Silencity

The Truth About Noise

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The disappearing soundscape

Photo credit: David Berry licensed under CC BY 2.0

Livia Albeck-Ripka, Vice, writes about Bernie Krause, soundscape ecologist, and his lilfe’s work in “This is what extinction sounds like.” Albeck-Ripka tells use about how Krause came to spend a lifetime recording the sounds of our natural world:

He might have guessed where his career was heading, having scored Apocalypse Now and been an early adopter of the plastic sound of 80s synth. Back then, Krause thought of the natural world as mere ambience. Earlier, he had been a violinist, a guitarist, and part of the folk band the Weavers. But in 1968, commissioned by Warner Bros. to make an album that included some samples from nature, he ventured just north of San Francisco into the Muir Woods one October afternoon and had an epiphany.

“The moment I switched on the recorder and heard the incredible impact of the outdoor space,” Krause told me recently, “I made the decision then and there to find a way to do that for the remainder of my life.”

But now, Albeck-Ropka writes, “he has become an expert in the sound of extinction.”

Although our planet is under a lot of stress, it’s not entirely grim–there are signs that the natural world finds a way to continue on. Click the link above to read the entire article.

Link via @QuietMark.

Quiz: Who invented the first sound recording device?

Nope, not this guy.

by David Sykes, Vice Chair, The Quiet Coalition

If you’re recently downloaded a sound-meter app onto your smartphone, or purchased a handheld sound-level meter, so that you can begin gathering data on unnecessary noise in the places you care about, then this bit of history may interest you. Here’s the quiz question: Who invented the first device for recording sound? If you guessed Thomas Alva Edison (who was famously deaf), you’re wrong. Edison didn’t (re)-invent the sound-recording device until 20 years after the first guy, a Frenchman named Edouard-Leon Scott de Martinsville, patented his invention in 1857.

Unfortunately, M. de Martinville didn’t know what to do with his invention, so he never pursued it. That didn’t stop him from being annoyed when Edison showed up in Paris 20 years later with his own sound recording device covered by American patents. But then Edison didn’t know what to do with it either—he thought he was perfecting Alexander Bell’s work. Only later did Edison decide to market his discovery as the “phonograph”—i.e., a device for recording and playing back sounds, thereby inventing the recording industry as well as the sound-level meter and a whole profession devoted to measuring noise.

Interested in history? Then you’ll definitely want to follow the Princeton researcher and MacArthur Fellow who re-discovered M. de Martinsville, Emily Thomson PhD. And if you’re reading this column you’re probably interested in urban noise and what can be done about it. Well, Dr. Thompson has written a fascinating book about urban noise and its history titled,“The Soundscape of Modernity: Architectural Acoustics and the Culture of Listening in America, 1900-1933” (MIT Press, 2002).

Dr. Thompson is definitely worth knowing about, and her work is a pleasure to read.

Originally posted at The Quiet Coalition.

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.

Is quiet a luxury?

The monotony and solitude of a quiet life stimulates the creative mind.

Albert Einstein

Rachel Lapidos, wellandgood.com, looks at the growth of silent spa resorts or retreats in her piece, “Is silence the next wellness luxury?.” Lapidos writes that “some in the wellness field consider total quiet a newfound luxury.” Why? Lapidos quotes Beth McGroarty, research director at the Global Wellness Institute, who says the reason is “because it’s so rare now,” adding that “people pay for silence, because that’s how bad [modern life] is—[silence] is so precious.”

Precious, indeed, with Lapidos writing that quiet is “something they’re even shelling out thousands of dollars to get, whether it’s through silent spa resorts or retreats.” So is it just a fad based on more on effective marketing than sound science? McGroarty states that “[s]tudies have shown that when the brain is silent, your hippocampus—the center for organizing thoughts—actively creates neurons, [and] [y]our cortisol also drops, as well as your heart rate and blood pressure. There’s a mental and a physical impact.” “Compare this to when you’re staring at your phone or computer screen and your cortisol shoots up with every (disconcerting) news flash,” adds Lapidos.

But what about those who don’t have the time or money to run off to silent retreat? Lapidos writes that “studies have shown that a mere five minutes of silence a day can have a positive impact on the brain.”  So put down your smart phone, find the quietest space in your home, and enjoy the newest luxury that you don’t have to break the bank to enjoy.

Link via @QuietEdinburgh.

 

 

Study: Noise and air pollution adversely affect heart health

Photo credit: G.M. Briggs

CTV News reports that a new European study has found that exposure to excessive traffic noise is linked to a higher risk of heart disease. What makes this study particularly interesting, is that “[a]lthough air pollution has already been linked to an increased risk of heart disease, stroke, asthma, and risk of death, and noise pollution linked to raised blood pressure, disturbed sleep, and an increase in stress hormones, until now little research has been carried out on the effects of noise pollution and air pollution — which are often found together — on health.”

For purposes of the study, “noise pollution” was defined as “noise louder than conversation level — around 60 decibels (dB).”  To determine the effect of noise pollution on health, “the researchers tested the participants’ blood for a range of biological markers that could indicate heart disease…and blood sugar levels, which are linked to heart disease, diabetes and stroke at higher levels.” After taking into account lifestyle factors (age, sex, smoking habits, etc.), the researchers found “an increase of just 5dB in noise levels was linked to 0.3% higher blood sugar levels than those living in quieter neighborhoods.”

But the bad news about noise pollution doesn’t end there. The researchers “also believe noise could be increasing the risk of heart disease by causing long-term psychological stress due to lack of sleep and an increase in the production of stress hormones.”

The results should not be entirely surprising. Anna Hansell, one of the authors of the new study, was the lead author on a study linking noise to adverse health effects in BMJ in 2013, and a senior author on another study  linking road traffic noise and cardiovascular morbidity, in 2015.

Additional studies will follow, as the researchers intend to continue their efforts “to add to the limited body of research in this area.”

 

Revisiting the routine audiological test

By Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

An audiology examination involves examination of the ear to inspect the ear drum, and then tests based on the patient’s complaints. Routine audiology testing includes pure tone audiometry, i.e., can the patient hear sound at different standard frequencies at different volumes? The recording of these responses is graphed into an audiogram:

Image credit: Courtesy of Dr. Stephane Maison

Tests of speech comprehension can also be performed.  But more detailed tests, such as DPOAE (Distortion Product Oto-Acoustic Emissions), and BAER (Brainstem Auditory Evoked Responses) are not routinely done. They are reserved to further investigate suspected problems, or used as research techniques.

But none of these tests can detect the phenomenon of “hidden hearing loss,” a synaptopathy caused by noise damage to slow response nerves and nerve junctions in the cochlea.

Dr. Stephane Maison, a leading researcher at Harvard Medical School and the Eaton-Peabody laboratory at the Massachusetts Eye & Ear Infirmary, recently published two important papers. The first, Toward a Differential Diagnosis of Hidden Hearing Loss, documented hearing loss in young musicians that was not detected by standard pure-tone audiometry but was detected by more sophisticated tests. In his paper, Dr. Maison wrote that his study “aimed to test the hypothesis that ‘hidden hearing loss’ is widespread among young adults with normal audiometric thresholds, especially those who abuse their ears regularly.” To test this theory, they “recruited young adult subjects and divided them according to noise-exposure history into high-risk and low-risk groups.” What he and his team found were “significant deficits in difficult word-recognition tasks in the high-risk group that were associated with significant elevation of pure-tone thresholds at frequencies higher than those normally tested and with changes in auditory evoked potentials consistent with the presence of cochlear synaptopathy, also known as hidden hearing loss.”

In the second paper in The Hearing Journal, he recommends that additional tests should be added to the current audiometry protocol to detect hidden hearing loss. Dr. Maison argues that early detection must be done since “[n]oise damage early in life likely accelerates the age-related further loss of hair cells and cochlear neurons, even in the absence of further ear abuse,” and suggests that additional tests be administered to identify hidden hearing loss, noting that “recent animal research has reported regeneration of cochlear nerve synaptic connections with inner hair cells after noise exposure.” He concludes that “[c]larification of the true risks of noise, and the true prevalence of noise-induced damage, are important to public policy on noise abatement, to raising general consciousness about the dangers of ear abuse and to preventing a dramatic rise in hearing impairment in the future.”

Click the links above to read Dr. Maison’s papers. They are well worth your time.

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.

 

Deja Vu: American Classrooms Are Still Too Noisy

By Arline L. Bronzaft, PhD, Founding Member, The Quiet Coalition

Editor’s note: The impact of environmental noise on kids’ performance in public schools is a sadly familiar one—even though solutions have long been known—witness this article about classroom noise in Decatur, Georgia. Selective progress has been made—thanks to four decades of work on this subject by one of The Quiet Coalition’s co-founders, Dr. Arline Bronzaft, including development of an ANSI standard for Classroom Acoustics*.  We asked Dr. Bronzaft to reflect on this four-decade-long project. Here are her thoughts:

In the mid-1970s, a parent of an elementary school child (like the Decatur parent, C. Aiden Downey, in the article above), asked me, her psychology professor, to help her lessen the noise intruding on her child’s classroom learning. The source of the noise were passing trains on elevated train tracks in New York City. We needed proof to back up her claim that noise intruded on learning.  With the help of the principal of P.S. 98 in Upper Manhattan, my co-author and I conducted a study which demonstrated that by the sixth grade children attending P.S. 98 classrooms near the tracks were nearly a year behind in reading compared to children on the quiet side of the building. Armed with proof and the support from public officials and the media, my requests to the Transit Authority and the Board of Education resulted in noise abatement on the tracks and in the classrooms. After the abatement was in place, a second study at the school found that children on both sides of the building were reading at the same level.

Today, forty years later, the Decatur parent above is lamenting about the intrusion of noise in his child’s classroom despite numerous publications on the deleterious effects of noise on learning, including several of my writings on how architects, engineers, and planners can involve themselves more assertively in providing quieter classrooms. Even former President Obama commented on noise near schools. Early in his first term, in a talk before Congress, he referred to a child in the audience who attended a school in Dillon, South Carolina, where teaching had “…to stop six times a day because the train barrels by their classroom.” I later learned that this student’s school did get funding to address its leaks and peeling paint and, one hopes, the noise. But President Obama turned a “deaf ear” to pleas to revitalize the noise arm of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and today, under Scott Pruitt, the EPA’s website on noise has been weakened.

The way to reduce classroom noise is known; it is the will that is lacking. It is this message that Dr. Downey and the parents of school children in Decatur and elsehwere have to bring to their local authorities. They can count on my assistance.

*Development of the ANSI Classroom Acoustics Standard was kick-started by Dr. Bronzaft; it was based on her research and encouraged by the U.S. Access Board. Development was carried out over a decade by a stalwart band of engineers. Since completion of the standard, several states have adopted it into their building codes. But all building codes are local, so this national standard will only be adopted by local school building programs if parents are actively engaged in the decision-making regarding school construction and renovation. Only parents can press their local school boards to recognize that research has proven noise interferes with learning and impairs children’ future success. Meanwhile, noisy classrooms will continue to be a problem across the U.S.

Originally posted on The Quiet Coalition blog.

Motorboat noise makes fish bad parents

leading to the death of their babies. Marine experts at the University of Exeter have discovered that “[t]he sound of motorboat engines disturbed coral reef fish so acutely it changed the behaviour of parents, and stopped male fish properly guarding their young, feeding and interacting with their offspring.” And the effects weren’t insignificant, as the researchers “found that the death-rates of baby fish exposed to boat engine noise increased significantly, with six of the 19 boat-noise nests suffering complete mortality.”

Armed with their results, the researchers assert that the “noise from boats is a ‘global pollutant,'” and believe that it “should be factored in when trying to protect fish stocks and manage fisheries.” Dr. Steve Simpson, an expert on the impact of noise on marine life at the university, adds:

This study raises important implications for managing the noise of the 100,000s of motorboats used around the world in coral reef environments. We are now considering acoustic quiet zones and corridors, and exploring how engine and propeller development can reduce the impact of this globally prevalent pollutant.

The researchers believe that their “research into the effect of man-made noise on coral fish could have wider implications for the survival of other marine species, and even birds and mammals.”

Audiologists warn public about summer activities

Photo credit: Lars Plougmann licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Why the warning? Because some summer activities could cause exposure to hazardous noise levels. Stefanie Valentic, EHSToday, writes that “Ball State University audiologists are warning people to use hearing protection during activities that may expose them to hazardous noise this summer such as mowing the lawn, concerts and fireworks.” “[P]eople may suffer irreversible damage to their auditory systems after only brief exposure,” says Ball State audiology professor Lynn Bielski. Her colleague, Professor Blair Mattern, adds that “[e]xcessively loud noise, music or other sound exposure will damage our hearing. We need to take responsibility and protect it.”

Ed Pfeifer, TribLIVE, would agree. He asserts that ear protection now will pay huge dividends down the line. Pfeifer writes about the “crazy amount of abuse” the human body can take and yet continue to function. But, he adds, eventually there is a price to pay. For Pfeifer, the price was a “very slight drop” in his ability to hear. And the cause of his hearing loss? Pfeifer speculates that:

Numerous rock concerts, excessive gunfire and front row seats at the stock car races have all left their mark on the lobes on the sides of my head. But, I use power tools all the time and if I was a betting man I’d put my money on those tools as the main culprit.

He notes that “[c]hainsaws and circular saws run at about 110 decibels, most table saws hover around the 104 mark and the average confrontation with teenage children, 127.”  Pfeifer knows he can’t go back in time and tell his younger self to wear ear protection, but he is doing that now “to preserve every last bit” of what hearing he has left.

So the best advice this summer–and every summer–is to protect your hearing today so that you have it tomorrow. If you use loud lawn and garden equipment, find quieter replacementsthey exist–or, at the least, don’t start an engine before you put in a pair of earplugs or don ear muff protectors. And if your idea of summertime fun includes outdoor concerts, fireworks displays, or an afternoon at a race track or your workbench, always have a supply of earplugs handy. Ultimately, we must assume responsibility for our hearing.

When noise is a weapon

Photo credit: Soundweapon by Peter Bergin licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5

Colin Moynihan, The New York Times, reports that a federal judge has ruled that the sound emitted by a long-range acoustic device (LRAD) used by the New York City Police Department to order protestors onto sidewalks “could be considered a form of force.” LRADs may “resemble heavy-duty speakers of the sort used to make announcements at high school football games,” but they are, in fact, powerful sound cannons. “[D]eveloped in part as a response to a terrorist attack on a Navy destroyer…[the LRAD is] capable of emitting sound bursts loud enough to repel potential attackers.” Moynihan writes that on the night of the protest:

[T}he police used a model called the 100X to emit a series of sharp, piercing beeps directed at people who in some cases were less than 10 feet away. Soon afterward, six of those who were nearby at the time and said they had developed migraines, sinus pain, dizziness, facial pressure and ringing in their ears filed a lawsuit challenging the police’s use of the device.

With this ruling, the plaintiffs’ lawsuit, which asserts that “their 14th Amendment rights had been violated, by an excessive use of force,” can proceed against the city and two members of the Police Department’s Disorder Control Unit. The judge found that the officers used one of the LRADs to order protestors onto the sidewalks, but also “employed the deterrent tone between fifteen to twenty times over a span of three minutes” and  “at points the officers used the device within 10 feet of the plaintiffs and angled it toward them.”  One of the plaintiffs said that “the sound that night was earsplitting and seemingly without respite,” adding that “[i]t’s like a noise flamethrower.”

The idea that a weapon developed to repel terrorist attacks was used on U.S. citizens who were protesting peacefully–a right guaranteed under the Bill of Rights–is appalling. One hopes that this lawsuit will remove LRADs from all police arsenals, and lead to the general recognition that sound can be a weapon and noise must be controlled.

 

Gene may hold key to hearing recovery

Photo credit: Max Pixel licensed under CC0 1.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

A recent discovery may explain why noise exposure makes some deaf but not others. Researchers at the University of Rochester Medical Center found that a gene with a possible role in human longevity may also play a role in protecting outer hair cells in the cochlea from damage by noise.

Noise-induced hearing loss is the most common cause of hearing loss. Approximately one-third of Americans reaching retirement age have hearing loss, but two-thirds do not. Little is understood about why noise damages hearing in some people but not in others, and this gene may explain part of this puzzle.

Of course, while scientists are trying to figure this out, we can all avoid noise-induced hearing loss entirely simply by avoiding exposure to loud noise, or wearing ear plugs if we can’t. The only evidence-based safe noise level to avoid hearing loss remains a time-weighted average of 70 decibels a day, as I wrote about in the American Journal of Public Health earlier this year.

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. Dr. Fink is a graduate of the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry.