Silencity

The Truth About Noise

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Is nothing safe?

They look so innocent…

Experts Warn Popping Balloons Can Lead To Permanent Hearing Loss. Arrianne Del Rosario, Tech Times, writes about an experiment conducted by researchers at the University of Alberta “to find out how noise from bursting balloons can impact hearing,” and the results were stunning.  The researchers “measured the noise levels from popping balloons in three different ways: poking them with a pin, blowing them with air until they burst, and crushing them until they exploded.”  The loudest bang came from blowing up a balloon with air until it popped.  When it did, it was recorded at almost 168 decibels, “4 decibels louder than a high-powered, 12-gauge shotgun.”

It can’t be that bad, it’s just a balloon, right?  Wrong.  Del Rosario notes that the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety recommends that “the maximum impulse level should never go beyond 140 decibels.”  She adds that “[c]onstant exposure to noise, even as low as 85 decibels — for example, the noise from cars honking their horns in a city traffic — can make a person vulnerable to hearing loss.”

Del Rosario is right that damage to hearing can occur well under 140 decibles, but wrong to imply that damage only occurs at 85 decibels or higher.  85 decibels is the industrial-strength occupational noise exposure standard. Auditory damage can begin at only 75-78 decibels.  The only evidence-based safe noise exposure level is the EPA’s 70 decibel time weighted average for 24 hours.  Cautions noted noise activist Dr. Daniel Fink, “If it sounds too loud, it is too loud.  Hearing is an important social sense, and once cochlear hair cells and auditory synaptic junctions are damaged, they are gone forever.”

Whatever the decibel reading, the problem is that each exposure to loud noise leaves a mark.  As one of the researchers, Bill Hodgetts, advised:

Hearing loss is insidious — every loud noise that occurs has a potential lifelong impact. We want people to be mindful of hearing damage over a lifetime, because once you get to the back end of life, no hearing aid is as good as the once healthy built-in system in your inner ear.

Hearing Loss Is Growing


From the book The Human Body and Health Revised by Alvin Davison, 1908 / Public Domain

And Experts Say Earphones Are Part Of The Problem.

Mack interviews audiologist Michele Abrams who spoke about limiting exposure to damaging sound:

When we think about decibel levels, when we think of loudness levels, it’s really incremental.  It’s a logarithmic scale. It’s not a linear scale. So we know that 85 db is that critical level. Eighty-five db, eight hours a day, that’s your maximum. If it’s 90 db — five db greater — you have to cut your time in half.

While generally informative, Abrams’ comment unfortunately identifies 85 db, eight hours a day as the “critical level.”  But this noise exposure level is too high.  It was developed solely as an occupational noise exposure standard and should never be applied to the general public, certainly not to children.  As Dr. Daniel Fink, a noted noise activist, wrote in, “What Is A Safe Noise Level For The Public?”:

In the absence of a federal standard, an occupational standard meant to prevent hearing loss appears to have become the de facto safe level for all public noise exposures. This is demonstrated by the use of 85 decibels as a safe sound level by hearing health professionals and their organizations, in media reports, and in publications, most often without time limits; by its use as a volume limit for children’s headphones marketed to prevent hearing loss, again without exposure times; and by general acceptance of higher indoor and outdoor noise levels in the United States.

*   *   *
Eighty-five decibels is not a safe noise exposure level for the public. In 1972, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health developed an 85 A-weighted decibel recommended exposure level to reduce the risk of hearing loss from occupational noise exposure. … Even with strict time limits, this standard does not protect all workers from hearing loss.

So what is a safe noise level for the public?  Dr. Fink states:

In 1974 the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) Office of Noise Abatement and Control (ONAC) adjusted the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health recommendation for additional exposure time: 24 instead of 8 hours daily and 365 instead of 240 days annually.  The EPA calculated the safe noise level for the public to prevent hearing loss to be a 70-decibel time-weighted average for a 24-hour period… The EPA did not adjust for lifetime noise exposure, now almost 80 years versus 40 work-years, so the real average safe noise level to prevent hearing loss is probably lower.

One thing is clear, allowing children to use earbuds or headphones without limiting volume and time exposure is a recipe for hearing loss.  Since the federal government has abdicated its authority to regulate noise, and manufacturers are unlikely to design products that limit the user’s ability to deliver as many decibels as he or she wants, parents must step in to protect their children’s hearing.  Here’s something that will help: Don’t allow your children to wear earbuds and headphones.  Tell them that if they want to listen to music they must play it through a speaker.  While this may be unpopular, know that you will be giving your children an important gift–the ability to listen to and enjoy music throughout their lifetimes.

 

 

Please, god, no:

If you want a picture of the future, imagine every billboard screaming for your attention — forever

The sound of the Internet of Things (and why it matters for brands). Yes, yet another article about using sound for branding.  Apparently we aren’t spending enough money so branding gurus–or whatever they are calling themselves these days–are trying to figure out how to make their brands stand out from competing products and services through the use of sound.  And in an attempt to appear thoughtful as they invade public and private space with invasive sound, they write stuff like this:

Brands need to start creating a sound ecology that differentiates them whilst supporting their consumers. As we interact with a product, watch a commercial or experience a retail environment, it is only the brands of the future that have a fully considered, cohesive and familiar sonic identity that will stop us reaching for the mute button.

How about no?  We are already assaulted by layers of noise whenever we enter the public sphere, do we really need to have even more layers of competing sound added to our increasingly chaotic soundscape?  As if that’s not offensive enough, these branding fiends want to use sound for alerts for our now connected home appliances, leaving us not a moment of silence in our homes as our dishwashers and refrigerators beep and pop, competing for our attention. Because reasons!

At some point, if business refuses to show restraint, someone must step in to stop this anti-social behavior.  No matter how convenient it may be for some people to have their devices scream at them for attention, what of the innocent bystanders who are simply attempting to go from Point A to Point B?  Will no one think about our right to be left alone?

Link via @QuietMark.

And what if they say no?

Thanks to the rush by corporate finance departments to embrace cheaper open plan offices (to encourage collaboration!), this sort of article is likely to pop up more often: Here’s exactly what to say to quiet a noisy coworker — without being rude.  Work is already fraught with potential pitfalls and misunderstandings, and thanks to open plan offices now you get to see whether this Business Insider advice delivers the quiet you crave or a new nemesis at work! So what does Rosalinda Oropeza Randall, “an etiquette and civility expert and the author of ‘Don’t Burp in the Boardroom,'” suggest?  This:

You’ll want to walk over to their desk and say something like, “You know, I have never been able to concentrate unless it’s totally silent. And I know that’s unrealistic … but can I ask you, for the next couple hours, while I’m working on this project, would you keep it down for me? I’d really appreciate it.”

Ok.  So what do you do the next day?

Here at Silencity we’d suggest punting to HR or someone higher in the food chain, especially if you don’t know the person who is making your work life hell. You’re not a psychologist (unless you are), and trying to get your work done in less than optimal surroundings is enough of a burden. If your employer puts you in a situation where confronting a noisy co-worker is inevitable, then surely your employer must have designed mechanisms for dealing with the problem.  So let the HR manager or your boss figure out how to quiet your noisy work neighbor.  That’s why they’re there.

 

Noise is a public health hazard and a hazard to your most important capital asset:

Nine sources of noise that will damage your house’s value.  Emmie Martin, Business Insider, writes about a recent study by Realtor.com that “calculated the price difference between homes within a certain radius of nine major noise factors — including airports, highways, and emergency rooms — and the median price of homes in the rest of that ZIP code.”  Click the link to see how noise effects house prices.  There isn’t much prose, but the slider makes it clear that noise matters when you are buying or selling your home.

 

This is fascinating:

Plants Have an “Ear” for Music. Matthew Sedacca, Nautilus, writes about Dan Carlson, Sr., who, after his experience in the Korean demilitarized zone in the 1960s, dedicated himself to “increase plant growth and help reduce, or even eliminate, world hunger.”  Carlson studied at the University of Minnesota, trying to learn everything he could about how plants grow.  What he discovered was interesting:

Years later, Carlson believed he found part of his answer. He maintained that “green music”—sounds akin to, or recorded from, those found in nature, like birds singing or crickets stridulating—possesses frequencies that boost plant growth and yield rates. He claimed that when exposed to synthesized birdsong, a plant’s stomata—the mouth-like pores on the underside of leaves that absorb water and nutrients and expel oxygen—widen. Before he died in 2012, he listed growing a Purple Passion (Gynura aurantiaca)—a houseplant that usually grows up to a foot—1,300 feet high to the sound of green music as one of his lifetime achievements. It earned him a Guinness World Record.

Yes, it sounds kind of nutty, and some people in the past relied on pseudoscience, but today “plant bioacoustics is a growing field of interest in science.”  In fact, in “a recent study published in Scientific Reports, a team of researchers from Yeungnam University in Gyeongsan, South Korea, found, just as Carlson did over 30 years ago, that “green music” can cause plants to undergo biological transformations.”

Click the first link to read the entire article.  It’s well worth your time.

This was reported as if it were a good thing:

Kentucky’s Rupp Arena breaks Guinness World Record for indoor crowd noise. According to the Kentucky Athletics’ twitter account, Kentucky’s Rupp Arena gets to claim the Guiness Book of World Records title for “the loudest indoor crowd roar ever!”  Yay, noise!  And just how loud was the roar?  It was 126.4 decibels.  How loud is that?  Well, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations provide that the permissible exposure limit for 126 decibels (A-weighted) is 0.054 hours or 3.25 minutes, so we are going with “really really loud.”  The article doesn’t say how long the roar was maintained, but even if it bested 3.25 minutes only the team staff and arena employees are protected under OSHA regulations.  Sorry fans and team athletes.

At least “[c]omplimentary earplugs were placed in most seats for fans who didn’t want to brave the noise.”  The article doesn’t explain why complimentary earplugs weren’t offered to all fans, nor does it ask why the Guinness Book of World Records is encouraging such irresponsible behavior.

One day, when people find out that most hearing loss is due to noise and that noise-induced hearing loss is 100% preventable, they are going to be very justifiably angry.  Until that happens, folks who follow the stock market may want to check out hearing aid companies.

If you are in DC this week and want to find a quiet space,

Photo credit: Studio Simon Heijdens

head over to the Royal Netherlands Embassy and you’ll find the “Silent Room.” The Silent Room is an art installation by Simon Heijdens that he originally designed for the 2016 SXSW Festival. Heijdens said that during the festival there is too much noise and smells and people and sight, so he wanted to create a “black hole,” “somewhere where people could people can go inside, almost like a cold shower of silence.”  From the outside, his piece looks like an ordinary black shipping container, but inside “it’s a different world, devoid of sound and color.”  And he means completely.  Heijdens worked with a team of acoustic engineers to make “the padded, anechoic chamber that absorbs noise from the outside world. The result is complete, dead silence.”

“Silent Room” is open from noon to 2:00 p.m. through February 1st.  Click the link if you are interested in seeing it as you must RSVP for an invite.

 

If this works, could it lead to lower siren volumes?

Stockholm ambulances to trial blocking drivers’ music so sirens can be heard. The Telegraph reports that a new alert system is being trialed in Stockholm, Sweden that “overrides loud music and bypasses sound-proofed car insulation so drivers will never be caught off guard by an approaching emergency vehicle.”  The new system “uses the FM radio signal to jam drivers’ speakers and send a voice alert that an ambulance is approaching.”  The reason for the new system was the realization that drivers often had only seconds to react to a siren when the a better warning time is at least 10 to 15 seconds. The alert will only work on cars that have the radio on, but it’s estimated that it will reach two-thirds of the cars on the road.

If this system works, one would hope that emergency vehicle sirens could be adjusted so that pedestrians and other people nearby could be spared ear-splitting siren volumes in the attempt to alert distracted motorists. It doesn’t hurt to dream.

Link via Quiet Edinburgh.

What’s missing from this story about stadium noise in Atlanta?

Aaron Rodgers: It’s loud in Atlanta, whether it’s all natural or not.  How about a discussion about the dangers of stadium noise?  It’s nowhere to be found. Instead, this NBC post focuses on noise as a tactic and the stupidity of getting caught juicing natural crowd noise with fake crowd noise over the stadium speakers. To wit:

The Falcons were stripped of a fifth-round pick in the 2016 NFL draft and fined $350,000 after an investigation revealed that they had been using fake crowd noise while the opposing offense was on the field during the 2013 and 2014 seasons.

And? Were the Falcons penalized for injuring the hearing of every person in the stadium, or were they fined for violating whatever passes for sportsmanship in football?

This chest thumping over which stadium can produce the most noise–as if that’s a measure of anything good–would be merely pathetic if it weren’t so dangerous.