Tag Archive: Dr. Daniel Fink

New Umbrella Organization Takes Aim at Noise

On October 1, 2016, members of nine scientific, medical, and legal organizations launched a national umbrella anti-noise group, The Quiet Coalition (TQC), hosted by the nonprofit organization Quiet Communities, to advocate for a quieter world. TQC brings together a diverse group of organizations and individuals, each with a unique focus or interest, in the fight against noise. It brings medical, scientific, legal, and other specialized knowledge to the public policy process to advocate for all Americans to make our world quieter, more sustainable, and livable. On December 7th, TQC’s website went live.

TQC recognizes that noise is like secondhand smoke, in that it is both a nuisance and a health hazard. Both environmental noise and secondhand smoke involuntarily expose large segments of the public to harmful conditions, increasing their risk of disease.  And decades of research show conclusively that excessive environmental noise adversely affects health, learning, productivity, and the environment.

Why have decision makers been so slow to regulate noise? According to a newly published editorial in the American Journal of Public Health by Daniel Fink, MD, Founding Chair of the TQC, the answer lies in public policy.  “Although noise was known to be a health hazard, it was treated as an environmental pollutant…with federal noise control activities assigned to the EPA.” These noise control activities were never adequately funded or supported, and federal and local health agencies were left with no meaningful responsibility. As a result, the issue has remained under the radar. TQC intends to change this now.

“The scientific evidence is incontrovertible: noise causes hearing loss and other health problems. We have a responsibility to speak up just as experts did when the dangers of smoking became known,” says Fink. Fink adds that “through recent discoveries, the mechanisms by which noise damages auditory cells, the nervous system, and the cardiovascular system are becoming clear.”  TQC Program Director Jamie Banks, PhD, notes that “[p]ublic health policy to protect the nation’s health from environmental noise is long overdue,” and declares that, “[TQC] will provide decision makers with the scientific evidence needed to make informed policy decisions.”

To learn more about TQC and it’s mission to protect the public from noise, visit the TQC website.

 

What Is A Safe Noise Level For The Public?

Dr. Daniel Fink, Founding Board Chair of The Quiet Coalition, explains that there are three safe noise levels, depending on which adverse impact of noise you want to avoid. It’s much lower than you think.  Click here to learn more!

 

Is Your Noise Making Me Fat?

Photo credit:

Photo credit: Yukari

By Daniel Fink, M.D.

Is your noise making me fat?  That may seem like a silly question to ask, but there is strong scientific evidence that traffic noise causes obesity.  More specifically, increased traffic noise–whether from highways, airplanes, or trains–is strongly correlated with central obesity.  Central obesity (or “truncal obesity”) is in turn linked with increased risk of diabetes, hypertension, and cardiac disease leading to increased mortality.

Why would noise cause obesity?  The auditory system evolved from vibration sensing mechanisms in primitive organisms which were used to sense predators, or by predators to find food.  Noise perception remains a major warning system, even in mammalian species.  Except for fish, most animals above the phylum Insecta close their eyes when they sleep but cannot close their ears, except for some which swim or dig.  Noise at levels not loud enough to cause hearing loss in humans interferes with sleep, causing a rise in stress hormone levels. These in turn alter carbohydrate and fat metabolism, leading to fat deposition. And that can cause diabetes and high blood pressure, which in turn cause heart disease.

A study published in 2015 showed a clear association between noise exposure and central obesity.  Another study published that year showed that noise caused increased heart disease and death.

And 100 million Americans are exposed to noise levels loud enough to cause these problems.

There is probably nothing specific about traffic noise that makes it more likely to cause health problems than any other source of noise, except, perhaps, the factor of unanticipated noise may be important.  It’s just easier to study the effects of traffic noise on humans than asking thousands of people to use personal sound monitors for long periods of time and then collecting and analyzing those data.  Noise is noise.

It’s obviously difficult to measure the non-auditory health impacts of everyday noise exposure–in the streets, in restaurants and stores, at sports events, at concerts–on an individual, but noise has powerful physiologic effects.

So as both noise levels and obesity levels rise in the United States, the answer to the question, “Is YOUR noise making ME fat?” may be “Yes!”

What can we do? For those living near highways, airports, or railroad tracks, double pane windows and wall and attic insulation may provide some protection.  But the best approach to noise is to limit it at its source, which will require political pressure to get laws passed to require quiet, especially nighttime quiet.

After the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Noise Abatement and Control was defunded 35 years ago (pdf), noise is largely a local government issue.  So if you want change, you have to speak up for yourself.  One easy step is to look at your local government’s website to see if noise is identified as a constituent issue.  If not, contact your local government representative and ask to speak to him or her about noise problems in your neighborhood or around your workplace.  In addition, an internet search should reveal whether your community has a group that is organized to fight noise in your town (click this link for a map of noise activist and quiet advocacy organizations).  Find out if they are active and go to a meeting to see what they are doing.  If politicians see that an issue is important to constituents, it is in their best interest to address that issue it they want to be re-elected.  If they ignore it, they can be replaced.  An active constituency ensures a responsive politician, at least on the local level.

Noise is omnipresent and insidious.  Because it’s everywhere, people assume that it must be tolerated and cannot be regulated.  But when air pollution became so noticeable and obviously unhealthy that it couldn’t be ignored, government responded with forceful legislation.  As a result, our air is cleaner today than it was in 1970America has gotten noisier and hearing loss in on the increase.  As with air pollution, we need robust government action to regulate noise.  If you care about your health and the health of your family, push back against noise, demand action, and join your neighbors to promote a peaceful, quiet, and healthy environment.

Dr. 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 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.

Is hearing loss inevitable?

Not necessarily.  Debbie Clason, staff writer at Healthy Hearing, introduces her readers to a friend of this site, noted noise activist Dr. Daniel Fink, who is on a mission “to educate the public about safe noise levels in their environment so they can affect positive change in their communities.”  Clason reports:

Dr. Fink doesn’t believe hearing loss is a function of normal physiological aging, citing quieter, primitive societies where hearing acuity is preserved in older adults. He likens attitudes about hearing loss to those about tooth loss in previous generations. Just as natural teeth work better than dentures he says, natural hearing works better than hearing aids.

The article generally discusses noise-induced hearing loss, how it is 100% preventable, and what one can do to avoid it.   It is well worth a click.

 

Organization calls for elimination of canned music:

Lisa Packer, staff writer at Healthy Hearing, writes about Pipedown, an organization started almost 25 years ago in the UK by Nigel Rodgers who committed himself to stopping the ubiquitous assault of canned music in every public space.  We wrote about Pipedown UK’s victory this summer when Marks & Spencer, the UK’s biggest chain store, agreed to stop playing muzak in their stores.  Parker interviewed Rodgers about the evils of canned music, which Rodgers says is “mood-conditioning by business, trying to manipulate us into buying or doing what it wants.”  He added that the constant over-stimulation “leaves us afraid of silence.”

Parker examines why businesses bombard us with music (short answer: to make money faster, of course), and cites noted noise activist Dr. Daniel Fink, who notes the misuse of the 85 dB occupational standard as a standard for the general public and the lack of federal safe noise standards for public places.  Despite the effective noise regulation in the U.S., the article ends on a good note.  Parker looks at Pipedown’s continued efforts fight noise, writing:

With more than 1500 members in the UK and sister groups in Germany, Austria, New Zealand and the U.S., Pipedown is now taking its efforts to persuade retailers and other establishments to eliminate canned music to a world stage.

The going may be slow, but each victory brings us closer to a quieter world.

 

October is National Protect Your Hearing Month

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued an announcement about National Protect Your Hearing Month, stating that it is “a time to raise awareness about the causes and prevention of noise-induced hearing loss.”  Noise-induced hearing loss “can result from occupational noise exposures, leisure activities such as sporting events or concerts, or use of personal listening devices.”  Whatever the cause, it is permanent and irreversible.  More importantly, noise-induced hearing loss is completely preventable.

The CDC notes that noise-induced hearing loss affects people in all age groups. During 2001 to 2008, one in five Americans over the age of 12 years had hearing loss in at least one ear, and one in eight had hearing loss in both ears.  The CDC adds that prevalence of hearing loss is expected to increase.

To learn more about hearing loss and what you can do to avoid it, click the link for access to resources prepared by the CDC and the National Center for Environmental Health, The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, and the National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities.

Thanks to Daniel Fink, M.D. for the link.  Dr. 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.

A fascinating read about the weaponization of sound:

When Music Is Violence.  Alex Ross, writing for The New Yorker, reports on the use of extremely loud noise in psychological-operations and warfare.  The American public was introduced to this tactic in December, 1989, when the military employed it in Panama, blasting “non-stop music [to] aggravate [Manuel] Noriega into surrendering” after he was expelled from power and took refuge in the Papal Nunciatura in Panama City.  Although the “media delighted in the spectacle”, both “President George H. W. Bush and General Colin Powell, then the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, took a dim view of it.”  Despite a lack of enthusiasm for weaponized noise at the top of command, the use of loud music as a weapon has increased. “[D]uring the occupation of Iraq the C.I.A. added music to the torture regime known as “enhanced interrogation,” and the tactic has also been used in Guantánamo.

Ross looks at the intersection of music and violence, noting that when “music is applied to warlike ends, we tend to believe that it has been turned against its innocent nature.”  He states, “[s]ound is all the more potent because it is inescapable,” and notes how technological development has led to long-range acoustic devices that “send out shrill, pulsating tones of up to a hundred and forty-nine decibels—enough to cause permanent hearing damage.”  The discussion turns darker as Ross examines the “music sadism” pioneered by the Nazis, and draws the thread to Abu Ghraib, Bagram, Mosul, and Guantánamo, where “the loud-music tactic displays a chilling degree of casual sadism: the choice of songs seems designed to amuse the captors as much as to nauseate the captives.”  And there is more.

Do click the link above.  The article is thought provoking, disturbing, and absolutely worth reading.

Thanks to Daniel Fink, M.D. for the link.  Dr. 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 were Prince George and Boomer Phelps photographed wearing ear muff hearing protectors?

No doubt you’ve seen the photos of Prince George and Boomer Phelps wearing ear muff hearing protectors.  Did you ask yourself why?  Daniel Fink, M.D., a leading noise activist, explains:

These little boys aren’t working in noisy factories. They aren’t going to the shooting range.  They aren’t going to a rock concert.  They are just doing things that normal little boys like to do, going to an air show or watching daddy swim.  But Prince George’s parents and Boomer’s parents know one important thing: NOISE CAUSES DEAFNESS.

Dr. Fink states that the places and events parents bring their children to–whether by choice or circumstance–are often loud enough to damage hearing permanently.  Unlike British royalty or Olympic athletes, most parents simply don’t know that their children could suffer permanent hearing damage by being in a loud place with no hearing protection.  Dr. Fink believes that the lack of warnings highlights a general failure by the medical community, which should be advising parents to protect their children’s hearing.  He notes that respected online parenting resources make no general recommendations about protecting children from noise, mentioning only the dangers of infant sound machines for babies and loud music for teens.

It’s not just the medical community that is failing children.  Federal and state governments do little to inform citizens of the danger loud noise poses to health or to protect them from noise exposure.  There is very little regulation of noise in public spaces and absolutely no oversight of consumer products that can damage hearing.

Dr. Fink states that “there is an increase in hearing loss in young people, perhaps because parents don’t know the dangers of noise for hearing.”  He notes that race cars produce sound up to 130 decibels, air shows can produce sound up to 130 decibels, rock music concerts can reach 110-115 decibels, action movies range between 100-125 decibels, and sporting events can be loud, too, at 100-120 decibels.

Children can also be exposed to loud noise at home.  Personal listening devices can reach up to 115 decibels, a sound level that is guaranteed to damage hearing if exposure is more than a few minutes, and yet there is no government mandated warning for the purchasing public.  In addition, there are headphones marketed specifically for children that use a 85 dBA occupational noise exposure limit as a volume limit to prevent hearing loss.  “The commonly cited safe noise level of 85 decibels is really an industrial-strength occupational noise level developed by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health for workers,” says Dr. Fink.  He adds that “even with strict time limits of noise exposure, some workers exposed to this noise level will develop hearing loss.  One thing is for sure: 85 decibels is not a safe environmental noise exposure level for the public and certainly not for children.”

And Dr. Fink has an impressive ally in his fight against the misuse of the 85 decibel industrial-strength standard.  In May 2016 , the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) posted content addressing Environmental Noise Exposure and Health, in which it stated that in 1974 the Environmental Protection Agency recommended that the average daily noise exposure be limited to an average of 70 decibels for a whole day, with no more than one hour at 85 decibels.  The CDC noted that World Health Organization also “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.”

So what can you do to protect your children’s hearing?  Treat noise like you treat sun exposure.  When you take your child to the beach, you protect his or her eyes and skin by giving them sunglasses, a hat, and by applying sunscreen.  If noise caused vision loss instead of hearing loss, everyone would be more vigilant in addressing it.  So apply the same degree of vigilance when your child will be exposed to noise as you would when your child is exposed to full sun.  Dr. Fink advises that the best thing a parent can do is to not bring a child, at whatever age, to loud events.  “If that can’t be avoided,” he cautions, “then at the least protect your child’s hearing with ear muff style hearing protectors.”  That is, follow what Prince George’s parents and Boomer Phelps’ parents do.  Dr. Fink, a father of two, adds that, “the best way to make sure your kids do something is for you to model the behavior yourself.  If it’s loud enough for your children to be wearing hearing protection, you should be wearing it too.”

 

 

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.

 

 

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.