Silencity

The Truth About Noise

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The war against leaf blowers inches forward:

As another California city mulls ban on blowers of all types.  No doubt some people may wonder why others dedicate time and energy fighting something that seems fairly innocuous, at best, and merely annoying, at worst.  But leaf blowers are not just an annoyance.  Quiet Communities, a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting our health, environment, and quality of life from the excessive use of industrial outdoor maintenance equipment, has documented the substantial health hazard leaf blowers pose to the health of the operator, those in the vicinity of the activity, and even our pets, too.

So hearing that Ojai, California is considering banning all blowers, both gas-powered and battery-powered, is encouraging.  And yes, there will be push back, but in the end the only reason not to ban leaf blowers is that the alternatives are more expensive.  A fact that is only true if you only consider the additional labor cost and ignore the savings to health and wellbeing.

Cheaper and better hearing aids are coming:

Why isn’t there a Warby Parker for hearing aids?  Sean Captain, writing for Fast Company, looks at the current market for hearing aids, a market that is dominated by six companies charging anywhere from $4,500 and upward a pair–out of reach for most people who need them–and the new players who are shaking up this industry.  First, Captain introduces us to “Audra Renyi, a 34-year-old former investment banker who’s been a hearing care advocate since 2007, [who] is launching a company called Hearing Access World that aims to cut the price of hearing aids by 75%.”   He writes:

Renyi knows her market well as executive director of World Wide Hearing. The Montreal-based nonprofit provides testing and low-cost hearing aids in poor countries like Guatemala and Vietnam. She hopes to bring prices down globally by playing directly in the market with her new social venture.

Interestingly, there are other players interested in this market who aren’t from the nonprofit world, namely tech startups. These startups are avoiding the cost, in both time and legal fees, they would have to bear navigating the Food and Drug Administration for approval of a new hearing device by selling their products as consumer electronic components.  Captain reports that:

While hearing aid sales are minuscule, consumer electronics companies are selling hundreds of millions of audio devices, such as Bluetooth headsets, that do many of the same things. Mass-market CE components are going into devices called personal sound amplification products, or PSAPs, which have become unofficial budget hearing aids.

Captain looks at one startup offering a PSAP, Doppler Labs.  Doppler Labs started out with a Kickstarter campaign for their product Here Active Listening, a $249 set of AI-driven wireless earbuds.  The earbuds “recognize and filter ambient sounds, such as bringing down background noise in a subway or boosting voices during a conversation, [and a] smartphone app lets users pick filters and effects (like simulating the ambience of a concert hall), adjust volume, and tweak a five-band equalizer.”  Doppler Labs is coming out with a new product, HERE One, which is shipping in time for the 2016 holiday season.

Captain reviewed the then current model of HERE One and had some reservations, but he didn’t have the opportunity to review the latest iteration and the Doppler spokeswoman offered that he may have needed different sized tips to better fit his ear canals.  Long and short, PSAPs are in their infancy, but the future looks promising for them and us.  As Captain states:

As consumer electronics companies nudge into the hearing-aid space with PSAPs, and as hearing-aid companies nudge into the CE space, a new wearable tech category may be emerging. Called “hearables” by their boosters, the gadgets could encompass a range of over-the-counter, in-ear devices that allow people to hear better—either by making up for diagnosed hearing deficiency or tweaking how live music and voices sound.

In the end, people with hearing loss who have been denied access to hearing aids due to their prohibitive cost should very soon be able to purchase reasonably priced PSAPs that will give them some relief.  While it would be better, of course, for everyone with hearing loss to be properly fitted with hearing aids that are adjusted by audiologists, this cheaper alternative addresses a critical need now.  For those who feel isolated by hearing loss, PSAPs will be a godsend.

Click this link for the full article to read about the full range of products and services that are or will be available shortly.

Organization calls for elimination of canned music:

Lisa Packer, staff writer at Healthy Hearing, writes about Pipedown, an organization started almost 25 years ago in the UK by Nigel Rodgers who committed himself to stopping the ubiquitous assault of canned music in every public space.  We wrote about Pipedown UK’s victory this summer when Marks & Spencer, the UK’s biggest chain store, agreed to stop playing muzak in their stores.  Parker interviewed Rodgers about the evils of canned music, which Rodgers says is “mood-conditioning by business, trying to manipulate us into buying or doing what it wants.”  He added that the constant over-stimulation “leaves us afraid of silence.”

Parker examines why businesses bombard us with music (short answer: to make money faster, of course), and cites noted noise activist Dr. Daniel Fink, who notes the misuse of the 85 dB occupational standard as a standard for the general public and the lack of federal safe noise standards for public places.  Despite the effective noise regulation in the U.S., the article ends on a good note.  Parker looks at Pipedown’s continued efforts fight noise, writing:

With more than 1500 members in the UK and sister groups in Germany, Austria, New Zealand and the U.S., Pipedown is now taking its efforts to persuade retailers and other establishments to eliminate canned music to a world stage.

The going may be slow, but each victory brings us closer to a quieter world.

 

Time is up for ear-blasting technology,

peaceful washrooms are back.  Do you find the noise produced by electric hand dryers to be jarring or even painful?  You’re not alone.  All electric hand dryers make noise, but some are worse than others, “causing discomfort to all, and unnecessary stress to those with hypersensitivity to noise, hearing problems or conditions such as dementia and autism.”   Fortunately, a quieter alternative may be around the corner.  Quiet Mark announces the launch of its review of hand dryers, stating that it:

[T]ested a broad range of hand dryers and only the quietest, high-performance machines achieved a Quiet Mark award. This universal symbol makes it easier for those in charge of restaurants, bars, leisure centres, shops, libraries, hospitals and public conveniences to consider sound levels when assessing hand dryers for their venues.

Quiet Mark’s testing uses real-life testing environments for accurate result, because “the sound levels of hand dryers in real-life situations have often been underestimated.”  Among other things, Quiet Mark notes that hand dryers are:

[C]ommonly tested in ultra-absorbent acoustic laboratories, rather than in highly reverberant washrooms and toilets, where their loud motor noise can be uncomfortably amplified. They may also be tested without human hands in the airflow, which can add up to 10dB in some cases. The combination of these factors means that the machine can be twice as loud as some test results might show.

You can see Quiet Mark’s review of hand dryers here.

More of this, please:

A New Breed of Impact Drivers Cuts the Noise in Half.  Remember when a cordless drill was the best thing ever?  Apparently impact drivers are the new best thing, offering the “most torque and power for fastening bolts and driving screws.”  The price to be paid for that power is noise, which is not unlike a mini-jackhammer.   Fortunately, some manufacturers realized that noise was a deterrent for at least some buyers, and they have designed impact drivers that promise to deliver the power with less than half the noise.

We aren’t going to run out and buy an impact driver soon, but it is exciting to see that manufacturers recognize that noise is a problem and that reducing noise is a selling point.  Yes, yes it is.  Let’s encourage this behavior.  When you’re buying new appliances or equipment, check to see if the manufacturer posts a decibel rating on the box or promotional materials.  If not, contact the manufacturer and ask if they will provide it to you.  Finally, ask your preferred retailer whether they offer quieter versions of whatever you are looking for.  If we ask for it, they will build it.

Sirens driving you mad? It’s not just you:

Brussels collective demands less siren noise.  It’s difficult to complain about a source of noise when it has social utility, like siren noise.  Sirens are obviously necessary to clear the road of obstructions when an ambulance is racing someone in distress to the hospital or a fire truck is speeding to a fire.  But there are times when sirens are employed unnecessarily.  This writer has experienced the sleep-ending scream of a siren after midnight on a weekday and before 6:00 a.m. on a Saturday morning, times when the major road nearby is not jammed with traffic.

So we were happy to hear that Stop Sirènes, a Brussels collective that “is urging police and other emergency services in the Brussels-Capital Region to be more “sparing” in their use of sirens,” made some headway.  Asserting that “sirens are too often used unnecessarily,” the collective took its plea to the region’s environment minister who has ordered a study into siren use.

While New York City has been more receptive to addressing noise complaints, unnecessary siren use remains a problem. For those of you who live in New York City, please consider signing this sensible Change.org petition directed to Mayor Diblasio: Lower the volume of Ambulance sirens in New York City.  Thank you.

 

What’s wrong with a noisy world?

For one very thoughtful answer read Olivia Parker’s article, “‘In Pursuit of Silence’: the film that says we need more quiet in our lives.”

Parker’s article starts with her review of “In the Pursuit of Silence,” a new film about the impact of noise on our lives and the movement to bring silence back into our everyday world.  She finds the film “both calming and jarring to watch.”  It “opens with near-silence,” she states, “four minutes and 33 seconds of it, to be precise, in honour of John Cage’s experimental composition 4’33, in which performers sit in silence for that length of time.”  The film then combines “30-second-long static camera shots of scenes and their sounds – a tree in a field, a petrol station at night, a motorway – with interviews with people involved in the consideration of sound and silence all over the world.”  Parker notes that it is “the first major film to be made about noise pollution – and for those who have been calling for a quiet revolution for years, it’s a much-needed step towards a more sound-balanced world.”

Parker’s review acts as a conversation opener to a deeper exploration of the pervasiveness and dangerousness of noise and the healing power of silence.  The query “how noisy are we now” is followed by a litany of aural abuses, focusing mainly on unavoidable transportation sounds–noise from airplanes, street traffic, and the Tube–but addng that respite cannot be had by ducking into a nearby restaurant for a nosh and some peace.  Parker looks at the consequences of living in a noisy world and they are not good.  She catalogs noise’s negative affect on one’s spirit, mood, ability to learn, and wellbeing.

The focus on our noisy world is followed with a look at the benefits of quiet, examining how it calms, increases productivity, and may even help our brains grow.  Parker concludes by examining how we can get more silence in our lives, highlighting the work of Quiet Mark, a UK company that “awards a badge of “quality” to brands that meet particular sound requirements,” and reviewing eight everyday appliances that have been awarded Quiet Marks.

The world could be a quieter place, we learn, if only all designers considered noise avoidance as important as durability, efficiency, or style.

There’s so much more in this article, so click the link to read it all.

LInk via Antonella Radicchi @firenzesoundmap.

 

The Greatest Threat to Our National Parks?

It Might Be Noise Pollution.  Max Ufberg, writing for Outside, introduces us to Davyd Betchkal, the National Park Service’s soundscape specialist in Alaska, who studies the parks’ natural acoustic environment to determine “the ecological impacts of human-made noise.”  In doocumenting all 54 million acres of Alaska’s parks, Betchkal stated that two things are clear:

[S]ound is crucial to the health of plants and wildlife and everything from airplanes cruising overhead to the roaring of snowmobiles on the ground or the muffled ring of an iPhone in a jacket pocket affects—and often disrupts—the ambiance of our most precious natural areas.

Ufberg adds:

To be clear, in the context of natural places, birdsong isn’t noise; the buzz of an airplane is. Sound, by contrast, is a protected resource under the Park Service’s foundational Organic Act of 1916 as part of the profile of a natural environment. According to an estimate by Park Service senior scientist Kurt Fristrup, a national park goer hears human-created noise, much of it aviation-related, during about 25 percent of his or her visit.

“Noise is just as ubiquitous and broad in its impacts on the continent as air pollution,” Fristrup says.

Ufberg points outs that noise is linked to cardiovascular disease and elevated blood pressure, among other ills, noting that the Environmental Protection Agency classified noise as a pollutant since 1970.  “While [noise] poses a greater risk in cities,” writes Ufberg, “it’s increasingly become an issue in nature, too.”

Click the link to learn about how noise harms wildlife and how the Park Service is working to protect them and us from noise pollution in our national parks.

Just in time for “National Protect Your Hearing Month”:

New research shows young adults at risk for hearing loss.  ABC7NY reports on New York City Health Department data showing that “40% of adults ages 18 to 44 visited loud venues at least a few times per month, [and] 41% of teens who listen to a personal music players with headphones 10 or more hours a week said they listen at maximum volume.”  Both activities, the Department cautions, puts people at risk for hearing loss.  Says Health Commissioner Dr. Mary T. Bassett, “[l]istening to your headphones at high volume or attending loud concerts, restaurants and bars regularly can take a toll on a person’s health and hearing,” and she cautions that technology, in particular, makes it too easy to be exposed to potentially damaging sound.  The Department advises parents to talk to their teenage children about avoiding hearing loss down the road, and suggests sensible measures for limiting exposure to punishing sound.

Thanks to Charles Shamoon for the link.

October is National Protect Your Hearing Month

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued an announcement about National Protect Your Hearing Month, stating that it is “a time to raise awareness about the causes and prevention of noise-induced hearing loss.”  Noise-induced hearing loss “can result from occupational noise exposures, leisure activities such as sporting events or concerts, or use of personal listening devices.”  Whatever the cause, it is permanent and irreversible.  More importantly, noise-induced hearing loss is completely preventable.

The CDC notes that noise-induced hearing loss affects people in all age groups. During 2001 to 2008, one in five Americans over the age of 12 years had hearing loss in at least one ear, and one in eight had hearing loss in both ears.  The CDC adds that prevalence of hearing loss is expected to increase.

To learn more about hearing loss and what you can do to avoid it, click the link for access to resources prepared by the CDC and the National Center for Environmental Health, The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, and the National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities.

Thanks to Daniel Fink, M.D. for the link.  Dr. 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.