Tag Archive: ear health

Meet New York City’s noise warriors,

who are fighting to keep the city quiet(er). Nicole Levy, writing for DNAInfo, introduces us to three New Yorkers who have been working to protect their fellow citizens’ health and well-being.  Levy first profiles Arline Bronzaft, an environmental psychologist, who published a widely cited, ground-breaking study on the effect of subway noise on children’s’ reading ability in 1975.  Today, Bronzaft volunteers her time with GrowNYC, where she takes on the hardest cases: people who have tried everything to stop noise but failed.  Bronzaft “asks the complainant to list all the steps he has taken to mitigate the offending noise, and writes to the apartment’s managing agent or landlord ‘on GrowNYC letterhead,’ she specified, presenting the case and inviting a discussion.”  “They listen,” says Levy, “because if any name in the anti-noise movement carries clout in New York City, it’s Arline Bronzaft.”

Levy next introduces us to Janet McEneaney, the president of Queens Quiet Skies, an advocacy group against aviation noise and pollution.  McEneaney became involved in fighting aviation noise when she awoke one morning in 2012 to the sound of roaring jets flying over her home every 60 seconds.  She learned that the noise was “an unintended consequence of a new air traffic control system, The Next Generation Air Transportation System.”  The noise persists, but McEneaney, on learning about the health consequences of noise, took her research to U.S. Congresswoman Grace Meng, who introduced the “Quiet Communities Act of 2015” last fall (the bill remains in committee).

Finally, Levy writes about Tae Hong Park, an associate professor of music composition and technology at NYU, who has created a project he calls Citygram that is  “an audio version of Google maps.”  The first phase of the Citygram project, in which sound recording technology runs on a web browser that anyone with internet connection can use, has been completed.  Park says that phase two will involve gathering information and analyzing patterns, followed by phase three, in which the whole process is automated “so machines can tell us the answers to what sounds are the loudest, what sounds disturb or concern the public the most.”

Reading about Bronzaft, McEneaney, and Park calls to mind this Margaret Mead quote:

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world.  Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.

Important information for parents

Catherine Caruso, reporting for Scientific American, writes about “Detecting Hidden Hearing Loss in Young People.”  Caruso looks at hidden hearing loss, a phenomenon discovered in 2009, which the researchers who discovered it consider a “likely contributor to the cumulative loss typically associated with aging.”  Now, those researchers have developed tools for detecting hidden hearing loss and have discovered evidence of hidden hearing loss in young people.

While Caruso notes that there is hope that hidden hearing loss could be reversed in the future, she also points out steps one can take now to protect hearing: namely, by limiting noise exposure and using ear protection.  And parents, talk to your kids about their earbud and headphone use.  No one knows if and when researchers will be able to reverse hidden hearing loss, so avoiding hidden hearing loss in the first instance is the best tact.

First mobile app for street-level air and noise pollution launches in Europe,

coming to the United States soon.  According to its developers, the Ambiciti mobile app “measures levels of air and noise pollution street by street in real-time and offers the healthiest route for urban citizens to move and live in their cities.”  The app does this by combining “all sources of information available: numerical simulations, observations of fixed sensors, mobile sensor observations and qualitative observation,” so that people can choose a path around the city that minimizes their exposure to noise or air pollution.  The developers hope that the information the app provides influences policy decisions and encourages healthier lives.

Time to paint your face and get ready to have your eardrums blasted:

Crowd noise to be cranked up during Ohio State football practices to prepare for road game. The Columbus Dispatch reports:

Ohio State will be going on the road for the first time this season — against No. 14 Oklahoma — with a lineup loaded with players who have never experienced a hostile crowd.

“It’s a concern,” coach Urban Meyer said Tuesday on the Big Ten coaches teleconference. “Wednesday and Thursday, we’ll pump crowd noise in like we normally do. This will probably be one of the loudest stadiums in the country.”

Coach Meyer isn’t bragging about having one of the loudest stadiums in the country, he’s just making a statement of fact.  But the fact that he doesn’t express any concern about the noise level at games–except for whether his players will be able to hear calls–is disturbing.  As is his response to stadium noise: blast crowd noise at his players during practice so they can become acclimated to it.   At what point are coaches, universities, and team owners going to acknowledge that stadium noise is dangerous to hearing?  After an epidemic of hearing loss, tinnitus, or hyperacusis?

Note to attendees: the face paint can be removed, but that ringing in your ears that “went away” after a few hours (or days), that’s a different story.  So if you are going to the game, read up about hidden hearing loss and protect yourself.  Bring ear plugs and leave with your hearing intact.

You’re welcome!

September 8th is the Kickoff for a Public Health Crisis

By, Daniel Fink, M.D.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Daniel Fink, M.D., is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area.  Dr. Fink serves on the board of the American Tinnitus Association, is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’ Health Advisory Council, and is the founding chair of The Quiet Coalition, an organization of science, health, and legal professionals concerned about the impacts of noise on health, environment, learning, productivity, and quality of life in America.  Opinions expressed in this article are his own and not necessarily those of the American Tinnitus Association, Quiet Communities, or The Quiet Coalition.

 

 

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Location ‘no longer top priority’ for Brisbane’s first home buyers.

So what is the most important factor for first home buyers looking at apartments?  Noise.

Members of the military are at higher risk of hearing injury, so this is welcome news:

U.S. Air Force to study effects of noise exposure on health.

The initial study is for a two-week period during which the Air Force “will measure all forms of noise that the soldiers are exposed to throughout their day, including sources outside of work,” but study results “will pave the way for further research to prevent hearing loss in soldiers.”

Not sure if this is an interesting or misguided approach to noise complaints:

Danbury debuts the “Noise Buster” to crack down on disorderly sound.

On the one hand, it will be hard to miss the “Noise Buster,” so people will be put on notice that the city intends to enforce its new noise ordinance.  On the other hand, we wonder whether the city’s new noise ordinance would survive the first law suit, given the standard the city has adopted for noise violation detection.  Namely:

Under the novel ordinance, the first of its kind in Connecticut, noise control officers and city police are authorized to use their trained ears to detect a noise violation – a technique called the plainly audible standard.

While the city wants to show that it takes noise complaints seriously, it obviously intends to encourage compliance rather than issue a spate of citations.  Among other things, fines start at $25 but only after a warning is given.  So you’ve been warned Danbury party thrower.  Keep the noise in check.

An audiologist explains why noise is much more than a mere annoyance.

In “Why City Noise Is a Serious Health Hazard,” Eric Jaffe writes about noise in New York City.  His piece extensively quotes Craig Kasper, chief audiologist at New York Hearing Doctors, who notes how persistent noise complaints have been, citing a 1905 headline in the Times claiming New York to be “the noisiest city on earth.”  Kasper also discusses all of the ways in which noise adversely affects health and wellbeing (e.g., loss of sleep, anxiety, cardiovascular difficulties, etc.), adding that his patients “complain of loud restaurants the most.”  Oddly, this otherwise thoughtful piece concludes with Kasper stating that “noise adds to the charm of New York—and, really, any big city.”  It’s hard to accept that something as potentially damaging as noise can be described as charming.  Still, this short piece is worth a read.