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?
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:
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.
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.
Adam Lynn, traffic reporter for The Olympian, examines a common lament regarding motorcycle noise. Namely, Washington State has regulations governing motorcycle exhaust noise but motorcyclists ride with impunity as the regulations appear to be rarely enforced. Lynn’s research revealed that there were two relevant statutes governing exhaust and muffler noise, so he then turned to the Washington State Patrol to ask them about enforcement.
While the spokesperson for the Washington State Patrol was able to tell Lynn the number of people stopped for excessive vehicle noise (3,214), which presumably included motorcycles, he could not say how many citations were handed out. “In many instances,” said the spokesperson, “troopers simply inform drivers that their vehicles are illegally modified and need to be brought into compliance with the law,” adding that many owners plead ignorance and claim that they thought the modified exhaust was legal because it was installed by a muffler or motorcycle shop.
Apparently the Washington State troopers are unaware of the legal principle that ignorance of the law is no excuse. And we must add that the claimed ignorance is less believable when you realize that the offending exhaust pipes are aftermarket. That is, new motorcycles are sold with less offensive exhaust pipes that the owner must replace with modified exhausts in order to make the motorcycle as loud as possible so as to assault as many ears as possible.
Perhaps the Patrol should hand out citations instead of warnings the first time. Nothing like a punishing fine to insure that there won’t be a second time.
The Cult of the Quiet Car. For those of us who have suffered silently (well, except for the passive aggressive throat-clearing) as unthinking monsters shout into their phones during an hour plus train ride, the advent of the quiet car heralded a return to civility, life before mobile phones. All hail the quiet car!
Link via @jeaninebotta.
The Audiophiliac has the cure. And his short answer is this: get some disposable earplugs. Not exactly earth shattering. Although The Audiophiliac’s review of options may be useful, it is, after all, a short answer for a short-term remedy. Perhaps the author should consider the longer-term remedy and contact his city councilperson demanding real noise regulation in New York City. Just a thought.
The Next Station. A collaborative work by Cities and Memories and London Sound Survey, the Next Station is a sound map of the London Underground and, “by remixing and reimagining every sound it creates[,] an alternative sound world based on the experience and memory of the iconic Tube.”
In fairness, Wall Street barons have to commute to their Hampton estates by helicopter because the traffic on the Long Island Express Way is horrible (yes, tongue was planted firmly in cheek). Interestingly this issue is pitting the 1% against the 1%, though, admittedly, the helicopter crowd may more accurately be described as the .001%. Still, it’s easy to take sides here, because noise is noise is noise is noise. The airport will never be shutdown, but good luck to the activists. May they at least get some relief.
audiblerange.com, examines the worldwide efforts to preserve the world’s disappearing languages, historic recordings (particularly radio), nature sounds, and thewriting for