Tag Archive: Dr. Daniel Fink

Restaurant noise in the time of COVID and beyond

Photo credit: AdamChandler86 licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

I became a noise activist, trying to make the world a quieter place, because I want to be able to have a nice meal with my wife in a restaurant where I can enjoy both the food and the conversation.

Andy Newman in the Eastern County Gazette writes about restaurant noise and the additional considerations about restaurant noise in COVID-19 times. As he notes, most of us go to a restaurant not for the food but for the company. We want to converse with our dining companions. And we can’t do that easily when the restaurant is too noisy.

In COVID-19 times, it turns out that speaking loudly sheds more virus for greater distances than speaking softly. That’s why “background music” (in quotation marks because it’s often turned up to rock concert sound levels) is now banned in the UK.

When ambient noise is high, people talk more loudly to be able to be heard over the din. That was first described by French medical doctor and researcher Etienne Lombard in the early 1900s and is called, naturally enough, the Lombard Effect. Lombard understood that noise becomes a positive feedback loop, with everyone speaking more loudly as the ambient noise increases, until everyone is shouting at each other but no one can understand a word.

Newman asks that we still keep the noise levels down in restaurants, when things get back to normal and we’re not worried about spreading COVID-19.

I heartily agree.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He 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. Dr Fink also is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’ Health Advisory Council, and he served on the board of the American Tinnitus Association from 2015-2018.

Noise returns to Europe after Covid quiet interlude

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Politico reports that noise levels in Europe are increasing after several months of quiet during the COVID-19 shutdowns. Most noise in developed countries is transportation noise from road traffic, aircraft, and trains. When the COVID-19 pandemic led to decreases in all sorts of transportation, Europe and the U.S. became quieter.

This is a good thing. As the article notes, noise is toxic to both humans and animals. Urban dwellers heard birdsong, often for the first time, because it wasn’t obscured by the din of traffic.

The dangers of noise are recognized in Europe, where the World Health Organization published Environmental Noise Guidelines in 2018.

In the U.S., the dangers of noise were recognized in the Noise Control Act of 1972 and the Quiet Communities Act of 1978, but implementation of these two laws stopped during the Reagan years when the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Noise Abatement and Control was defunded.

We hope that under the Biden administration, implementation of laws meant to protect the health and wellbeing of all Americans from the dangers of noise will become a reality again.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He 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. Dr Fink also is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’ Health Advisory Council, and he served on the board of the American Tinnitus Association from 2015-2018.

Don’t do this at home!

Photo credit: Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Fox News 8 in Ohio reported that a woman attacked both her neighbor and his car because the noise he made disturbed her sleep. She was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct.

Don’t do this at home!

Seriously, noise complaints are the leading category of complaints in New York City’s 311 system, and local police forces there and in many communities seem unable or unwilling to deal with the problems.

In the UK, police can go to court to get ASBOs–anti-social behavior orders–which allow them to arrest and imprison repeat noise offenders. U.S. municipalities lack such legal authority.

But as many cities get more crowded, at least before COVID-19 times, and as more people are stuck at home working or not because of COVID-19 lockdowns, it’s important that we try to respect each other and be neighborly towards each other.

Especially in these troubled and troubling times.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He 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. Dr Fink also is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’ Health Advisory Council, and he served on the board of the American Tinnitus Association from 2015-2018.

Au revoir, les noisy frogs

Photo credit: Egor Kamelev from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

The Guardian reports that in the Dordogne region of France, a judge ruled that homeowners must drain their pond to eliminate noisy frogs bothering their neighbors. On one side of the matter is a useful habitat for local fauna, and on the other a very tired neighbor.

The problem is that during mating season, the frogs’ calls have been measured at 63 decibels (dB) at the neighbors’ window. Sound pressure levels as low as 30-35 A-weighted decibels* can disrupt sleep. The decibel scale is logarithmic, so 63 dB isn’t just twice as loud as 31.5 dB but orders of magnitude greater. (I would also note that in psychoacoustics the word loudness has specific meaning, and here I am just using it as we use it in everyday speech.)

The situation is complicated by the fact that some of the frogs belong to endangered species, and the small pond serves as a local watering hole for other animals, including deer and wild boar.

Nature lovers are concerned, and the case is being appealed to France’s highest court. Keep an eye here to find out how it ends.

*A-weighting adjusts sound measurements for the frequencies heard in human speech.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He 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. Dr Fink also is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’ Health Advisory Council, and he served on the board of the American Tinnitus Association from 2015-2018.

American Institute of Physics celebrates the International Year of Sound

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

As we wrote a year ago, 2020 is the International Year of Sound (IYS) a “global initiative to highlight the importance of sound and related sciences and technologies for all in society.” Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the IYS has been extended into 2021.

The American Institute of Physics in the December 2020 issue of its journal Physics Today celebrates IYS with five articles and an insightful editorial by Charles Day, PhD. The AIP is the parent organization of a publication of the Acoustical Society of America and nine other scientific societies.

Along with Physics Today, the Acoustical Society’s journal Acoustics Today published a special issue celebrating IYS. Both sets of articles are a little wonky to a non-acoustician, but I liked the first article in Physics Today, “Exploring cultural heritage through acoustical reconstructions.” I didn’t know that it was possible to reconstruct sounds of historic buildings which have been damaged or destroyed.

Another ASA publication, Acoustics Today, also had a special issue celebrating IYS.

As 2020 comes to a close, if you have spare time during the recently imposed lockdowns, these special issues of Physics Today or Acoustics Today will give you a glance at some of the “hot topics” in acoustical science and noise control.

Best wishes for a joyful holiday season, perhaps with Zoom family get-togethers, and a healthy, happy, peaceful, and quiet New Year.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He 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. Dr Fink also is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’ Health Advisory Council, and he served on the board of the American Tinnitus Association from 2015-2018.

I can’t hear myself think!

Photo credit: Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Most of us are familiar with the Oxford English Dictionary as the worldwide arbiter of English language words–“the definitive record of the English language,” it humbly boasts–even if we use the Merriam-Webster dictionary in the U.S. But it turns out that there’s also a Cambridge Dictionary. And the Cambridge Dictionary publishes a blog about about words. The blog’s name: “About Words,” and in the December 2, 2020, post they tackled “interesting ways of saying ‘noisy.'” As writer Liz Walter notes, the word loud is itself neutral, but noisy almost implies that the sound is unreasonable or annoying.

The standard definition of noise, which I have traced back to a committee of the Acoustical Society of America in the early 1930s, is “noise is unwanted sound.” That definition has been enshrined in the definitions of the American National Standards Institute, and cited by authorities like the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, among many others.

Of course, I prefer my new definition of noise, “noise is unwanted and/or harmful sound.”  After all, even wanted sound, such as that at a rock concert or motorsports event, can be harmful. Just calling noise “unwanted sound” also communicates a value judgment about those complaining about loud sound, implying that those who complain must have something wrong with them, being overly sensitive, neurotic, radical environmentalists, or busybodies who want to interfere with someone else’s enjoyment of loud music or motorcycles with modified exhaust pipes.

Perhaps the most important thing to remember is that regardless of which formal definition one uses, or with other words or phrases one uses to describe it, noise is sound energy and noise causes auditory damage.

As I often say, if it sounds loud, it’s too loud. Avoid loud noise or insert earplugs now, or need hearing aids later.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He 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. Dr Fink also is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’ Health Advisory Council, and he served on the board of the American Tinnitus Association from 2015-2018.

How to help protect teens’ hearing while at school

Photo credit: Thomas Cizauskas licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Our friends at the CDC’s National Center for Environmental Health recently released data on the use of personal hearing protection among young people at loud school events, such as sports events or band practice. There are probably fewer in-person events at schools these days due to the COVID-19 pandemic with most students learning remotely, but some school districts still have sports events and with the forthcoming availability of vaccine, school will return to normal eventually.

The CDC found that 46.5% of teenage students are regularly exposed to loud sound at school but almost none are given information about hearing protection or hearing protection devices.

Please help CDC spread the word. Forward this information to teachers, school administrators, boards of education, and others responsible for educating our students.

And if you have teenage children or grandchildren, forward this to them, too.

Noise-induced hearing loss is entirely preventable. Tell them, ‘Wear earplugs now, or need hearing aids later.”

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He 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. Dr Fink also is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’ Health Advisory Council, and he served on the board of the American Tinnitus Association from 2015-2018.

A COVID silver lining? Mask use in Korea reveals hearing loss

Photo credit: Jens-Olaf Walter licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This report from The Korea Biomedical Review notes that mask wearing during the COVID-19 pandemic is making many Koreans recognize that they have hearing loss. We all use facial expressions and gestures to help us understand what others are saying, and many people unconsciously lip read as well. But when we are wearing masks, awareness of facial expression is limited to the eyes and forehead and it’s impossible to lip read, so we are left dependent only on our hearing to understand what others are saying.

South Korea had an effective government response to the COVID-19 pandemic, involving universal mask wearing, social distancing, an early testing program, and effective contact tracing with isolation of infected individuals. Thanks to these efforts, according to WorldOMeter South Korea has had only 667 cases of COVID-19 per million population and only 10 deaths per million population.

In contrast, in the U.S., the lack of an effective national response has led to 41,444 cases per million and 823 deaths per million.

To use absolute numbers, which may be easier for some to understand, the population of South Korea is approximately 51 million and that of the United States 330 million. Using an adjustment factor of 7, which actually overstates the adjustment for the respective population sizes, South Korea has had 34,652 cases of COVID-19 and 526 deaths. If South Korea had as many people as the United States, it would have had 242,564 cases of COVID-19, and 3682 deaths. The U.S. has unfortunately had almost 14 million cases and almost 275,000 deaths. The difference in case and death numbers is due to almost universal mask wearing in South Korea.

But universal mask wearing in South Korea made it hard for those with hearing loss to understand what others were saying, because they were deprived of the visual cues associated with speech.

And according to Prof. Moon Il-jung in the Otorhinolaryngology Department at Samsung Medical Center, more patients are coming to the hospital to receive hearing tests, with hearing aids prescribed for those who have hearing loss.

And that may be a rare silver lining to the COVID-19 cloud.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He 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. Dr Fink also is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’ Health Advisory Council, and he served on the board of the American Tinnitus Association from 2015-2018.

Cities and Memory explores Dante’s Inferno

This image from the Metropolitan Museum is in the public domain

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Artists depicted the plague in the Middle Ages and Renaissance, in both paintings and literature. Pieter Breugel The Elder’s The Triumph of Death is one example, and Giovanni Boccaccio’s The Decameron is another.

The year 2020 has been a hellish year, even for those who have remained healthy, haven’t lost a loved one to COVID-19, and have been able to work from home while watching the stock market rise. But for far too many Americans, there were empty places at the Thanksgiving table, they haven’t been able to work from home if they still have a job, and they don’t own assets. No person is an island, and even if one is healthy and financially secure, one can’t travel, can’t go to a movie or a restaurant or the theater, and much of the enjoyment in life is gone.

To mark the 700th anniversary of Dante’s Divine Comedy, Cities and Memory asked, “What could be a more appropriate project to end 2020 than creating the sounds of Hell itself?” They asked more than 80 artists from all over the world to bring Dante’s vision of Hell to life through sound.

The interactive map of Dante’s Hell with carefully created sounds is well worth spending at least a few minutes on.

I enjoyed it, and I hope you do, too.

And I think everyone will join me in hoping for a better year in 2021.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He 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. Dr Fink also is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’ Health Advisory Council, and he served on the board of the American Tinnitus Association from 2015-2018.

The loudest toys to avoid this holiday season

Photo credit: dolanh licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Every year for the last several years one publication or another, or these days one web site or another, has published a list of too-noisy toys that might harm a child’s hearing. This report from AZ BigMedia lists toys found to be too loud by the Arizona Commission for the Deaf and the Hard of Hearing (ADCHH). The loudest toys made noise of 85 decibels (dB) or louder. The report quotes the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association as stating that 85 dB is the maximum volume a child should be exposed to for no more than eight hours a day.

The list of toys is a good one, but the advice about safe noise levels for children is not. As best as I can tell, there are no evidence-based safe noise exposure levels for children. No researcher has ever exposed children to loud noise and measured what happens to their hearing. That study just wouldn’t be ethical.

85 dB is derived from the 85 dBA (A-weighted decibels) recommended occupational noise exposure level, first calculated by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health in 1972 and revised in 1998. At 85 dBA, 8% of exposed workers will develop noise-induced hearing loss. An industrial-strength noise exposure level that doesn’t even protect all workers from hearing loss is far too loud for a child’s delicate ears, which must last her an entire lifetime.

I wrote about safe noise exposure levels for the public in the American Journal of Public Health and the difference between an occupational exposure level and one for the public was discussed in a NIOSH Science Blog post.

The best advice for parents and grandparents when selecting toys for their little darlings? If a toy sounds too loud, it is too loud. Protect their hearing and don’t buy it for them this holiday season.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He 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. Dr Fink also is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’ Health Advisory Council, and he served on the board of the American Tinnitus Association from 2015-2018.