on the entire ecosystem.”  Noise is not just a nuisance.  It harms human health and interferes with the balance of nature.  It’s time people and their governments start taking noise impacts seriously.

What is America’s most common workplace injury?

Hearing loss.  Zhai Yun Tan, Kaiser Health News, writing for PBS News Hour, examines hearing loss, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has identified as “the most common work-related injury with approximately 22 million workers exposed annually to hazardous levels of occupational noise.”  ‘[I]n an effort to reduce these numbers,” she writes, “the Labor Department launched a challenge earlier this summer called ‘Hear and Now,’ in which it is soliciting pitches for innovative ideas and technology to better alert workers of hazardous noise levels.”

Critics have countered that technology to address the problem already exists.  The real problem, they claim, is that the maximum noise exposure level and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations are outdated.  Among other things, the OSHA regulations “use sound level limits that don’t factor in the noise exposures that occur beyond the workplace — at restaurants, concerts and sporting venues, for instance — that can add to workers’ cumulative risks of harm.”  OSHA officials offered that “the agency will issue a request for information later this year about current regulations at construction sites to figure out if more stringent protections are needed and how companies are complying,” but Tan notes that “[a] similar call for information was issued in 2002, but no changes resulted from the action.”

Tan suggests that employers will have to assume more responsibility in educating workers, as some workers do not use hearing protection at work because they are not aware of the risk.  Click the link above to learn more, including Tan’s report about Jeff Ammon, a former construction worker who can no longer work due to hearing loss and hyperacusis, a condition marked by sensitivity to environmental noise.

 

 

Can’t Hear in Noisy Places? There a reason for that:

Melinda Beck, writing for the Wall Street Journal, examines hidden hearing loss, a condition where people have trouble understanding conversations in noisy situations.  Beck looks at how it differs from traditional hearing damage, reporting that:

[T]here’s growing evidence that the causes of problems processing speech amid noise are different than the causes of problems hearing sound. Scientists believe exposure to loud noises can erode the brain’s ability to listen selectively and decode words, without causing traditional hearing damage. Difficulty understanding speech amid noise can set in long before traditional hearing loss.

The researchers at Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary who discovered hidden hearing loss in mice in 2009 have recently shown that damage occurs in humans as well.  “Exactly how such damage, called cochlear synaptopathy, compromises the ability to understand speech amid noise isn’t fully understood,” writes Beck, but “researchers think cochlear synaptopathy may help explain tinnitus, the persistent buzzing or ringing some people hear, as well as hyperacusis, which is an increased sensitivity to unpleasant sounds such as a baby crying or a siren.”

Apparently many people who may have hidden hearing loss also have traditional hearing loss.  Sadly, there isn’t enough information yet for hidden hearing loss to be part of routine diagnosis of hearing problems, but the research continues.  Until then, audiologists suggest patients who have speech-in-noise difficulties consider hearing aids and other assistive listening devices.

Thanks to Charles Shamoon for the link.

Mumbai government responds robustly to address

noise levels ‘above safe limit’ in most parts of Mumbai.

The Hindustan Times reports that most localities in Mumbai, India’s noisiest city, are noisier than the safe limit.  The information comes from a study by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation which measured sound levels at 740 of 1,200 locations across Mumbai and found that “most of the locations recorded noise levels above permissible limits for residential areas and silence zones.”  The noise mapping project was commenced to satisfy a Bombay High Court order that made it mandatory “for all authorities to carry out noise mapping and take into account all aspects of noise pollution as a parameter of quality of life.”

Indian authorities are concerned about the health implications of noise, particularly the concern that “exposure to high noise levels causes hearing loss, high blood pressure and mental health problems.”  Notes Dr MV Jagade, consultant ENT surgeon and head of department at JJ Hospital and Grant Medical College, “[e]xposure to noise pollution above 80 decibels (dB) for eight hours a day for eight years will induce permanent deafness. Shorter exposure of higher decibel levels also damages the ear drums.”

The noise-mapping project will continue through the end of the year until all 1,200 locations are measured; the combined data will be analysed and interpreted in January 2017.

Meet New York City’s noise warriors,

who are fighting to keep the city quiet(er). Nicole Levy, writing for DNAInfo, introduces us to three New Yorkers who have been working to protect their fellow citizens’ health and well-being.  Levy first profiles Arline Bronzaft, an environmental psychologist, who published a widely cited, ground-breaking study on the effect of subway noise on children’s’ reading ability in 1975.  Today, Bronzaft volunteers her time with GrowNYC, where she takes on the hardest cases: people who have tried everything to stop noise but failed.  Bronzaft “asks the complainant to list all the steps he has taken to mitigate the offending noise, and writes to the apartment’s managing agent or landlord ‘on GrowNYC letterhead,’ she specified, presenting the case and inviting a discussion.”  “They listen,” says Levy, “because if any name in the anti-noise movement carries clout in New York City, it’s Arline Bronzaft.”

Levy next introduces us to Janet McEneaney, the president of Queens Quiet Skies, an advocacy group against aviation noise and pollution.  McEneaney became involved in fighting aviation noise when she awoke one morning in 2012 to the sound of roaring jets flying over her home every 60 seconds.  She learned that the noise was “an unintended consequence of a new air traffic control system, The Next Generation Air Transportation System.”  The noise persists, but McEneaney, on learning about the health consequences of noise, took her research to U.S. Congresswoman Grace Meng, who introduced the “Quiet Communities Act of 2015” last fall (the bill remains in committee).

Finally, Levy writes about Tae Hong Park, an associate professor of music composition and technology at NYU, who has created a project he calls Citygram that is  “an audio version of Google maps.”  The first phase of the Citygram project, in which sound recording technology runs on a web browser that anyone with internet connection can use, has been completed.  Park says that phase two will involve gathering information and analyzing patterns, followed by phase three, in which the whole process is automated “so machines can tell us the answers to what sounds are the loudest, what sounds disturb or concern the public the most.”

Reading about Bronzaft, McEneaney, and Park calls to mind this Margaret Mead quote:

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world.  Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.

Important information for parents

Catherine Caruso, reporting for Scientific American, writes about “Detecting Hidden Hearing Loss in Young People.”  Caruso looks at hidden hearing loss, a phenomenon discovered in 2009, which the researchers who discovered it consider a “likely contributor to the cumulative loss typically associated with aging.”  Now, those researchers have developed tools for detecting hidden hearing loss and have discovered evidence of hidden hearing loss in young people.

While Caruso notes that there is hope that hidden hearing loss could be reversed in the future, she also points out steps one can take now to protect hearing: namely, by limiting noise exposure and using ear protection.  And parents, talk to your kids about their earbud and headphone use.  No one knows if and when researchers will be able to reverse hidden hearing loss, so avoiding hidden hearing loss in the first instance is the best tact.