Tag Archive: noise

Open plan offices, what are they good for?

Photo credit: K2 Space licensed under CC BY 2.0

Absolutely nothing. And so the collaboration lie falls, as research by two Harvard student researchers shows that “although companies are increasingly calling for barriers in the workplace to be removed, staff are less likely to speak to fellow employees when they can constantly see them.”

You can close your eyes, but you can’t close your ears

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This piece from technology writer Markham Heid discusses noise pollution. Heid writes about the work of noted researcher Thomas Münzel, MD, who’s 2018 study shows “the ties between loud noise and heart failure, heart attack, and stroke — as well as noise’s negative impact on a person’s sleep and cognitive performance.”

Münzel, Heid writes, asserts that noise that is “about 70 decibels — roughly the noise generated by a passing car — could be considered ‘unhealthy noise,’ because it can disturb sleep, and poor sleep is a risk factor for health issues ranging from heart disease to obesity to diabetes.” Münzel explains that the problem with noise when you are sleeping is that “[y]ou can close your eyes, but you can’t close your ears.”

And that’s why noise pollution makes us sick, causing hearing loss and the non-auditory health effects on the heart and damaging our mental health.

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.

Wind turbines in 2018

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

In October 1986, I presented a keynote address to the Community Noise Conference held in Toowoomba, co-sponsored by the Queensland Division of Noise Abatement and Air Pollution and the Australian Acoustical Society. The title of my talk was “Health Hazards of Noise.” In my talk, I spoke of noise as not just an urban phenomenon and gave examples of how residents in quieter communities can find themselves exposed to intrusive noises. One example I gave was the following:

Imagine how surprised a suburban couple were to wake up one morning to the sound of a windmill erected in the neighbor’s backyard.

In the 1980s we spoke of windmills, not wind turbines. Yet, in 1981, I actually had a court case involving a backyard windmill that was impacting on the health and well-being of a nearby neighbor. The judge in this case acknowledged the discomfort brought about by the windmill’s noise.

Now thirty years after my talk in Australia and after the court case cited above, we have a finding by an Australian Council regarding a wind farm stating that “noise is audible frequently within individual residences and this noise is adversely impacting on the personal comfort and wellbeing of individuals.” In several U.S. cases, courts have asked wind power operators to buy out noise-affected neighbors. A majority of the wind turbine cases argued in Australia, New Zealand, the U.S., Europe, and Canada, however, have found that wind turbine noise would not affect health adversely. This, despite the fact that there are published papers noting that the sounds produced by wind turbines are not being assessed properly and a number of studies reporting a link between wind turbine noise and potential health impacts.

Considering the growth of evidence suggesting the harmful impacts of wind turbine sounds on health, I believe that we need to continue to examine this link before we forge ahead in siting industrial wind turbines. And we also must continue to monitor the legal challenges to wind turbine impacts internationally.

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.

Whales and noise

Photo credit: Minette Layne licensed under CC BY 2.0

Finally some good news about the problem of ocean noise, courtesy of The Noise Curmudgeon: The Canadian government is establishing a project to monitor ocean noise and protect endangered whales.

Said Terry Beech, parliamentary secretary to the minister of transportation, “[a]coustic disturbances, particularly underwater noise from vessels, are a problem for marine mammals such as the southern resident killer whales, who are having trouble finding the salmon, particularly Chinook salmon, that they need to flourish.” The goal is to study propeller noise and hull vibration, “the results of which could inform the design of new, quieter propellers.”

In these turbulent times, it’s good to see a government at least trying to do something to protect our natural environment.

A layperson’s guide to the WHO’s noise and health report

Photo credit: United States Mission Geneva licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

by John Stewart  

The new noise and health guidelines (pdf) published last week by the World Health Organisation could prove a turning point in the fight to persuade governments and industry to put in place more effective measures to tackle noise. The guidelines are not legally binding but, given the extent of the health problems associated with noise the report identified, it will be difficult for the authorities to dismiss them out of hand. Although the guidelines were published by the European office of the WHO and strictly apply only to Europe, WHO hopes and expects they will influence noise policy across the world. My summary of the guidelines can be found here (pdf).

The guidelines are tougher than those recommended by the WHO previously. The recommended limits are:

  • Road                    53Lden              45Lnight
  • Rail                      54Lden              44Lnight
  • Aircraft                 45Lden              40Lnight
  • Wind Turbines     45Lden       no recommendation*
  • Leisure                70 LAeq

* WHO felt that there was insufficient evidence to make a recommendation

The guidelines are stricter for air and wind turbine noise because WHO found that people get highly annoyed from these sources at lower levels than for road or rail noise. The benchmark used when recommending the safe thresholds was the level at which 10% of the population became annoyed by a particular noise source. For night noise a lower threshold was used on the basis that sleep disturbance created more serious health problems than annoyance. The night threshold was the level at which 3% of people were “highly sleep-disturbed.”

WHO stressed that, because, in its view, there is not yet enough research to make a recommendation about night noise from wind turbines, it does not mean that they are not causing problems. One of the report’s recommendations is that more wind turbine research is undertaken.

Wind farm and leisure were not covered in previous WHO reports. Leisure noise is harder to define than the other noise sources. WHO broadly defines it as recreational noise, including noise from personal audio devices. In light of existing evidence the WHO recommended that over the course of the year the noise from leisure sources should average out at no more than 70 decibels. It added one important caveat, though: a warning that very high levels of noise at a particular time–for example music at a rock concert–has the potential to damage hearing.

The WHO has made it very clear it does not want its report to sit on shelves gathering dust. It wants it to lead to action and has pointed the way in the report to solutions to reduce the number of people–currently running into hundreds of millions across the world–exposed to unhealthy levels of noise.

The World Health Organisation has done it job. It is over to us now–governments, industries, communities, campaign groups–to make sure we use it to create a quieter and healthier future for everybody.

John Stewart is the lead author of “Why Noise Matters,” published by Earthscan in 2011, and has worked and campaigned in the fields of noise and transport for over 35 years.

No one told you drone delivery would be so damn loud

Photo credit: Sam Churchill licensed under CC BY 2.0

But some Australians know firsthand that living next to a drone delivery test site is pure hell. According to Lachlan Roberts, The Riot Act!, residents living near a delivery drone testing site claimed they “were disturbed by the noise and said it was ruining their quality of life.” Said one put upon neighbor, “[t]he drones are unbelievably noisy and they have a really, really loud, high-pitched whining sound.” The situation was particularly galling, the residents point out, because they believe there is no compelling reason for this “service.”

It’s not surprising that the drone operation is attracting complaints. Just last year a NASA study found that “people find the buzzing sound that drones make to be notably more annoying than that of cars or trucks, even when they’re at the same volume.”

The aggrieved residents would likely agree. One of them noted that he had 35 drones fly over his house in one day, adding his concern that there would be many more flights after the trial period ended.

Silicon Valley (or the start-up culture, more generally) rush to impose delivery drones and flying cars and the other shiny objects du jour on the world with the promise of awesome new technology and absolutely no concern about the costs that will be borne by the society at large.

Before imposing the endless whine of delivery drones on the masses, the promoters should be required to answer one question: what compelling need does this technology serve? Because the need should be compelling when a new service or product is launched that will expose the public to unwanted and harmful noise.

Restaurant noise is still a problem

Photo credit: Navjot Singh licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This recent article in the Chicago Tribune discusses the problem of restaurant noise, and what can be done to solve it.

Controlling restaurant noise can be a challenge. There has to be a balance between a reasonable amount of noise, and the ability of patrons to converse each other, but not so much quiet that everyone can hear what others are saying at the next table.

Some restaurant noise is unavoidable, e.g., the conversation of patrons, noise from the street, and the clatter of dishes at the tables, but kitchen noise can be isolated by an interior window if a visible kitchen is desired, and background music doesn’t have to be turned up to rock concert levels.

There is no “one size fits all” solution to restaurant noise. But acoustic science is up to the challenge and quieter restaurants are entirely feasible.

DISCLOSURE. Dr. Fink serves as Medical Advisor to SoundPrint, which is mentioned in this article.

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 is killing us

Photo credit: Genaro Servín from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This wide-ranging essay from New Zealand discusses the many ways noise hurts our health, from hearing loss to diabetes and death.

A quieter environment is better for us all, and it shouldn’t take a superhuman effort to make it happen. Lowering the volume of music in public spaces is an easy first step.

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.

Update: FAA reauthorization includes noise provisions

Photo credit: Manfred Irmer from Pexels

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

In an earlier version of this post, I wrote that the recent FAA reauthorization did not mention aviation noise. That was incorrect. The NPR report that I had read and linked did not mention noise, but, as one of the commenters below has noted, Subtitle D of the reauthorization, entitled “Airport Noise and Environmental Streamlining,” contains many community noise provisions.

I agree with the commenters who say that the reauthorization was not a complete failure, and I applaud the efforts of the local Quiet Skies Coalition groups for remaining steadfast in keeping the pressure on the FAA and politicians to address aviation noise.  But it’s also clear that the FAA’s regulation of airplane noise is frustrating to those who live under the NextGen flight paths, and the FAA reauthorization’s noise provisions, while a step in the right direction, has citizen activists wanting much more. Indeed, as the comments below suggest, reaction to the reauthorization’s noise provisions range from “the language was sloppy, divisive, and minimally addressed our needs” to “this bill was a disgraceful sham, indignity and injustice to the American public!”

But for the millions of Americans subjected to airport noise, H.R. 302 is a really big deal because this is the first time in nearly 40 years that Congress has required the FAA to address the airport noise problem.

As this summary shows, Subtitle D (page 3) includes most of what the 36-member Congressional Quiet Skies Caucus and it’s national constituent assembly, consisting of 36 regional advocacy groups known as the National Quiet Skies Coalition, called for in their 2015 demand letter (pdf), and their 2017 national petition.

But they didn’t get everything they asked for, so is the glass half full or half empty?

Frankly, we’re amazed that after nearly 40 years of being ignored this subject got out of the transportation committee, was voted through, sent to the president’s desk, and was signed into law—with no fanfare at all.

We’ll learn soon enough whether anti-noise activists have something to cheer about or not. But in the meantime, what H.R. 302 demonstrates is that it takes a LOT of time, organization and attention to (political) detail to make things happen in Washington DC. But when enough citizens and their representatives put their heads together and commit to changing the status quo, they can, even in times like the tumultuous ones we’re living through, make things happen. Maybe the lesson is: keep your head down, and your voice low, and maybe you’ll get somewhere.

In addition to serving as vice chair of the The Quiet Coalition, David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: The Acoustics Research Council, American National Standards Institute Committee S12, Workgroup 44, The Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Working Group—a partner of the American Hospital Association. He is the lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0 (2012, Springer-Verlag), a contributor to the National Academy of Engineering report “Technology for a Quieter America,” and to the US-GSA guidance “Sound Matters”, and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics (LARA) at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. He recently retired from the board of directors of the American Tinnitus Association. A graduate of the University of California/Berkeley with graduate degrees from Cornell University, he is a frequent organizer of and speaker at professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia, and the Middle East.