There are some people in this country who believe making the loudest sound is some sort of achievement to be celebrated. They are, of course, wrong. Case in point, this ridiculous and dangerous “contest” described in the Star Tribune has to be one of the most ignorant and dangerous of these foolish displays yet: Minnesota’s extreme car stereo fans compete to see how loud they can go.
For those who think we are being a bit hyperbolic, consider that the noise level is loud enough to affect the car frame. The Star Tribune reports that “[t]he sound waves from these stereo systems are so powerful they can literally raise the roof, causing the metal car bodies to visibly flex and vibrate and the windshield wipers to bounce off the glass.”
So congratulations to all the participants who spent their disposable cash chasing the dream. Perhaps the winner can put the prize money towards a pair of hearing aids, because there is no cure for hearing loss.
This paper in BMC Public Health reports that sound levels from portable listening devices (also called personal music players) are loud enough to damage hearing.
It’s long past time for regulators to take steps to protect the hearing of our young people, who are the predominant users of these devices. What are they waiting for?
I have predicted an epidemic of noise-induced hearing loss in young people for three years, since I became a noise activist and learned how damaging noise is for hearing.
So far there are only anecdotal reports of more cases of hearing loss and tinnitus in younger people in their teens, twenties, and thirties, but when the epidemiology reports come out, I will say, “I told you so.”
But that will give scant satisfaction, because it will be too late for those with hearing loss. The damage will have been done, and there is no cure. There is only one certain way to avoid noise-induced hearing loss: avoid loud sound. Always.
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.
New Hampshire police plan to crack down on noisy motorcycles. WCVB reports that Portsmouth, New Hampshire police are getting serious about super loud motorcyles, and they will be “investing in equipment and training needed to recognize if a motorcycle is illegally loud.” What’s the standard for illegally loud? Apparently in New Hampshire it’s 92 decibels. We would suggest, however, that the standard should be 83 decibels, which was the noise level limit established by the EPA back when the agency was properly funded and not being attacked from all sides.
Still, whatever the applicable decibel level, at least the Portsmouth police are taking motorcycle noise seriously. How seriously? They plan to set up checkpoints to test motorcycle noise level. Let’s hope this is the start of a nationwide trend.
Why are (some) sports so noisy? Kathi Mestayer, Hearing Health Magazine, asks that question in her thoughtful article about sports and noise. At Silencity we have expressed concern with the ongoing display of bravado between NFL teams over which team’s fans can produce the loudest crowd roar, and noted with despair that this inane and dangerous contest has been embraced by college sports. But as Mestayer notes in her article, noise in sports is not limited to popular team sports. As anyone looking to get fit at the local gym knows, we are often exposed to excruciatingly loud music as part of the gym “experience.”
Mestayer writes that “[v]olumes in fitness classes hae been measured at above 100 dBA,” which, according to a handy graphic accompanying the article, can cause hearing damage after 14 minutes of exposure (if not before). So why is it so loud? Because “[b]ackground music is used to set the pace (and vary it), keep people moving, and make the workout seem more energetic and fun.” Except when it isn’t. Mestayer interviews Bonnie Schnitta, an acoustics consultant, who tells her about an acoustical retrofit for a gym because of noise complaints. The problem was due to design decisions, because, said Schnitta, “[p]eople often aren’t thinking about noise during the design phase.”
So what can we do? Mestayer gives us some options, including using earplugs and downloading the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health’s sound meter, but one thing is clear–until and unless the government mandates noise standards for the public in public spaces, you have to protect yourself.
Click the first link to read Mestayer’s article in full. It’s well worth your time.
We’re not sure if the sound will give you nightmares–although it is unnerving–but it did make us wonder about what would happen to our soundscape should Amazon and others succeed in convincing governments that drone delivery is a great idea. What you hear on the video is 103 micro-drones–small drones “with a wingspan under 12 inches.” Now imagine a battalion of full-size, package-wielding delivery drones flying above your head. Just saying.
Ever since I developed tinnitus and hyperacusis from a one-time exposure to loud restaurant noise, I have been looking for a quiet restaurant (see the Acknowledgements section at the end of my editorial in the January 2017 American Journal of Public Health, “What Is a Safe Noise Level for the Public?“).
It turns out I’m not the only one complaining about restaurant noise.
Restaurant owners may think that noise increases food and beverage sales, and decreases time spent at the table, and they are right. But what they cannot measure is how many meals are lost because people like me don’t go to noisy restaurants with family or friends, choosing to dine at home, instead, where we can converse as we enjoy our meal. Perhaps restauranteurs should consider that we middle-aged folks are more likely to spend money in restaurants than other demographic groups. After all, for many of us our kids are done with college, our mortgages are paid off, we’ve been saving for retirement, and we have the disposable income to enjoy a nice meal out more frequently than in our youth. If there were quieter restaurants, we might dine out more often instead of avoiding them because we would rather not have a side of hearing loss with our steak frites.
I guess that as long as the restaurants are busy, they will stay noisy. But if enough of us speak up–in the restaurants and to our elected representatives, asking them to pass laws requiring some limits on indoor noise–restaurants will eventually get quieter.
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.
Experts Warn Popping Balloons Can Lead To Permanent Hearing Loss. Arrianne Del Rosario, Tech Times, writes about an experiment conducted by researchers at the University of Alberta “to find out how noise from bursting balloons can impact hearing,” and the results were stunning. The researchers “measured the noise levels from popping balloons in three different ways: poking them with a pin, blowing them with air until they burst, and crushing them until they exploded.” The loudest bang came from blowing up a balloon with air until it popped. When it did, it was recorded at almost 168 decibels, “4 decibels louder than a high-powered, 12-gauge shotgun.”
It can’t be that bad, it’s just a balloon, right? Wrong. Del Rosario notes that the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety recommends that “the maximum impulse level should never go beyond 140 decibels.” She adds that “[c]onstant exposure to noise, even as low as 85 decibels — for example, the noise from cars honking their horns in a city traffic — can make a person vulnerable to hearing loss.”
Del Rosario is right that damage to hearing can occur well under 140 decibles, but wrong to imply that damage only occurs at 85 decibels or higher. 85 decibels is the industrial-strength occupational noise exposure standard. Auditory damage can begin at only 75-78 decibels. The only evidence-based safe noise exposure level is the EPA’s 70 decibel time weighted average for 24 hours. Cautions noted noise activist Dr. Daniel Fink, “If it sounds too loud, it is too loud. Hearing is an important social sense, and once cochlear hair cells and auditory synaptic junctions are damaged, they are gone forever.”
Whatever the decibel reading, the problem is that each exposure to loud noise leaves a mark. As one of the researchers, Bill Hodgetts, advised:
Hearing loss is insidious — every loud noise that occurs has a potential lifelong impact. We want people to be mindful of hearing damage over a lifetime, because once you get to the back end of life, no hearing aid is as good as the once healthy built-in system in your inner ear.
From the book The Human Body and Health Revised by Alvin Davison, 1908 / Public Domain
And Experts Say Earphones Are Part Of The Problem. Lori Mack, WNPR, reports on hearing experts’ growing concern about the potential health hazard earbuds and headphones pose to children. Mack states that “[s]tudies show hearing loss among kids and teens is up about 30 percent higher than it was in the ’80s and ’90s,” adding that “[e]xperts believe earphones are part of the problem.” A problem that turns on volume and time exposure. Simply put, the louder the sound, the less time it takes to damage your hearing.
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.
You’ll want to walk over to their desk and say something like, “You know, I have never been able to concentrate unless it’s totally silent. And I know that’s unrealistic … but can I ask you, for the next couple hours, while I’m working on this project, would you keep it down for me? I’d really appreciate it.”
Ok. So what do you do the next day?
Here at Silencity we’d suggest punting to HR or someone higher in the food chain, especially if you don’t know the person who is making your work life hell. You’re not a psychologist (unless you are), and trying to get your work done in less than optimal surroundings is enough of a burden. If your employer puts you in a situation where confronting a noisy co-worker is inevitable, then surely your employer must have designed mechanisms for dealing with the problem. So let the HR manager or your boss figure out how to quiet your noisy work neighbor. That’s why they’re there.