Tag Archive: noise

An eco-friendly solution for noisy spaces

Photo credit: BAUX

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

As our editor says, “exciting things are going on in the design world” to address noise problems. Ali Morris, Dezeen, introduces us to a new family of plant-based, biodegradable acoustical panels from BAUX, an architectural products brand, and developed with Swedish industrial design studio Form Us With Love, in collaboration with  the Royal Institute of Technology. The panels are a new chemical-free, paper-like product that is derived from plants, and they quiet all kinds of noisy environments by reducing reverberant sound.

Click the link above and take a look at these attractive panels. Then imagine them calming down cacophonous restaurants, hotel rooms, bedrooms, media rooms, hospital rooms–any public space that could benefit from a little quiet.

This product line is from Sweden, but should turn up on American shores soon. If you have a friend who’s an architect or designer, ask them about whether they can get them for you. Adding decorative panels and surfaces like these to public spaces can make an enormous difference!

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.

The ugly truth about delivery drones

Photo credit: Sam Churchill licensed under CC BY 2.0

We have written about why we think wide scale use of delivery drones will not happen here, here, here, and here.  And now we have to repeat ourselves, as we share a recent report by Mariella Moon, Engadget, about how Wing, a subsidiary of Alphabet, Google’s parent company, can’t unleash its delivery drones onto the world until it remedies “one of the biggest complaints about it first.” The complaint, of course, is that the drones are noisy.  Moon writes that people who live “directly under the drones’ path in rural Australia where they’re current being tested described the sound they make as ‘chainsaw gone ballistic.'”

Really? Surely a small drone can’t be that horrible? Except it’s not just one drone, it’s a fleet of drones, and yes, it is horrible. Moon writes:

Apparently, the machines create so much noise that people don’t even use their yards anymore. In addition, dog owners are avoiding areas where they pass, because the drones make their dogs nervous. Not to mention, the noise could trigger PTSD symptoms in military veterans.

So Wing is going to try to make a quieter drone. In the meantime, it is slowing down the drones and trying to vary the flight paths so that they don’t continue to enrage the poor souls who live near their testing facility. Fortunately for the rest of us, Moon notes that “it’s going to take a while” before Wing can design that mythical quiet drone.

Meanwhile we wonder what compelling need is being served by drone delivery. Sure, being able to deliver life saving medicine to a remote location would be fabulous, but let’s be realistic, most drones are going to deliver consumer goods or fast food and the drones are meant to reduce human labor costs and encourage impulse buying. That is, there is no compelling need. It’s all just a lot of noise.

 

Fireworks banned on the Galapagos to protect wild life

Photo credit: Simon Matzinger from Pexels

DW.com reports that the government of Ecuador banned sales of most fireworks on the Galapagos Islands shortly before the new year to protect the “archipelago’s unique fauna.” The only fireworks exempted from the ban are those that produce light but not noise.  According to DW.com, conservationists said the sounds of fireworks exploding “cause elevated heart rates, nervous stress and anxiety among animals on the islands, which are home to several endemic species including iguanas and tortoises.”

Congratulations to Ecuador for taking the lead in protecting wild life. One hopes that other governments will follow its lead. But given that the DW.com article adds that Germany’s Environment Agency “urged people to refrain from private fireworks on New Year’s Eve…to help prevent a drastic increase in fine dust pollution,” maybe the bigger goal should be to protect all living things by banning all fireworks. Says DW.com:

The agency estimates that around 4,500 tons of fine dust are blown into the air all over Germany on New Year’s Eve, with levels on January 1 higher than at any other time during the year.

“This corresponds to about 15.5 percent of the amount of particulate matter emitted by road traffic each year,” [agency head Maria] Krautzberger said, referring to the miniscule pollutants that pose the greatest threat to human health.

We need to fundamentally address how we treat our environment and consider the implications of our way of living. Yes, people enjoy fireworks and it seems like innocent fun, but it isn’t. Many people are maimed by mishandling fireworks, the noise frightens animals, and the dust created with each explosion poses a serious threat to human health.

So kudos to Ecuador on its ban of noisy fireworks. Let’s hope it’s just the first of many steps leading to the end of an unnecessary and dangerous practice.

Embracing stillness

NBC Left Field interviews Steve Orfield, owner/operator of an anechoic chamber that the Guinness Book of World Records once named as “the quietest place on earth.”  Orfield talks about the importance of silence, noting that “the more perceptual stimulus you have, the less you are able to think clearly.” In the end, Orfield observes that we spend most of our energy trying to entertain ourselves until we go to bed, and concludes “if you look at all the things we spend money on and all the things we think we need, what’s the cost of peace?”

It’s a fascinating interview and well worth your time:

Is Your Noise Making Me Fat?

Photo credit: Yukari

By Daniel Fink, M.D.

Is your noise making me fat?  That may seem like a silly question to ask, but there is strong scientific evidence that traffic noise causes obesity.  More specifically, increased traffic noise–whether from highways, airplanes, or trains–is strongly correlated with central obesity.  Central obesity (or “truncal obesity”) is in turn linked with increased risk of diabetes, hypertension, and cardiac disease leading to increased mortality.

Why would noise cause obesity?  The auditory system evolved from vibration sensing mechanisms in primitive organisms which were used to sense predators, or by predators to find food.  Noise perception remains a major warning system, even in mammalian species.  Except for fish, most animals above the phylum Insecta close their eyes when they sleep but cannot close their ears, except for some which swim or dig.  Noise at levels not loud enough to cause hearing loss in humans interferes with sleep, causing a rise in stress hormone levels. These in turn alter carbohydrate and fat metabolism, leading to fat deposition. And that can cause diabetes and high blood pressure, which in turn cause heart disease.

A study published in 2015 showed a clear association between noise exposure and central obesity.  Another study published that year showed that noise caused increased heart disease and death.

And 100 million Americans are exposed to noise levels loud enough to cause these problems.

There is probably nothing specific about traffic noise that makes it more likely to cause health problems than any other source of noise, except, perhaps, the factor of unanticipated noise may be important.  It’s just easier to study the effects of traffic noise on humans than asking thousands of people to use personal sound monitors for long periods of time and then collecting and analyzing those data.  Noise is noise.

It’s obviously difficult to measure the non-auditory health impacts of everyday noise exposure–in the streets, in restaurants and stores, at sports events, at concerts–on an individual, but noise has powerful physiologic effects.

So as both noise levels and obesity levels rise in the United States, the answer to the question, “Is YOUR noise making ME fat?” may be “Yes!”

What can we do? For those living near highways, airports, or railroad tracks, double pane windows and wall and attic insulation may provide some protection.  But the best approach to noise is to limit it at its source, which will require political pressure to get laws passed to require quiet, especially nighttime quiet.

After the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Noise Abatement and Control was defunded 35 years ago (pdf), noise is largely a local government issue.  So if you want change, you have to speak up for yourself.  One easy step is to look at your local government’s website to see if noise is identified as a constituent issue.  If not, contact your local government representative and ask to speak to him or her about noise problems in your neighborhood or around your workplace.  In addition, an internet search should reveal whether your community has a group that is organized to fight noise in your town (click this link for a map of noise activist and quiet advocacy organizations).  Find out if they are active and go to a meeting to see what they are doing.  If politicians see that an issue is important to constituents, it is in their best interest to address that issue it they want to be re-elected.  If they ignore it, they can be replaced.  An active constituency ensures a responsive politician, at least on the local level.

Noise is omnipresent and insidious.  Because it’s everywhere, people assume that it must be tolerated and cannot be regulated.  But when air pollution became so noticeable and obviously unhealthy that it couldn’t be ignored, government responded with forceful legislation.  As a result, our air is cleaner today than it was in 1970America has gotten noisier and hearing loss in on the increase.  As with air pollution, we need robust government action to regulate noise.  If you care about your health and the health of your family, push back against noise, demand action, and join your neighbors to promote a peaceful, quiet, and healthy environment.

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.

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.