Tag Archive: EPA

Noisy restaurants in the news again

Photo credit: Matt Biddulph licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

By Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Two reports this week, one from the United Kingdom and one from Baton Rouge, again highlight the problem of noisy restaurants.

Restaurateurs say that a quiet restaurant is a dead or dying one. They want their places to be lively. But there’s a difference between a lively restaurant with spirited conversations going on among the diners, and one that is deafeningly loud, making it impossible to converse with one’s dining companions.

Yesterday, while looking for another piece of information in the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) classic 1974 “Noise Levels Report” Information on Levels of Environmental Noise Requisite to Protect Public Health and Welfare with an Adequate Margin of Safety (EPA, 1974). I came across Table D-10, which I had missed on an earlier reading.

EPA Recommended Acceptable Noise Levels for Restaurants  (Click to enlarge)

It turns out that the EPA recommends that restaurants be very quiet, only about 50-60 decibels. These days, that’s almost “library quiet”. In fact, some months ago I measured the sound level to be approximately 45 dBA in the main circulation room of my local library!

So concern about appropriate restaurant noise levels is not a new concern. It’s decades old.

Some have suggested that diners should walk out of noisy restaurants, or boycott them. But in many cities, if we did that, we would never eat in a restaurant. There just aren’t any quiet ones. And as long as the restaurants are full, there is no incentive for them to become quieter.

I don’t know about the UK, but in the U.S., lawsuits under disability rights laws may be the only way restaurants will become quieter.

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.

Hearing Loss Is Growing


From the book The Human Body and Health Revised by Alvin Davison, 1908 / Public Domain

And Experts Say Earphones Are Part Of The Problem.

Mack interviews audiologist Michele Abrams who spoke about limiting exposure to damaging sound:

When we think about decibel levels, when we think of loudness levels, it’s really incremental.  It’s a logarithmic scale. It’s not a linear scale. So we know that 85 db is that critical level. Eighty-five db, eight hours a day, that’s your maximum. If it’s 90 db — five db greater — you have to cut your time in half.

While generally informative, Abrams’ comment unfortunately identifies 85 db, eight hours a day as the “critical level.”  But this noise exposure level is too high.  It was developed solely as an occupational noise exposure standard and should never be applied to the general public, certainly not to children.  As Dr. Daniel Fink, a noted noise activist, wrote in, “What Is A Safe Noise Level For The Public?”:

In the absence of a federal standard, an occupational standard meant to prevent hearing loss appears to have become the de facto safe level for all public noise exposures. This is demonstrated by the use of 85 decibels as a safe sound level by hearing health professionals and their organizations, in media reports, and in publications, most often without time limits; by its use as a volume limit for children’s headphones marketed to prevent hearing loss, again without exposure times; and by general acceptance of higher indoor and outdoor noise levels in the United States.

*   *   *
Eighty-five decibels is not a safe noise exposure level for the public. In 1972, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health developed an 85 A-weighted decibel recommended exposure level to reduce the risk of hearing loss from occupational noise exposure. … Even with strict time limits, this standard does not protect all workers from hearing loss.

So what is a safe noise level for the public?  Dr. Fink states:

In 1974 the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) Office of Noise Abatement and Control (ONAC) adjusted the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health recommendation for additional exposure time: 24 instead of 8 hours daily and 365 instead of 240 days annually.  The EPA calculated the safe noise level for the public to prevent hearing loss to be a 70-decibel time-weighted average for a 24-hour period… The EPA did not adjust for lifetime noise exposure, now almost 80 years versus 40 work-years, so the real average safe noise level to prevent hearing loss is probably lower.

One thing is clear, allowing children to use earbuds or headphones without limiting volume and time exposure is a recipe for hearing loss.  Since the federal government has abdicated its authority to regulate noise, and manufacturers are unlikely to design products that limit the user’s ability to deliver as many decibels as he or she wants, parents must step in to protect their children’s hearing.  Here’s something that will help: Don’t allow your children to wear earbuds and headphones.  Tell them that if they want to listen to music they must play it through a speaker.  While this may be unpopular, know that you will be giving your children an important gift–the ability to listen to and enjoy music throughout their lifetimes.

 

 

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.

 

 

CDC addresses noise exposure and health

Yesterday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) posted content on its website addressing Environmental Noise Exposure and Health.  This content looks at a number of issues, including what is hearing loss, sources of environmental noise, and the public health burden from noise and hearing loss.

Under a section titled “Recommendations and Guidelines,” the CDC discusses noise exposure limits.  The CDC notes that the Environmental Protection Agency identified 70 dB as the average exposure limit to environmental noise for the general public, as did the World Health Organization (WHO), which “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.”  Occupational noise exposure limits established by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health for an 8-hour workday are also mentioned.

Kudos to the CDC for posting this material on their site and giving noise exposure the attention it deserves.  Noise-induced hearing loss and other injuries are mostly preventable, and the failure to educate the public on appropriate exposure limits is significant.  As the CDC states, the “National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) found that in 2014, an estimated 21.0% of adults aged ≥18 years had difficulty following a conversation amid background noise, 11.2% had ringing in the ears [ed. note: tinnitus], and 5.9% had sensitivity to everyday sounds [ed. note: hyperacusis].”   In short, noise-induced hearing loss, tinnitus, and hyperacusis affect more than a third of the population of the United States.  Given the CDC’s mission to control and prevent disease and injury, one hopes this is the first of many steps taken to educate the public, advise federal, state, and local governments,  and rein in a preventable health epidemic.

 

Want a side of peace and quiet with your meal?

You are not alone: Diners want noise off the menu.

NOTE: The statement in the article that “[t]he Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends less than eight hours of sustained exposure to noise louder than 85 decibels,” is wrong in its implied scope.  In February 2016, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) posted an article on its Science Blog that stated that the 85 dBA noise exposure limit was intended only as a limit for occupational noise exposure and not as a safe noise exposure limit for the public at large.  See, NIOSH Science Blog clarifies difference between occupational and general noise exposure limits.  According to Daniel Fink, M.D., a leading noise activist, the only evidence-based safe noise exposure level for the public was calculated by the Environmental Protection Agency to be 70 dB (unweighted) average noise exposure for a 24 hour period.  See, Information on Levels of Environmental Noise Requisite to Protect Public Health and Welfare with an Adequate Margin of Safety.

Safe noise exposure for the general public

Daniel Fink, M.D., Interim Chair of the Quiet Communities Health Advisory Council, has written a post for the Quiet Communities’s blog that tackles a question which is rarely addressed: What noise level IS safe for preventing hearing loss?

In his post, Dr. Fink discusses the seeming contradiction between a 1974 Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) determination that “a 24-hour average noise exposure level of 70 decibels (dB) or less prevent[s] measurable hearing loss over a lifetime” with statements from various governmental and nonprofit organizations that suggested that “a much louder noise level − anything up to 85 dB − was safe for our ears.”  In the course of researching the issue, he received a communication from the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) that explained where the 85 dB figure came from; the information in that communication formed the basis of a post on NIOSH’s Science Blog in February 2016 (which is discussed here).

Long and short, the NIOSH communication explained that the 85 dB was an occupational noise exposure standard developed to protect workers over a lifetime of work, whereas the EPA determination of 70 dB averaged noise exposure over 24 hours was believed to protect the general public from hearing loss over a lifetime.  As Dr. Fink notes that the clarification of the difference in noise exposure limits is important in setting public policy and protecting public health, and he concludes that, based on his research, “[t]he much lower 70 dB average noise exposure level is the only published safe noise level to protect the public’s hearing.”

 

NIOSH Science Blog clarifies difference between occupational and general noise exposure limits

Many people are confused about what is a safe noise limit for the general public because the only noise limit the public may have heard about is the 85 decibel recommended exposure limit (REL) that National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) established for occupational noise exposures.  Fortunately, the NIOSH Science Blog has just posted an informative piece* that discusses acceptable RELS for both, titled: Understanding Noise Exposure Limits: Occupational vs. General Environmental Noise.

The authors state that in 1998, NIOSH established the REL for occupational noise exposure to be 85 decibels based on an 8-hour shift for a 5-day work week, adding that the REL “assumes that the individual spends the other 16 hours in the day, as well as weekends, in quieter conditions,” and cautioning that “the NIOSH REL is not a recommendation for noise exposures outside of the workplace in the general environment.”  The difference between the occupational and general environmental noise exposures is that:

The NIOSH REL is not meant to be used to protect against general environmental or recreational noise; it does not account for noisy activities or hobbies outside the workplace (such as hunting, power tool use, listening to music with ear buds, playing music, or attending sporting events, movies and concerts) which may increase the overall risk for hearing loss.

The authors point out that a 1974 Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) report recommended 70 decibels over a 24-hour average exposure limit for general environmental noise (while noting the EPA’s caution that its recommendation was not a standard, specification, or regulation).  This recommendation was determined in a similar manner as the NIOSH REL, but it’s focus was on general environmental noise and not the workplace.  As the EPA report states, their recommendation “was chosen to protect 96% of the general population from developing hearing loss as well as to protect ‘public health and welfare.’”

The authors note that both limits “are based on the same scientific evidence and the equal-energy rule,” but “are designed to protect against different problems.”  As a result, the limit values differ because “the EPA limit was averaged over 24 hours with no rest period while the NIOSH limit is averaged for just 8 hours and includes a rest period between exposures,” and the EPA limit includes an allowance “to protect against exposures for 365 days a year versus the NIOSH REL’s calculation that aims to protect against work place exposures for 250 working days a year.”   The authors add that “the EPA limit did not consider cost or feasibility of implementation as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), in accepting a NIOSH REL as the basis for a mandatory standard, [was] required to do under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970.”

Long and short, the authors conclude that the 85 decibel REL is a work standard that neither mandates nor recommends decibel limits for the general public.  Rather, it is the EPA’s recommendation of 70 decibels that provides the appropriate exposure limits for the public with regard to general environmental noise.

*The post was prepared by NIOSH engineer, Chuck Kardous, MS, PE; NIOSH audiologist, Christa L. Themann, MA; NIOSH research audiologist Thais C. Morata, Ph.D., who is also the Coordinator of the NORA Manufacturing Sector Council; and W. Gregory Lotz, Ph.D, Captain, US Public Health Service, Division Director of the Division of Applied Research and Technology (DART), and the manager of the NORA Manufacturing Sector Council.