Tag Archive: Dr. Arline Bronzaft

NY representatives win funding to combat aircraft noise

by Arline L. Bronzaft, Ph.D., Board of Directors, GrowNYC, and Co-founder, The Quiet Coalition

In my recent paper, “Impact of Noise on Health: The Divide Between Policy and Science,” I stressed that research on the adverse impacts of noise on health is plentiful but not enough was being done, especially in the U.S., to lessen noise. Many years earlier, the Environmental Protection Agency agreed the data linking noise to health were strong. In a booklet it published in August 1978, “Noise: A Health Problem,” it said “[i]t is finally clear that noise is a significant hazard to health.”

With respect to lessening noise, Russell Train, the then EPA Administrator, stated at a 1976 Inter-Noise Conference that with respect to lessening aircraft noise, which adversely affects millions of residents, “We really know what needs to be done. We have simply lacked the will to do it. Let’s get on with the job.”

Now fast forward to 2018 and you can readily understand the frustration and pain of the many U.S. groups fighting aircraft noise knowing the data supporting the harmful effects of aircraft noise are strong but the “will” to remedy the situation is still lacking. One of the reasons that the Federal Aviation Administration has lagged behind in remedying the noise problem is that the agency insists on using outdated methods to measure noise. The agency claims that the Day-Night Average Sound level of 65 dBA is the level at which sound becomes intrusive, but this metric has long been viewed as too high. Additionally, averages do not speak to the singular disturbing overhead jet sounds that come in at 6 a.m. or late at night, and the agency relies on modeling and simulations to determine impacts rather than actual measurements.

Community groups have informed themselves about the dangers of aircraft noise and have learned about the changes the FAA must make to more accurately measure noise levels, which in turn can lead to better methods to abate noise. These groups have shared this information to legislators with whom they have formed partnerships to design legislation that can better address aircraft noise pollution. A number of New York legislators, including representatives Joe Crowley, Grace Meng, Greg Meeks, Hakeem Jeffries, and Kathleen Rice, formed a coalition known as the New York Quiet Skies Caucus. One of the members, Congressman Joe Crowley, wanting data to strengthen his request for improved methods to measure noise levels, secured a federal grant to conduct a study yielding such data. I was one of the authors of that study, which is discussed in “Airport-Related Air Pollution and Noise.”

Thus, it is with some satisfaction that I can now share the following press release from Rep. Grace Meng announcing that the New York Quiet Skies Caucus has “secured a provision in the newly enacted omnibus appropriations bill which directs the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to examine new methods of measuring aircraft noise in order to reduce the impact of excessive airplane noise over their districts.”

I wish to thank our members of congress for their hard work in getting this legislation passed and join them in their hope that this first step will lead to quieter skies.

Dr. Arline Bronzaft is a researcher, writer, and consultant on the adverse effects of noise on mental and physical health. She is co-author of “Why Noise Matters,” author of “Listen to the Raindrops” (children’s book illustrated by Steven Parton), and has written extensively about noise in books, encyclopedias, academic journals, and the popular press.  In addition, she is a Professor Emerita of the City University of New York and Board member of GrowNYC.

New York City appoints a “Nightlife Mayor”

by Arline L. Bronzaft, Ph.D., Board of Directors, GrowNYC, and Co-founder, The Quiet Coalition

Noise is not simply an annoyance: noise is hazardous to mental and physical health and well-being. The research literature supporting this statement is plentiful. Recognizing that the research linking noise to poor health was growing, New York City decided to update its noise code ten years ago. While many citizens supported this effort, there was a great deal of opposition from the nightlife community who feared more stringent limits on sound levels would impede the business of bars, music venues, dance clubs, cafes, and late-night restaurants. Then Mayor Michael Bloomberg, believing that an updated noise code was essential for the health of New Yorkers, asked that the supporters and opponents of the noise code sit down and work together to bring about a code that would work for all its citizens. They did and the City’s updated noise code was passed.

In January 2018, the Comptroller of the State of New York decided to assess the strength of the noise code in responding to the many noise complaints received by 311, the New York City Complaint Center. The DiNapoli report found that between 2010 and 2015, “New Yorkers made 1.6 million complaints via 311.” Nightlife noise complaints were identified as music, party or people noise coming from a commercial establishment. Between 2010 and 2015, the report noted there were 154,587 such complaints with concentrations in the Lower East Side and Chinatown. The New York City Police Department confirmed about 1/3 of these complaints and most were resolved by actions taken to “fix the condition.”

A separate survey of residents was also conducted, and respondents offered suggestions as to how to lower the number of nightlife complaints, e.g. better management of people socializing in front of the establishment, enforcement of volume levels of music.

It is interesting that shortly after this DiNapoli report was released, we learn that New York has decided to appoint for the first time a Nightlife Mayor to “ …promote the industry and soothe the strained relations between the city’s night spots and the neighborhoods that complain about their merriment.” New Yorker Ariel Palitz, the former owner of Sutra, a club that she managed for ten years until it closed several years ago, was named Nightlife Mayor.

Following the announcement of Ms. Palitz as Nightlife Mayor, the NY Post ran an article that informed readers that Ms. Palitz’ club, Sutra, topped the list of “loudest gin joints for seven years running according to an interview she gave to a Lower East Side blog six years ago.” Ms. Palitz blamed the noise complaints on one relentless caller to 311.

According to the DiNapoli report, however, there are many New York City residents who are disturbed by the sounds that emanate from nearby clubs, bars, and music venues. In the New York Times article, Ms. Palitz states that she wants to listen to the residents who complain about the noise. She then goes on to say that she believes both sides feel that things are unfair but so far there have been “no practical solutions to address them.”

Accepting Ms. Palitz’ desire to resolve the disputes between the two sides, residents and owners of nightlife establishments, I would hope that the Advisory Committee that has already been named to assist her has members who are knowledgeable about the laws pertaining to noise control, as well as the impacts of noise on health and well-being. There should be someone on this committee that can assess the needs of both the owners and residents with appropriate surveys. I would also suggest that the committee members and Ms. Palitz read the most recent DiNapoli report on noise as well as his earlier report on nightlife noise reports.

For the past thirty years as a member of the Board of GrowNYC where I oversee its anti-noise activities, many New Yorkers have called on me to assist with their noise complaints, including residents who have been impacted by noise from nearby nightlife establishments. In addition, I have worked with community groups in New York City and elsewhere on noise issues and write extensively on the health impacts of noise pollution. I offer my long-term experience to Ms. Palitz as she moves forward to promote the nightlife industry in New York City while maintaining the requisite quiet for their nearby neighbors.

Dr. Arline Bronzaft is a researcher, writer, and consultant on the adverse effects of noise on mental and physical health. She is co-author of “Why Noise Matters,” author of “Listen to the Raindrops” (children’s book illustrated by Steven Parton), and has written extensively about noise in books, encyclopedias, academic journals, and the popular press.  In addition, she is a Professor Emerita of the City University of New York and Board member of GrowNYC.

Residents have the right to quiet in their homes

by Arline L. Bronzaft, Ph.D., Board of Directors, GrowNYC, and Co-founder, The Quiet Coalition

For thirty years, I have served on the Board of Directors of GrowNYC, largely overseeing its noise activities. In this capacity I worked with our staff on preparing information for our website that informs readers on how to protect themselves from noise and also to respect their neighbors’ rights to a quieter environment in their homes.

Readers who are having noise problems can read my post on how to deal with noisy neighbors or they may contact me through GrowNYC. I hope our advice has influenced readers to be respectful of neighbors’ right to quiet. But, sadly, the people I hear from are those who have neighbors who do not realize or care about imposing their sounds on their neighbors.

In his report on noise in New York City neighborhoods, Thomas P. DiNapoli noted the large number of noise complaints handled by the city’s 311 Customer Service Center as well as the results of a survey his office launched to gain greater insight into the types of noise complaints received by 311. Residential complaints, which were high on the list, included “…banging or pounding of music, party or people noise coming from a home.”

Although the Police Department can respond to some of the neighbor to neighbor complaints, e.g. very loud, disruptive parties, many of these neighbor complaints have to be resolved by landlords and managing agents. In New York State, the lease that tenants sign entitle them to a “warranty of habitability,” and under this clause they have the right to requisite quiet. Unfortunately, it has been the experience of many tenants that noise complaints are not taken seriously by their landlords and managing agents. I know this because many people with neighbor noise complaints call me at GrowNYC and I, in turn, where permissible, contact their landlords or managing agents.

While I have had much success in resolving neighbor to neighbor complaints, in those cases where I have not succeeded residents had to go to tenant/landlord court. I remember one case where neighbors were complaining about children running across uncovered floors late at night. The judge took the noise complaint seriously and told the mother that the children should have been asleep late at night and admonished her for being a “bad” mother. He also sided with the complainant and ordered the managing agent to enforce the right of this tenant to “reasonable quiet.”

I have some experience with residents in private homes in New York City and elsewhere having no other option but to go to court. But I don’t recall anyone receiving the high award for damages noted in this British case, where the complainant was awarded over £100,000 (approx. $138,000) in compensatory damages. I find the award of $138,000 dollars striking. Particularly since the judge also ordered the company that owned the offending flat to carry out work on the floors that would reduce the noise.

In the apartment noise cases I have been involved with, judges have asked landlords to make sure that tenants have proper carpeting on the floors which is often stipulated in leases. In one case, the judge had asked the resident who created the noise to put back the padding to the radiator she had removed when she remodeled the apartment since the removal of the padding allowed noise to enter the apartment below.

I wish tenants, landlords, managing agents, and judges involved in neighbor noise cases would read the article on the large financial payout for inflicting noise on a neighbor. It might make them realize that: (1) noise is indeed hazardous to well-being, and (2) action must be taken to abate the noise or there may be a financial price to pay.

Dr. Arline Bronzaft is a researcher, writer, and consultant on the adverse effects of noise on mental and physical health. She is co-author of “Why Noise Matters,” author of “Listen to the Raindrops” (children’s book illustrated by Steven Parton), and has written extensively about noise in books, encyclopedias, academic journals, and the popular press.  In addition, she is a Professor Emerita of the City University of New York and Board member of GrowNYC.

Is there a link between NYC noise and crime?

Photo credit: Tony Fischer licensed under CC BY 2.0

by David M. Sykes, Vice Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This article in The Crime Report examines a recent report about New York City noise by New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli. It’s fascinating read and carefully documents the chronic problem of noise in New York City along what the City has been doing (and not doing) to address it. More importantly, the article notes that “[n]oise complaints may be a clue to what else is going on in an apartment,” such as child or elder abuse or drug dealing, and, in any event, “not enforcing noise ordinances creates an environment that encourages lawbreaking.”

The author of the article is GrowNYC board member Arline Bronzaft, PhD, who is also a co-founder of The Quiet Coalition. In her article, Dr. Bronzaft discusses the link between crime and noise and why the City should devote more enforcement resources to the issue to improve the health, safety and welfare of New York City’s residents.

Thank you, Dr. Bronzaft for your passionate and long-term commitment to this subject!

In addition to serving as vice chair of the The Quiet Coalition, David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: The Acoustics Research Council, American National Standards Institute Committee S12, Workgroup 44, The Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Working Group—a partner of the American Hospital Association. He is the lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0 (2012, Springer-Verlag), a contributor to the National Academy of Engineering report “Technology for a Quieter America,” and to the US-GSA guidance “Sound Matters”, and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics (LARA) at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. He recently retired from the board of directors of the American Tinnitus Association. 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.

Noise is the next great public health crisis

Photo credit: Loozrboy licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coaltion

This wonderful article from Futurism.com discusses the major problem of noise pollution as the nation and the world become increasingly urbanized.

Few remember that the U.S., government policy, as voted by Congress and signed into law in 1972, is “to promote an environment for all Americans free from noise that jeopardizes their health and welfare.”

The article’s author, Neel V. Patel, cites extensively noise pioneer and The Quiet Coalition co-founder and board member Arline Bronzaft, PhD, who 45 years ago showed that environmental noise interfered with children’s learning.

As Patel writes:

It’s impossible to overstate how much noise pollution can wreak havoc on human health and safety. High noise levels can exacerbate hypertension, cause insomnia or sleep disturbances, result in hearing loss, and worsen a plethora of other medical conditions. All of these problems can aggravate other health issues by inducing higher levels of stress, which can cascade into worsened immune systems, heart problems, increased anxiety and depression — the list just goes on and on.

We at The Quiet Coalition agree.  So click the first link, read Patel’s article, and learn how the U.S. government’s active failure to regulate noise since 1981 all but guarantees that noise is the next great public health crisis.

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.

Why a Toronto study on commuter noise is relevant to New York City

Photo credit: Dennis Jarvis licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

by Arline Bronzaft, Ph.D., Board of Directors, GrowNYC, and Co-founder, The Quiet Coalition

In their recently published article “Noise exposure while commuting in Toronto – a study of personal and public transportation in Toronto,” Dr. Yao and his associates concluded that the sound levels associated with mass transit were intense enough to potentially cause some hearing loss. The authors found that while average noise levels in subway cars and on the subway stations were high, peak noise levels in the subway system exceeded 100 dBA. They also reported noise levels for buses and street cars with subways and bus average noise levels exceeding the average noise level for street cars. Recognizing that the mass transit system in Toronto is likely to expand, the authors suggested that “…engineering noise-control efforts should continue to focus on materials and equipment that confer a quieter environment.”

As a New Yorker and regular subway rider, I have long been aware of the impacts of New York City subway and elevated train noise on the health and well-being of its employees and riders as well as those who live, work, and attend school near the elevated train tracks. Yet, it was my research, done over forty years ago, on the adverse effects of elevated train noise on the reading ability of children attending classes near the elevated train tracks that led to my greater involvement in advocating for a “quieter” transit system. It was this advocacy that resulted in the Transit Authority installing rubber resilient pads on the tracks adjacent to the classrooms to lessen the train noise in these classes. The Board of Education also installed acoustical ceilings in these same classrooms.

The follow-up study of reading scores in these classrooms after the abatements were in place found that the children in classrooms adjacent to the track were now reading at the same level as those on the quiet side of the building. To me, these studies yielded another important finding–transit noise can be reduced.

It is within the context of my many years of writing about transit noise and its adverse impacts on mental and physical health that I will address the findings of the above Toronto study. For the purposes of this review, I will not be addressing bus noise which I have also examined in the past.

My research on subway noise impeding classroom learning received a great deal of attention and it led to my being given the opportunity to examine Transit Authority records on noise complaints and actions. I learned that back to 1878 when the Third Avenue El was opened, the noise from passing trains disturbed students attending Cooper Union College and the school had to relocate a dozen classrooms to the other side of the school building. The Transit Authority compensated the college for the move by paying them $540.00.

In the years that followed this first complaint, there were other complaints to which the Transit Authority responded by abating the noise on the tracks. In fact, as early as 1924, the then Transit Commission acknowledged the potential harm of noise on its employees and attempted to set up noise abatement programs for its existing lines as well as its future ones. In looking at how the New York Transit Authority responded to noise complaints, I found that complaints led to attempts to reduce noise but within a short time transit noises returned only to have the Authority respond again with noise abatements. My paper “Rail noise: The relationship to subway maintenance and operation,” published in Urban Resources in 1986, presents a historical overview of how subway noise has been addressed by those in charge of the New York City transit system.¹

Of particular note is the year 1982, when the State of New York decided to pass a Rapid Rail Transit Noise Code requiring the Transit Authority to develop a comprehensive plan to address its noise problems and to report annually to the State Legislature about its efforts to abate noise. The impetus for this bill came from community activists who lived near a rail curve in Coney Island that led to loud screeches as trains navigated the curve. The citizen group, The Big Screechers, led by Carmine Santa Maria, lobbied their legislators to pass the Rail Transit Noise Code.

My 1986 paper discussed how the Transit Authority at this time coordinated its noise abatement project with ongoing capital purchases and maintenance demonstrating its awareness that decreased transit noise is a sign of a poorly functioning system. Just as an automobile owner would bring in a noisy car to the repair shop recognizing that attending to the noise would very likely prevent more serious trouble ahead, the Transit Authority acknowledged that noise is very likely a clue to potential breakdowns.

With the primary sources of subway train noise involving the wheel, the rail, and the subway car’s propulsion system, noise abatement measures included wheel truing, rail welding, rubber resilient pads, track lubrication, and acoustic barriers—all of which also contribute to the proper operation of the system. These noise abatement measures lessen noise but also facilitate the integrity of the transit system while providing a smoother and quieter ride for the passengers as well as a quieter system for its employees. The Transit Authority also purchased quieter traction motors for their subway cars, demonstrating an awareness that quiet can be built into the original design.

The 1982 Rail Transit Noise Code was indeed effective in getting the Transit Authority to reduce its noise but, unfortunately, someone interpreted the law as having a “12 year life span” and, by 1995, the Transit Authority no longer had to report annually to the State on its efforts to lessen transit noise. With the Transit Authority no longer having to report annually on efforts to reduce noise, one might expect the subway system to grow louder in the following years. Indeed, a 2009 study examining sound levels of the New York City subway system, like the one carried out in Toronto, similarly concluded that the subway system’s loud sound levels have the potential to cause noise-induced hearing loss among its riders.

A paper I wrote in 2010 entitled “Abating New York City transit noise: A matter of will not way,” again highlighted the fact that subway noise abatement techniques exist and that addressing the noise issue would not only benefit the operation of the system, potentially leading to fewer breakdowns, but a quieter system would be beneficial to the health and welfare of New Yorkers. A few years after this paper was published, I was pleased to learn that the State assembly and State Senate delivered to the Governor an updated Rail Transit Noise bill in December 2014. Sadly, this bill was vetoed by Governor Cuomo on December 17, 2014 [pdf link]. Had this bill been passed, encouraging the Transit Authority to address its subway noise problems, I believe the subway system today would be quieter, better maintained, and running more efficiently. Without having measured the sound levels of the subway system these past three years, my ear seems to indicate that the subways are now noisier and the many media stories speak volumes to the lack of proper subway maintenance and the deteriorating service.

Let me turn back to the Toronto noise study and comment on its relevance to the New York transit noise issue. According to a research memorandum from Toronto in 1983, that the New York City Transit Authority shared with me,¹ Toronto indicated that the city spent a considerable amount of money in the testing and application of noise control procedures. The memorandum stated that rail sections were continuously welded, acoustical material was used throughout the system, floating slabs were installed on tracks near noise-sensitive buildings, and wheel ring-dampers were being tested on their subway cars. The Toronto subway system, considerably younger than New York’s system, having opened in 1954, appeared to be led by people who were well aware of the importance of transit noise abatement.

In light of the media headlines following the release of Dr. Yao’s article noting excessive transit noise in the Toronto subway system is putting commuters’ health at risk, I would expect that the head of the Toronto Transit Commission, Andrew Byford, is now preparing a response to the publication. Why should his response be relevant to New Yorkers? Because Andrew Byford will soon be the President of the New York City Transit Authority and his response to the noise report might clue us in as to whether he will address what my “ear” seems to indicate. Namely, that our system is growing louder. It would also let New York transit riders know if he, like several former Transit Authority leaders, understands the relationship among noise levels, transit maintenance, and subway performance, and would also tell us as to whether he fully understands that a quieter subway would positively impact the mental and physical health of New Yorkers.

Dr. Arline Bronzaft is a researcher, writer, and consultant on the adverse effects of noise on mental and physical health. She is co-author of “Why Noise Matters,” author of “Listen to the Raindrops” (children’s book illustrated by Steven Parton), and has written extensively about noise in books, encyclopedias, academic journals, and the popular press. In addition, she is a Professor Emerita of the City University of New York and Board member of GrowNYC.

¹Bronzaft, A. L. (1986). Rail noise: The relationship to subway maintenance and operation. Urban Resources, 4, 37-42.

Study: Urban noise worst in poor and minority neighborhoods

Photo credit: Franck Michel licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Arline Bronzaft, Ph.D., Board of Directors, GrowNYC, and Co-founder, The Quiet Coalition

That noise is worse in poor and minority communities, especially in cities, is not new. Articles dating back to the sixties spoke to the impacts of noise in poorer communities, not just noises from outside the homes, but noises within the crowded apartments of large, urban cities. It was hypothesized that children whose classrooms were exposed to the noise of nearby elevated trains would suffer cognitively and this would result in poorer reading scores for these children.

Today, however, with modern technology allowing actual measurements to be taken in communities, we can more accurately measure community decibel levels and conduct studies as discussed here that find urban noise pollution worst in poorer, minority areas.

There is now an abundance of studies that have found that noise adversely affects mental and physical health. With better data to identify communities adversely affected by louder sounds, coupled with supportive literature linking noise to adverse mental and physical health problems, one would hope that the authors of the present research would have suggested ways to abate the noise. Sadly, the authors missed that opportunity, stressing instead that further research is required to deal with deleterious effects of noise.

One exception to the results of the research discussed above is a type of noise that tends to be an “equal opportunity offender.” Aircraft noise does not distinguish between poorer and more advantaged communities. Yet, one could say that individuals in more affluent neighborhoods are better organized to combat the overhead noises, though the citizens combating aircraft-related noises would not agree with the authors of this paper who state that “…the most successful U.S. noise reduction efforts have centered on the airline industry.”

The manner in which aircraft noise is measured by the FAA and the decibel level it has established as being intrusive falsely create the impression that far fewer people are affected by aviation noise. True, newer quieter engines are more efficient, but this does not allow one to conclude that aircraft noise is less bothersome. The use of inappropriate determinants to assess impacts, the increase in air traffic, and the new routes that have been deemed by citizens to be more intrusive speak more accurately to the adverse effects of aircraft noise.

In the end, whatever the source of noise or the community affected, one thing is obvious–environmental health researchers should go beyond publishing and seek ways to use their findings to improve the lives of individuals affected by deleterious pollutants such as noise.

Dr. Arline Bronzaft is a researcher, writer, and consultant on the adverse effects of noise on mental and physical health. She is co-author of “Why Noise Matters,” author of “Listen to the Raindrops” (children’s book illustrated by Steven Parton), and has written extensively about noise in books, encyclopedias, academic journals, and the popular press.  In addition, she is a Professor Emerita of the City University of New York and Board member of GrowNYC.

Children need quiet

Jennifer King Lindley, Real Simple, has written a fascinating article about the importance of quiet time for children entitled, “The One Thing Your Kid Needs—and Isn’t Getting.” Lindley begins her piece with an interview of Arline Bronzaft, PhD, noted noise activist and co-founder of The Quiet Coalition, whose landmark research “found that the reading scores of elementary students in classrooms located next to train tracks lagged a full year behind their peers in quieter classrooms on the other side of the building.” Dr. Bronzaft states that not only does noise interfere with learning, it causes a great deal of stress that leads to learned helplessness, “the feeling that you just have to sit there and take it,” which then causes still more stress.

But noise doesn’t just interfere with formal education, as Lindley tells us that “even moderate background noise can interfere with the ability of babies to learn new words.”

So what can you do to protect your children? Lindley offers specific advice for young children and teens, but both sets of advice basically distill down to two important elements: reducing background noise and distracting devices and learning to embrace quiet time.

Lindley’s article is an interesting read and well worth your time. Click the link above to read it in full.

 

 

NYC’s DEP launches sound and noise education program

Photo credit: Arline Bronzaft, PhD

By Arline Bronzaft, PhD, Board of Directors, GrowNYC, and Co-founder, The Quiet Coalition (introduction by G.M. Briggs, Editor)

The educational arm of New York City’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has recently launched a sound and noise education module.The module consists of:

Interactive, multi-disciplinary, STEM lessons and activities [that] introduce students and teachers to the study of the New York City sound environment, New York City’s Noise Code, and the public health issues, both mental and physical, associated with noise.

One element of the elementary lesson plan is the book “Listen to the Raindrops,” by Dr. Arline Bronzaft, noted noise activist, GrowNYC board member, and a co-founder of The Quiet Coalition. Dr. Bronzaft writes about her involvement in the DEP’s groundbreaking noise education efforts:

For years I have conducted research and written on the adverse effects of noise on mental and physical health, including the impacts of noise on children’s learning. One day discussing noise with a children’s book writer, she suggested that I take a stab at writing a book to teach children about the dangers of noise. My first response was that I was not suited for the task, but she said, “if not you, who?” When I left her apartment, I took pencil to paper and during the hour trip back to my home I completed the book “Listen to the Raindrops.” The book, which was written in rhyme, aimed to teach children about the beauty of the good sounds around them and the dangers of noise, especially to their ears.

A children’s book requires illustrations, of course, and I was fortunate that Steve Parton, an illustrator, and the father of a daughter who had received one of the first cochlear implants, agreed to provide the illustrations. After reading the book to a number of classes and listening to the children’s comments, it was clear that Steve’s illustrations beguiled the children.

For years I have worked closely with DEP in our joint efforts to bring the decibel level down in this city. Much still needs to be done, but I was delighted when the DEP’s educational arm added a sound/noise component to its website and asked to include “Listen to the Raindrops” to its curriculum.

The DEP has recently launched its sound and noise curriculum–it is online and all are invited to go to the site to see it. Now we need you to spread the word about the curriculum. Noise is not just a New York City problem. Cities and towns worldwide can include noise education in their school curricula. The federal Environmental Protection Agency also has materials on its website that educate elementary school children about the harmful effects of noise ( e.g., Listen Up!), but at one time the agency made a greater effort than today to reach out to schools nationwide about teaching children about the dangers of noise.

Let us alert public officials, educators, and all citizens to the importance of teaching children early on that noise will harm their ears, their learning ability, and their overall health. Promoting these educational materials will also inform the general public about the deleterious impacts of noise, as the children will undoubtedly bring home the sound and noise information they learn at school and become spokespersons for quieting our surroundings. And the children shall lead!

Dr. Arline Bronzaft is a researcher, writer, and consultant on the adverse effects of noise on mental and physical health. She is co-author of “Why Noise Matters,” author of “Listen to the Raindrops” (children’s book illustrated by Steven Parton), and has written extensively about noise in books, encyclopedias, academic journals, and the popular press.  In addition, she is a Professor Emerita of the City University of New York and Board member of GrowNYC.

How to deal with noisy neighbors

By Arline L. Bronzaft, PhD, Board of Directors, GrowNYC

Alexandra Levine’s recent article on noisy neighbors revealed how New York Today readers have dealt with noisy neighbors. While simply speaking to your “noisy” neighbor may result in a lessening of the din, there are many times when polite requests don’t work. Some residents, we learn from the article, turn to shaming their neighbors into quieting down. I have heard about others who “fight back” by inflicting similar intrusive sounds on the offensive neighbors. I do not suggest this latter response because I believe people inflicted by noise have a better case when they don’t engage in similar offensive behavior.

As a member of the board of directors of GrowNYC, where I oversee its noise activities, I am often asked to intervene on behalf of New York City residents whose requests to their neighbors–and even to the managing agents of their buildings–to “quiet it down” have gone unheeded. In writing to the managing agents on behalf of the people who have sought my assistance, I urge them to direct their attention to my research and writings on the adverse effects of noise on health. I explain that noise is not just an annoyance—it’s a health hazard–and that those in charge of managing buildings must familiarize themselves with the deleterious effects of noise so that they do not dismiss noise complaints, as many do.

When we talk about noise we are not necessarily talking about loud sounds, as bothersome sounds can disturb sleep, rest, or simply reading or watching television. Noise is defined as unwanted, unpredictable, and uncontrollable sound. Short of the harmful effects of noise on health that are discussed in the research, noise diminishes one’s quality of life.

I include GrowNYC’s Noise brochure which discusses health effects of noise and ways to lessen noise with my letters to managing agents. I also point out that under the the warranty of habitability clause in their leases residents in both rental buildings and cooperative dwellings are entitled to “reasonable quiet” in their homes. In follow-up phone calls to my initial letters, I explain the word “reasonable.” One could say that a reasonable person would be bothered by footsteps from the above apartment at six a.m. in the morning. Unreasonableness, on the other hand, would be a complaint of a toy dropped by a visiting grandchild once and only once.

I will then direct the telephone conversation to the specific noise problem and ways to abate it. I ask if the required carpeting is in place in the apartment and if the superintendent or managing agent has gone to the apartment to hear the noise. I, too, have dealt with a sex complaint that was handled by suggesting that the couple who was the source of the noise move their bed several inches from the wall so that it would no longer bang against it during sex. Often, I suggest that all residents receive flyers that speak to the harmful effects of noise and what can be done to lessen noises in their own apartments.  Finally, I stress that neighbors should be informed that living together in a building means respecting the rights of others, and this includes greater quiet in apartments.

New Yorkers face so much noise as they traverse the streets of our city. When they get to their apartments and close their doors, they hope for some quiet. Let’s join together and provide quiet for our neighbors and in return hope they will do the same for us.

Dr. Arline Bronzaft is a researcher, writer, and consultant on the adverse effects of noise on mental and physical health. She is co-author of “Why Noise Matters,” author of “Listen to the Raindrops” (children’s book illustrated by Steven Parton), and has written extensively about noise in books, encyclopedias, academic journals, and the popular press.  In addition, she is a Professor Emerita of the City University of New York and Board member of GrowNYC.