Tag Archive: health

How City Noise is Slowly Killing You

Photo credit: Mdanser (public domain)

Andrea Bartz, Harper’s Bazaar, dispenses with the niceties and cuts to the quick with her recent article on the consequences of urban noise. In her well-linked piece, she writes about “the number-two threat to public health, after air pollution,” and it’s effect on our health. She begins by focusing on the known universe of horribles that are triggered by the relentless assault of noise in cities, namely “[c]ancer, heart disease, obesity and myriad other conditions” that are exacerbated by stress, adding that the “constant gush of stress hormones actually restructures the brain, contributing to tumor development, heart disease, respiratory disorders, and more.”

And the problems don’t end with health consequences. Bartz speaks to Arline Bronzaft, PhD, an environmental psychologist who has been a noise activist for over four decades. Bronzaft states that “[e]ven if you don’t have health problems yet, you’ll have diminished quality of life [from noise pollution].” A diminished quality of life includes bouts of interrupted sleep, interference with cognitive tasks, and elevated stress hormones. As Bronzaft notes, “[b]y dealing with the sounds of the city, you’re using up energy, which is costly to your body.”

Bartz says that our parents didn’t have it so bad, and turns to Bart Kosko, Ph.D., a professor of electrical engineering at the University of Southern California and the author of Noise, who asserts that “[c]ell phones are largely to blame.” Why? Because someone talking on the cell phone “imposes a type of sonic nuisance on those nearby,” which “gets worse when several people talk on cell phones” and they compete with each other to “maintain the same signal-to-noise ratio as the level of crosstalk noise grows.” This is known as the Lombard effect.

Street noise is worse too, as an audit by New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli shows that the number of noise complaints in New York City more than doubled in the last five years. But the audit also shows that there are few real repercussions for violators, even for clubs and bars racking up hundreds of complaints.

So what can be done? Bartz writes of people (of means) turning to self-help measures like “digital detox” packages for a noise detoxification. But for those who can’t afford an escape to a desert island or world-class spa, what are our options? Bartz gets some practical advice from Bronzaft and Kosko, and she writes about Quiet Mark, which identifies quiet consumer products with a seal of approval and encourages manufacturers to prioritize noise reduction in product design.

But in the end it is obvious that a noise detox or a quieter dishwasher can’t achieve the kind of results that effective government regulation could. While her article is mostly spot on, we wish that Bartz had addressed what government could do to control noise. So here’s hoping that Bartz is working on Part II of a series, with the second piece focusing on what government could do to control and regulate noise, and what we must do to make them do it.

 

 

 

 

Noise, the “ignored pollutant.”

“The sonic backdrop to our lives is increasingly one of unwanted technospheric noise,” writes Paul Mobbs for the Ecologist.  Mobbs, an independent environmental researcher and author, explores the sounds of nature and the toll that noise takes “on our health, wellbeing and quality of life.”  He writes about a ritual he has engaged in from since before his teens, where a few times a year he goes for a walk “well before the dawn, in order to listen to the ‘dawn chorus.'” “Over that period,” notes Mobbs, “there’s been one inescapable change in the countryside around my home town of Banbury – noise.”

On his recent walk, Mobbs’ objective was to reach Salt Way, an old Roman salt route fringing the south-western quadrant of Banbury. “Due to its age Salt Way has exceptionally dense, wide and species-rich ancient hedgerows which demarcate it from the surrounding fields,” which Mobbs asserts is “[p]erfect for listening to birds.” Except that morning a slight breeze was wafting the sound of a large motorway that was over 2 1/2 miles away.  Reflecting on this walk, Mobbs examines lost tranquility and noise as a nuisance, and introduces us to ecopsychology as he ponders “the fundamental psychological human dependence upon the natural environment.”  It’s a fascinating piece that really should be read in its entirety.  Click the first link to do that.

 

Need a little help falling asleep? Help is on the way:

The Best White Noise Apps & Sites. Lisa Poisso, Techlicious, reviews websites and apps offering pink noise generators for better sleep as well as options to enhance concentration and focus when you are adrift in a sea of noise.

Link via @jeaninebotta.

Anemic? See your doctor and get your iron tablets, stat:

Iron Deficiency Anemia Tied to Hearing Loss.  Iron deficiency anemia should be relatively easy to manage. So see your doctor, get a blood test, and manage your anemia.

That said, Dr. Daniel Fink, a leading noise activist, cautions that the study appears to be a preliminary one. The study reviewed data from approximately 300,000 deidentified adult patient records at Milton K. Hershey Medical Center in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. The diagnosis of hearing loss was made by mention of one or more diagnostic codes for hearing loss on at least one encounter. The diagnosis of iron deficiency anemia was made from laboratory tests. Then statistical analyses were performed. No audiometric tests were done, and the prevalence of hearing loss was much lower than that reported in other studies.  Dr. Fink thinks this report might help guide future research, but the fact remains that noise exposure, not iron deficiency anemia, is the major cause of hearing loss in the United States.

A little self-help can’t hurt

In light of the recent study linking traffic noise to an increased risk of acquiring dementia, this article is a must read: How To Reduce Noise Pollution At Home.

Of course, one would hope that governments would think about how best to limit noise after reading that frightening study.  The medical costs alone should be enough to motivate even the most dispassionate bean counter.  But until they do, we really must take matters into our own hands and try to make our homes as peaceful and noise free as possible.

Link via @QuietMark.

 

Age doesn’t matter,

you could have hidden hearing loss (and not know it). WMAR Baltimore reports on hidden hearing loss, a relatively recently discovered hearing breakthrough that explains how people who pass hearing tests have problems hearing in noisy environments.  WMAR interviewed audiologists about this breakthrough, who said that “why patients can’t decipher speech in noisy situations has been unexplained, but a new breakthrough is changing that.”  The researchers who made the hidden hearing loss breakthrough studied young adults who were regularly overexposed to loud sounds, and found that “hidden hearing loss is associated with a deep disorder in the auditory system.”

It’s never too late to protect the hearing you have.  Exposure to loud sounds damages hearing.  Period.

 

Always read the fine print when a study comes out trivializing noise complaints

Daniel Fink, MD, and Jamie L. Banks, PhD, MSc, have written an intriguing article about NextGen, The Mercatus Center (funded by the arch conservative Koch brothers), and aircraft noise. In “Airplane Noise is a Health Hazard,” Fink and Banks write that the Mercatus Center study “labels those who complain about airport noise as NIMBYs…conveniently ignor[ing] a large body of medical research showing that airplane noise increases the risk of morbidity and mortality, [and] trivializ[ing] the seriousness of a problem affecting the health and well-being of millions of Americans.”  It’s a very thoughtful and well-cited piece that is worth a careful read.

Shortly after Fink and Banks’ article was published, an article appeared in the Chicago Sun Times about the soaring costs in test program to insulate historic homes near O’Hare ($101,000 per home, not an insignificant amount). Interestingly, the Mercatus Center study somehow ignored the damage to property value borne by homeowners living under NextGen flight paths while it was categorizing people suffering from continuous aircraft noise as a “handful” of NIMBYists .

Is Your Noisy Neighborhood Slowly Killing You?

Inside the science of negative sound effects, and what we can do about them.Mother Jones, writes about our increasingly noisy world and how this noisy soundscape is “contributing to stress-related diseases and early death, especially in and around cities.”  The problem is that ‘[b]y evolutionary necessity, noise triggers a potent stress response.”  Williams explains that “[o]ur nervous systems react to noises that are loud and abrupt…by instructing our bodies to boost the heart rate, breathe less deeply, and release fight-or-flight hormones.”  While this response may have saved us from predators way back when, today they increase our stress hormones, which adversely affects our health.  Williams adds that studies on children and noise exposure show that “children with chronic aircraft, road traffic or rail noise exposure at school have poorer reading ability, memory, and academic performance on national standardised tests.”

The article is very interesting and one of the better mainstream media pieces on noise and its effect on human health.  Additionally, Williams touches on an important topic that gets very little attention.  Namely, Williams discusses the uneven impact of noise on disadvantaged communities:

You can probably guess which communities face the greatest sonic barrage: the same ones stuck with the worst air, the shoddiest housing, and so on. Noise as a social justice issue is just beginning to gain traction.

Click the first link to read the entire article.  It is well worth your time.

Link via @livequiet (Quiet Revolution).

Is It Safe to Turn Down the Volume of Hospital Alarms?

New Study Chimes In: “Yes.” If you have ever spent any time in a hospital, whether as a visitor or especially as a patient, you probably wondered how the patients sleep with the constant din caused by monitors, particularly the alarms. The answer, apparently, is “they can’t.” While some sort of alarm is needed to alert staff when a patient is having a crisis, Anesthesiology News reports that “[t]he overabundance and high volume of hospital alarms can have deleterious effects on patients and providers, impairing clinician performance and possibly compromising patient safety (citation omitted).” The good news? The study’s author found that “clinician performance is maintained with alarms that are softer than background noise.”

Coming soon to a hospital near you: A good night’s rest!

 

What’s nature’s remedy for blocking noise?

Trees. Dean Fosdick, Associated Press, writes that “landscape designers in cities are creating quieter living spaces by using trees to mute loud noises like sirens and air brakes.”  The practice is called “‘soundscaping,’ and it aims to restore peaceful, natural sounds like wind whispering through leaves, birds chirping or rain dripping from branches.”  Click the link to learn more.