Silencity

The Truth About Noise

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Something to consider before you buy a house:

Outer Loop noise startles nearby homeowners.

You save money for a deposit, gird yourself as you plunk it down, and, finally, embrace home ownership.  Congratulations!  Sadly, a few years later a stretch of highway that had been planned finally opens and your peaceful home becomes a hellhole.  As the residents of Feyetteville are learning, there are few options, especially for those who purchased homes in neigborhoods that did not predate the planning for the new stretch of road.  Buyer beware.

Dear restaurant owners: we don’t go to your restaurants to listen to music!

Brits complain that minimalist decor and loud music are driving them away from restaurants.  Action on Hearing Loss, a British charity, has conducted a survey in which they found that “90 per cent of people with hearing difficulties felt background noise was the biggest problem they faced when eating out.”  The survey also found that “79 per cent of [respondents] said they had left an establishment early because of the sound levels and 91 per cent of those asked said they wouldn’t go back to a noisy venue.” 

Not mentioned in the article is the theory that restauranteurs deliberately play loud music in an attempt to scare away older customers, since these restauranteurs must all covet a younger crowd that presumably loves stereocilia-destroying music.  If true, they will no doubt ignore the advice offered in the articl to temper the loud volume, but they should not ignore the warning noted in the piece.  Namely, Action on Hearing Loss “is now hoping to develop an app which will allow people to take a decibel recording for restaurants, posting it onto a forum and allowing people to avoid particularly noisy establishments.” 

New Yorkers already have a tool they can use to help them avoid mind-numbingly loud restaurants.  Our sister site, Quiet City Maps, reviews noise levels of restaurants, bars, coffee shops, parks and privately owned public spaces throughout the city.  Click on the link to read the reviews and to check out the map, which shows you the good, the bad, and the ugly with easy to understand color icons.  A mobile app is in the works, so please send any suggestions of (relatively) quiet places their way.

 

This is disturbing:

New Zealand library uses ‘mosquito’ noise device to keep youths away.

Long and short, a New Zealand library installed a noise device because of complaints by (presumably older) customers “about such issues as swearing, abuse, standover tactics and intimidating behaviour.”  The device in question is marketed as an “ultrasonic teenage deterrent” that can be heard by anyone under the age of 25.  Apparently these devices have been used elsewhere because we are told that, “politicians in the UK call[ed] for a ban [of the devices], saying they are discriminatory towards young people, discourage group gatherings and may be harmful to hearing.”  And some children, particularly children with Down’s Syndrome or autism, are more sensitive to noise.

The idea of using weaponized noise to discourage teens from loitering outside a library is absolutely abhorrent.  Yes, some teens revel in anti-social behavior, but as one child’s librarian noted, “I find it very strange they have decided to use this device during opening hours when really we all need be encouraging children to read.”  We couldn’t have said it better ourselves.  There must be a better way of discouraging anti-social behavior than treating everyone under the age of 25 years as part of the problem.

New Yorkers, mark your calendars:

On September 24th the Noise Hackathon is presenting a series of fascinating talks that will look “into the complexities of noise including urban noise pollution and noise music to jump-start a full day of noise hacking.”  One of the talks will be presented by Dr. Arline Bronzaft, one of the leading experts in environmental psychology, who will talk about the impact of noise on health, particularly the  “non-auditory health risks and physiological disorders, including children’s learning skills, hypertension, sleep deprivation, and cardiovascular complications, as well as work productivity and social behavior.”

The September 24th Noise Hackathon is presented as part of NoiseGate Festival 2016, a “5-day music festival focusing on the environment, bringing awareness to spatial and urban noise pollution “in 3D” via Data-Driven, Art-Driven, Community-Driven efforts.”  Admission to the Noise Hackathon is free.  Just click the link to RSVP.

Who doesn’t?

Residents want police crackdown on loud, fast motorcycles.  The complaint isn’t against all motorcyclists–it never is.  Rather, the residents in this article are angry at “[p]eople driving loud bikes, deliberately modified for the sole purpose of being extra loud and obnoxious.”  We agree.  Those extra loud tail pipes do not come with a new bike, by the way.  They are aftermarket purchases, which clearly shows that rider is deliberately making noise because they want to.  We believe that is called “anti-social behavior,” and the police should be citing motorcyclists who engage in this activity.  Should.  But the article highlights a problem with enforcement, namely that the police refuse to do it:

Lisgo would like to see every officer equipped with a simple sound-measuring device, just as officers are equipped with breathalyzers to check for impaired drivers. She said her efforts to persuade police to crack down so far have been unsuccessful.

“They tell me they just don’t have enough manpower and they have better things to do and I just don’t buy that.”

Either do we.  Good luck to the residents of West Kootenay.  We hope you are successful in stopping this scourge.

Thanks to Hyperacusis Research for the link.

Meanwhile every motorcycle in town could drive by the police and never get stopped:

Opera Singer Arrested for Violating Alexandria Noise Ordinance.

No doubt someone may have found the performance annoying–busking is busking whatever the caliber of the performer.  That said, there is nothing in the article linked above that suggests that the police were responding to a complaint.  That is, it’s unclear whether they saw an opportunity to protect he streets from opera but were provoked into arresting the singer when she refused to shut down her amplified orchestral accompaniment.

Truth be told, we’re torn on who we should support in this story.  On the one hand, we would prefer to not be bombarded by amplified sound.  On the other, we wonder whether the police are normally as diligent when dealing with noise criminals.  Adding that we wish the cops were as vigilant with motorcyclists sporting aftermarket tail pipes as they are with desperate opera singers carrying amplifiers.

Note the healthy dose of skepticism:

The Kickstarter Success Story That Claims To Solve Noise Complaints.

Emphasis on “claims.”  You can read about this magical device (Muzo) by clicking the link.  Apparently the Kickstarter campaign seems long on promises and buzzwords (“Billionsound Technology (Powered by BST)” and “dynamic realistic sounds”) and short on, well, proof.  One good thing: $532,666 was raised in the Kickstarter campaign in which the creators sought just $100,000.  That is, lots of people want solutions for noise.  While we understand the appeal of a magic box, perhaps better regulation and quieter environments might be the better answer?

September 8th is the Kickoff for a Public Health Crisis

By, Daniel Fink, M.D.

Some public health crises–the spread of Zika or an outbreak of Ebola, for example–are surprises.  But on September 8th, with the start of the National Football League season in Denver, a public health crisis can be predicted with stunning accuracy.  Weaponized stadium noise levels, used by professional football teams to interfere with visiting teams’ play calling, will cause mass auditory damage to tens of thousands of football fans.

Stadium noise is a danger at college games, too.   But I am going to focus on the professional game because the football players, team staff, and stadium employees are protected by regulations promulgated by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which establishes permissible exposure levels for workplace noise.  The public and student athletes in college sports have no such protection.  For some strange reason–most likely because the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Noise Abatement and Control (ONAC) was defunded in 1981–there are no federal safe noise levels for the public. (For background on the defunding of ONAC, see Lessons from a Public Policy Failure: EPA and Noise Abatement).

The world record stadium noise level of 142.2 decibels was set in 2014, in a game between the Kansas City Chiefs and the visiting Seattle Seahawks.  That record exceeds the OSHA maximum permissible noise level of 140 decibels!  The crowd in Kansas City’s Arrowhead Stadium broke Seattle’s previous record of 137.6 decibels.  At 136 decibels, the maximum legal time for workplace exposure is less than one second.  So one could say that both stadium noise records likely set another world record: the largest number of people sustaining auditory damage at one event.  At Arrowhead Stadium, that world record number was 76,613.

Football games were always noisy, but not this noisy.  From 1989 until 2007, an NFL rule allowed officials to penalize a team if fans made noise loud enough to interfere with play calling.  Abolition of that rule allowed home teams to turn up the volume, both of crowd noise and of amplified sound.

So how loud is 140 decibels? That’s about as loud as a jet engine at full throttle getting ready for takeoff.  That’s loud enough to cause permanent hearing loss, tinnitus (ringing in the ears), or hyperacusis (a sensitivity to noise) with only one brief exposure.  Brief repeated noise exposure is called intermittent exposure.  While the noise exposure may not meet the continuous exposure thresholds used by OSHA, the total effect of enough intermittent loud noise exposure may be sufficient to cause auditory damage.

If thousands of football fans suffered diarrhea after eating tainted food or drinking contaminated water at a football game, public health authorities would sweep in, investigate, and take action.  But because it’s “only” hearing loss (and tinnitus and hyperacusis), nothing is done.  Keep in mind that an average of 68,000 fans attend each NFL game, which is the highest attendance per game of any professional sports league in the world.  That means that more than 17 million fans are potentially at risk of auditory damage in any given year.*

This risk is not hypothetical.  Research first reported in 2009 indicates that there is no such thing as temporary auditory damage.  If someone exposed to loud noise has temporary tinnitus or diminished hearing after exposure, permanent auditory damage has been sustained.

Some football teams have started to respond to the dangerous noise levels by offering earplugs to fans.  Is this enough?  In a word, no.  Without efforts to control noise levels, without warning fans that their hearing is being endangered, and without public health authorities taking steps to protect the public’s auditory health, more needs to be done.  If not, perhaps trial attorneys will step in where the government refuses to tread.  I can see the lawyers’ advertisements on television: “Were you at Arrowhead Stadium on September 29, 2014?  Do you have problems with your hearing now?  Call us to learn what you can do to get compensated for your permanent hearing injury.”

In the meantime, if it sounds too loud, it IS too loud!  Fans should bring their own earplugs or earmuff hearing protection to both professional and college football games. And if the noise level is above 100 decibels, follow the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health’s recommendation and bring both!

*The actual number of people at risk of auditory damage from NFL games annually is fewer than 17 million as many people attend more than one professional football game each season, but it has to be a large number.  The noise exposure issue is a complex one beyond a full discussion in a brief blog post.  Key issues include the Time Weighted Average (TWA) noise exposure (i.e., the total noise dose at an event and over a day, a year, and a lifetime that causes auditory damage) and the fact that if one experiences only two hours of noise above 85 decibels it is mathematically impossible to reach the CDC’s recommendation of an average noise dose of only 70 decibels for 24 hours to avoid hearing loss.  A discussion of sound measurement and A and C weighting and the difference between an occupational noise exposure and a safe noise exposure level for the public is also beyond the scope of this brief blog post.

Daniel Fink, M.D., is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area.  Dr. Fink serves on the board of the American Tinnitus Association, is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’ 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.  Opinions expressed in this article are his own and not necessarily those of the American Tinnitus Association, Quiet Communities, or The Quiet Coalition.

 

 

Hey New Yorkers, as you prepare to return to work after this long holiday weekend, don’t forget to pack your earplugs:

NYC subway exposes commuters to noise as loud as a jet engine.

And for Metafilter’s take: But *everything* in New York is loud…. Thanks to Lisa Kothari for the link!

Finally, a word to the wise: the 4/5/6 platform at Union Square is the absolute worse.  When the trains are racing in it is absolutely deafening.  Proceed with caution.

 

 

 

The law of unintended consequences strikes again:

U.S. Open Quieted Those Calling for a Roof. Now It Faces a Louder Problem.

Apparently the retractable roof repels rain but at the expense of trapping and reflecting fans’ voices and bouncing the sound to the court.  It’s not a problem for Wimbledon and the Australian Open, both of which added retractable roofs a while ago, because, in part, the Arthur Ashe Stadium holds 9,000 more people than the other two courts.  One must assume that Americans’ tolerance–if not love–of noise is a factor as well.  As the NY Times notes:

At most stadium sporting events, loudness is welcome, or even encouraged. At basketball arenas, football stadiums and baseball parks, video boards frequently implore, “Let’s make some noise!” In tennis, cheering is acceptable after points, but fans are expected to be quiet in the moments leading up to the action and the time during play.

Fan behavior at Ashe Stadium has always been unusual when compared with the three other Grand Slam tournaments — the Australian Open, the French Open and Wimbledon. At the hallowed ground of Centre Court at Wimbledon, talking aloud during a point would probably get fans ejected.

Given the $150 million cost of the new roof, the folks at the U.S. Open probably would love to find a low-cost solution to this problem.  May we suggest duct tape?  Lots and lots of duct tape.

Thanks to Dr. Daniel Fink for the link.