Tag Archive: lockdown

COVID-19 and the city soundscape

Photo credit: Craig Adderley from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, and David M. Sykes, Vice Chair, The Quiet Coalition

The Quiet Coalition’s Arline Bronzaft, PhD, wrote a very nice essay about COVID-19 and the city soundscape, which was published in New York City’s Our Town, the local paper for the Upper East Side neighborhood of Manhattan.

Dr. Arline Bronzaft is known and published worldwide for her expertise and teaching on community noise. But noise is personal too, a cause. So she’s never lost sight of it’s impact on her own home town, New York City, where she has been an adviser to five mayors. Nor the effect it has on her own neighbors on the upper east side of Manhattan, even during the recent COVID lockdown that brought life to a standstill an an eery quiet punctuated only by the frightening sounds of ambulance and police sirens at any hour of the day or night.

In her essay, Dr. Bronzaft notes that sound and noise received a great deal of attention during the first months of the coronavirus pandemic. In the absence of the usual hustle and bustle of noisy New York City, she writes:

There was talk about hearing and seeing more birds; not being awakened by overhead jets in the early morning hours; not being subjected to loud construction noises; and no music from nearby bars. However, an increase in loud ambulance sirens disturbed our ears and upset our minds because this meant more people were likely suffering from COVID-19.

She goes on to discuss possible future outcomes as urban activities return to normal, and expresses the hope that everyone–including city officials–will remember, when normality returns, what this period of calm and quiet was like.

Dr. Bronzaft’s piece dovetails very nicely with an editorial by Dr. Antonella Radicchi in a special issue of Cities & Health about sound and the healthy city.

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.

David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: QCI Healthcare Acoustics Project, ANSI Committee S12-WG44, the Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Committee. He is lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0” (Springer, 2012), a contributor to the NAE’s “Technology for a Quieter America” and the GSA’s “Sound Matters,” and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics at Rensselaer Polytech. A graduate of UC-Berkeley with advanced degrees from Cornell, he is a frequent organizer of professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

Lockdown reduced noise exposure across the U.S.

Photo credit: fancycrave1 from Pixabay

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Some months ago we wrote about Apple’s new sound monitoring features on the iWatch, and the fact that Prof. Richard Neitzel at the University of Michigan’s School of Public Health was working with Apple to analyze data collected by iWatch wearers. The first report from Prof. Neitzel’s work has now appeared in the journal Environmental Research Letters.

As discussed by Fermin Koop, ZME Science, half a million daily noise readings from volunteers in Florida, California, New York, and Texas were analyzed, starting before the COVID-19 lockdowns and continuing into the lockdown period. The data showed that initial decreases in noise exposure occurred on the weekends, but as people started working from home these extended into the entire week. Average daily noise exposures dropped by about 3 decibels.

This doesn’t sound like very much, but the decibel scale is a logarithmic one like the Richter Scale for earthquakes, and a 3 decibel decrease represents approximately a halving of the noise energy level that the volunteer data collectors were exposed to.

Koop writes that the study is one of the first ones to collect data over time in order to understand how everyday sound exposure can impact hearing. The data will now be shared with the World Health Organization and will help describe what personal sound exposures are like for Americans across different states and different ages.

“These are questions we’ve had for years and now we’re starting to have data that will allow us to answer them,” Neitzel said in a statement. “We’re thankful to the participants who contributed unprecedented amounts of data. This is data that never existed or was even possible before.”

Prof. Neitzel’s previous work found high levels of noise exposure for those living in New York City.  And a review article by Prof. Neitzel and colleagues discussed the auditory and non-auditory health consequences of excessive noise exposure, including high blood pressure.

Thanks to Prof. Neitzel and Apple for making this important citizen-science contribution possible.

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 and pollution increase as countries, states reopen

Photo credit: Ion Ceban @ionelceban from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This New York Times article reports that gaseous pollutant emissions are surging as countries and states reopen economic activity.

We have covered several reports about the coronavirus lockdowns causing noise and vibration levels to decrease, but I haven’t yet seen a report about the effect of reopening on noise levels.

I wrote about the eerie nighttime quiet of a curfew beginning at 1 p.m. in the afternoon. A little noise may be reassuring, or at least familiar, but too much noise is a problem.

My own observation is that in the west Los Angeles area, noise levels are definitely increasing. Automobile, truck, and motorcycle exhaust noise can be heard day and night. And there are more airplanes in the sky.

It will be interesting to see what happens with noise levels as the economy reopens more.

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.

COVID lockdown yields cleaner, quieter environment

Photo credit: nevil zaveri licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Arline L. Bronzaft, Ph.D., Board of Directors, GrowNYC, and Co-founder, The Quiet Coalition

While the pandemic lockdown has created havoc in our lives and aroused an anxiety as to what our “new normal world” will look like, it has, unexpectedly, provided an opportunity for researchers to examine its impacts on the surrounding environment. The air appears to be cleaner and the soundscape quieter. This cleaner, quieter environment enabled Indrajit Mandal and his colleagues to study the effects of COVID-19 on the environment near the Dwarka river basin in Eastern India after nearby stone quarrying areas were locked down. The data collected after the lockdown were then compared to data collected pre-lockdown.

The results of this study indicated a reduction in particulate matter and noise level. The adjacent river water quality was also found to be improved. The findings on noise demonstrated that “noise level is dropped to <65dBA which was above 85dBA in stone crusher dominated areas in pre lockdown period.” This is indeed a significant drop in noise! In their discussion section, the authors cite studies that have examined the adverse impacts of a higher particulate matter concentration, poorer water quality, and increased noise levels on human health.

This paper concludes by noting that now that we know that a temporary lockdown can improve the environment, we should be encouraged to seek ways to provide for a sustainable environment while still supporting a sustainable economy. This sustainable environment would also benefit other species who share this earth with humans. A “successful control of pollution sources can give a lively earth and it can establish the right to life in our planet earth.”

Dr. Arline Bronzaft is a researcher, writer, and consultant on the adverse effects of noise on mental and physical health. She is co-author of “Why Noise Matters,” author of “Listen to the Raindrops” (children’s book illustrated by Steven Parton), and has written extensively about noise in books, encyclopedias, academic journals, and the popular press.  In addition, she is a Professor Emerita of the City University of New York and Board member of GrowNYC.

Good sounds during lockdown

Photo credit: Anthony Quintano licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Arline L. Bronzaft, Ph.D., Board of Directors, GrowNYC, and Co-founder, The Quiet Coalition

In contrast to Dr. Daniel Fink’s experience with the lack of sound during curfew, I have been experiencing good sounds at my apartment. Confined to my home, I cannot join the marches. So the marches have come to my home. I have stood on my terrace and have joined in by applauding the marchers as they pass my building on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. The sounds are voices from people of all ages and races calling for justice and the applause of nearby residents supporting their call.

It is on this same terrace each evening at seven that I join my neighbors in applauding the health care workers who are caring for those who are suffering from COVID-19.

The voices and applause are such pleasant sounds. They are music to my ears.

Dr. Arline Bronzaft is a researcher, writer, and consultant on the adverse effects of noise on mental and physical health. She is co-author of “Why Noise Matters,” author of “Listen to the Raindrops” (children’s book illustrated by Steven Parton), and has written extensively about noise in books, encyclopedias, academic journals, and the popular press.  In addition, she is a Professor Emerita of the City University of New York and Board member of GrowNYC.

Staying at home with noisy neighbors

Photo credit: Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

by Arline L. Bronzaft, Ph.D., Board of Directors, GrowNYC, and Co-founder, The Quiet Coalition

While complaints about outdoor noises such as those from construction and neighborhood pubs and bars have declined in New York City, neighbor-to-neighbor complaints have increased. In their article “Lockdown: Noisy neighbours are ruining my life,” Manish Pandey and Will Chalk similarly report that since the UK went into lockdown, individuals are complaining about their neighbors’ noises not giving them any “peace and quiet.” Pandey and Chalk queried 103 councils in the UK and those who responded reported a rise in neighbor-to-neighbor complaints.

Dan Sanders, the head of the Association of Noise Consultants in the UK, believes the rise in complaints is related to the fact that “so many people are spending a lot more time at home.” He could add that in many cases individuals are now working from home and noise intrusions could be especially disruptive. He goes on to suggest that talking to a neighbor should be the first step before filing a noise complaint. Under normal circumstances resolving noise complaints, through complaints to appropriate agencies, takes time and under the present circumstances, it would probably take longer.

However, we must not forget that neighbor-to-neighbor noise complaints have been a problem before the pandemic. “Neighbour/Neighbourhood Noise” is a chapter written by Val Weedon of the UK, a long-term advocate for a less noisy environment, in the book “Why Noise Matters.” In her chapter of the book, published in 2011, Weedon cites studies that show that neighbor noise has been a problem in the UK for decades.

This is also true in New York City and elsewhere. While neighbor to neighbor noise can be resolved through conversations amongst neighbors, as Sanders suggests, this does not happen that frequently. Such resolutions depend on people respecting the right of others. And while Blanche DuBois in “A Streetcar Named Desire” stated that she “…always depended on the kindness of strangers,” I would have to say that individuals exposed to noisy neighbors will too frequently have to depend on the law to protect their right to some quiet.

In New York City and the UK, too often one finds that very few violations are issued in response to noise complaints to the appropriate authorities charged with enforcing noise ordinances. Thus, many individuals have to seek other means to resolve noise complaints. Remember, noise is a hazard to one’s mental and physical health.

In New York City, as a member of GrowNYC overseeing its noise activities, I have been asked many times to help with noise complaints as have the city’s public officials. I assume we will continue coping with neighbor-to-neighbor noise complaints after this horrific pandemic but, maybe after the difficulties we have all experienced these past few months, urban dwellers will express some of the kindness towards others in line with Blanche DuBois’ frequently quoted words.

Dr. Arline Bronzaft is a researcher, writer, and consultant on the adverse effects of noise on mental and physical health. She is co-author of “Why Noise Matters,” author of “Listen to the Raindrops” (children’s book illustrated by Steven Parton), and has written extensively about noise in books, encyclopedias, academic journals, and the popular press.  In addition, she is a Professor Emerita of the City University of New York and Board member of GrowNYC.

The lockdown provides an opportunity for scientific research

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This BBC report asks the question, “Is the coronavirus lockdown an opportunity for scientific research?”

To me, the answer is definitely, “Yes.”

As the report discusses, and as we have commented on, the marked decrease in human activity during the lockdown has allowed scientists to have new insights in the fields of seismology, marine sciences, and air pollution. In addition, it has increased scientific collaboration using the internet and various platforms, and allowed increased “citizen science” because people are sheltering in place, where they can observe and report on insect life, bird life, and plants, among other things in their yards, to scientists conducting research in these areas.

Most importantly, I think, is that the lockdown constitutes an “experiment of nature” where multiple topics can be studied in a wide variety of fields with the experimental intervention–a novel coronavirus pandemic, with a global lockdown in human activity including much of the global economy–being one that could never be planned but now has happened.

In political science, for example, researchers will be able to compare the effects of different political structures and different leadership styles on both economics and on coronavirus death rates. In Denmark, for example, the coronavirus death rate is half that in the U.S., lower than that in nearby Sweden, and the unemployment rate is 5%. Children are returning to school.

In economics, the “dismal science,” the costs of different national approaches to handling the coronavirus pandemic will provide fodder for PhD theses and think tank study for years if not decades. In public health, the effectiveness of different strategies for dealing with a novel coronavirus is already apparent. Unfortunately, in medicine and virology much has been learned about dealing with a new disease with no specific treatment, only supportive treatment, and as of yet no vaccine and no cure.

And in Georgia, motor vehicle safety experts will be able to compare the crash, injury, and mortality rates between the 16,000 Georgia teens getting their drivers licenses without a road test compared to those who did have to take the road test earlier in the year.

I’m sure there are many more topics that can be investigated due to the unfortunate opportunity created for scientific research by the coronavirus epidemic.

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.

Researchers find whales enjoying pandemic quiet

Photo credit: Silvana Palacios from Pexels

by David M. Sykes, Vice Chair, The Quiet Coalition

While some humans are complaining about the enforced, stay-at-home quiet we’re living through now, biologists are embracing this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to research the impacts on other mammals, in particular, marine mammals.

I think it’s wonderful that scientists are using this window in time to compare how other species are doing while we’re locked indoors. Turns out, the researchers say, many animals are doing just fine!

This article in the New York Times provides glimpses into the “re-wilding” of cities around the globe as other species emerge to take over the world we’ve temporarily abandoned. And other videos actually prompt a sense of hope that the planet can heal itself if we’ll just give it a chance.

David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: QCI Healthcare Acoustics Project, ANSI Committee S12-WG44, the Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Committee. He is lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0” (Springer, 2012), a contributor to the NAE’s “Technology for a Quieter America” and the GSA’s “Sound Matters,” and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics at Rensselaer Polytech. A graduate of UC-Berkeley with advanced degrees from Cornell, he is a frequent organizer of professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

April 29 is International Noise Awareness Day

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Wednesday, April 29, 2020, is the 25th anniversary of International Noise Awareness Day. Twenty-five years isn’t quite as big an anniversary as fifty years, e.g, for Earth Day this year, but it is still an accomplishment. The Center for Hearing and Communication started observing this day to encourage people to do something about bothersome noise.

One of the small silver linings worldwide as a result of lockdowns brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic has been the marked decrease in traffic as people shelter in place, with corresponding decreases in almost all types of transportation noise. Urban dwellers report they can hear birdsong. Of course, when everyone is home, noise from a neighbor who is also at home can be much more annoying than when it only occurs while one is at work.

In general, a quieter world is a healthier world for all living things.  And I will be observing the day by going for my morning walk and listening for the call of the neighborhood’s Cooper’s hawk.

What will you do to celebrate International Noise Awareness Day?

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.