Click the link to learn the 12 ways that workplace noise affects worker well-being and productivity. While the executive team, safely ensconced in their offices, may not care about worker well-being, productivity is another thing altogether.
The National Parks Service has created two maps: one that tracks noise pollution throughout the United States, and another that maps what the country would sound like without humans and our noise. And what do the maps show? Dan Mennitt, the park service researcher behind the maps, states:
There’s nowhere in the lower 48 where you can sit in a national park or any other natural area and not hear aircraft. There’s no such thing as a noise-free day anywhere.
If you are looking for quiet, Gordon Hempton thinks he may have found the quietest square inch in the U.S.
Yesterday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) posted content on its website addressing Environmental Noise Exposure and Health. This content looks at a number of issues, including what is hearing loss, sources of environmental noise, and the public health burden from noise and hearing loss.
Under a section titled “Recommendations and Guidelines,” the CDC discusses noise exposure limits. The CDC notes that the Environmental Protection Agency identified 70 dB as the average exposure limit to environmental noise for the general public, as did the World Health Organization (WHO), which “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.” Occupational noise exposure limits established by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health for an 8-hour workday are also mentioned.
Kudos to the CDC for posting this material on their site and giving noise exposure the attention it deserves. Noise-induced hearing loss and other injuries are mostly preventable, and the failure to educate the public on appropriate exposure limits is significant. As the CDC states, the “National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) found that in 2014, an estimated 21.0% of adults aged ≥18 years had difficulty following a conversation amid background noise, 11.2% had ringing in the ears [ed. note: tinnitus], and 5.9% had sensitivity to everyday sounds [ed. note: hyperacusis].” In short, noise-induced hearing loss, tinnitus, and hyperacusis affect more than a third of the population of the United States. Given the CDC’s mission to control and prevent disease and injury, one hopes this is the first of many steps taken to educate the public, advise federal, state, and local governments, and rein in a preventable health epidemic.
The author of the linked piece was disturbed by a tweet from “a well known rock magazine, Kerrang,” and responded, as follows:
Kerrang! Magazine did not respond to Restored Hearing’s tweet, but people in the hearing community did, which led to an interesting and thoughtful discussion about why hearing injuries are treated so dismissively when no one (presumably) would be openly snarky about injuries to sight. After all, there is no effective cure or treatment for most hearing injuries, the consequences of which are more significant than having to ask someone to speak up. Rather, hearing injuries can dramatically affect one’s quality of life. As Bryan Pollard, president of Hyperacusis Research Limited, Inc., stated:
‘Hyperacusis,’ the evil spawn of tinnitus, is a word you do not want in your vocabulary or your medical history. It means that noise = pain. All it takes is one loud night out to spark a lifetime of regret.
In the end, the reason for the flippancy is a lack of education. How many people even heard of hyperacusis or tinnitus or know what they are until and unless they or someone they know is diagnosed? That most hyperacusis and tinnitus is noise induced, thus preventable, means we need to confront the Kerrangs of the world and explain to them that today’s snarky tweet may lead to tomorrow’s lingering regret.
Thanks to Bryan Pollard for the link. Bryan is the founder and president of Hyperacusis Research Limited, a non-profit charity dedicated to funding research on what causes hyperacusis with the goal of developing effective treatments.
It was clear that the answer would not be any inhabited place in the U.S., and certainly not any city. In fact, the author notes that:
Many of you may live close enough to expanses of nature to have a sense of quiet – but few places are completely immune. Air traffic is hard to escape, and by some accounts, noise pollution affects more than 88 percent of the contiguous United States.
The article focuses on the work of Gordon Hempton, “an acoustic ecologist who has spent more than 30 years studying the quietest places in the country – not places free of sound, but free of man-made noises.” He has determined that the quietest square inch of nature in the U.S. can be found at Hoh Rain Forest at Olympic National Park in Washington State “on top of a moss-covered log at 47° 51.959N, 123° 52.221W.” Why focus on this one square inch? Because, as Hempton explains, “man-made noises can be heard from 20 miles away. So in fact, by protecting an inch, he says, it’s really preserving 1,000 square miles of silence.”
The town’s approach will need tweaking, but at least Asbury Park realizes that a balance has to be met:
“We need something to manage the sound levels, but not something as severe as this current ordinance. A municipality has to protect a balance between different kinds of entertainment experiences, whether you want a quiet bar or dining experience, are at the movies or at a gallery, or want to enjoy live music or a louder bar atmosphere,” said Michele Alonso, director of planning and redevelopment, in a statement. “Unchecked noise in the downtown — whether music or general crowd noise — affects other businesses as well as residents.”
In the end, that balance has to recognize that one man’s music is another man’s noise.
The cause of the screeching with the MTA trains could be something different–sounds like squealing brakes to us–but the idea that a transportation authority would make an effort to identify the source of the noise and do something to correct it, that’s priceless. Let’s hope that other transportation authorities consider the aural impact of their trains, light rail, trolleys, and buses going forward.
Motorcycle noise is a personal nemesis. It’s particularly discomforting when (obviously insecure) riders rev their engines at stop lights on smaller streets. City buildings are built one on top of the other, with few gaps on a typical street. The buildings are hard surfaces off of which the noxious motorcycle noise rebounds, making narrower streets into a hellish echo chamber. And to what end? Unless someone can suggest otherwise, it appears this assault on city denizens exists solely because some motorcycle riders enjoy the noise and either refuse to consider the impact on others or get some pleasure out of imposing it them.
Apparently ordinances exist to limit this abusive behavior, but the San Diego residents in the linked article went to their city council to come up with solutions to the problem. Council wisely has requested that the Sheriff’s Department “help enforce noise ordinances while they try to work out a solution to the issue.” We will be watching to see how San Diego deals with this problem.
As Healthy Hearing points out, “[n]o matter what the source, however, even these occupations that come with a high risk of noise related hearing loss can be made safer with proper precautions.” It is unconscionable that industry and government are aware that these occupations are causing life altering hearing loss and neither is doing enough to stop it.