Tag Archive: pollutant

Canary in a coal mine? Noise is a warning.

Photo credit: Arcadiuš licensed under CC BY 2.0

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

You likely know about sentinel species from biology class. In the mining industry until recently, miners carried caged canaries down into mine shafts with them—not as pets but as sentinels. The caged canaries’ highly efficient oxygen-intake provided a reliable early-warning signal to humans if deadly, invisible gases were present. If the canaries panicked or died, humans scrambled to get out of the mine.

Electronic sensors do that job now, but in many other ways we all rely on signals from our surroundings to warn us of danger. One kind of sentinel we should all pay more attention to is environmental noise. Most noise is actually waste, a loud byproduct of filthy, inefficient, poorly maintained industrial processes. Those noisy diesel-fueled jet planes overhead? That’s noise signaling pollution. Gas-powered jackhammers and leaf-blowers ripping up your neighborhood? That noise signals pollution too. Trains and trucks rattling past schools and disrupting kids’ education? That noise signals pollution. Garbage trucks that wake you at 5am with their fumes and noise? They’re signaling pollution.

All of those noises are the canaries in a coal mine. They warn you to watch out because you–and the environment–are at risk.

I’m writing this in February 2020. Our focus at Quiet Communities and The Quiet Coalition has been primarily on the effects of noise on hearing and other aspects of human health. Noise really is “the next big public health crisis.” But this is an election year. So it’s also time for every American to wake up and listen to what environmental noise is telling us. Noise, like other forms of pollution, is harmful for individuals–for you, for birds, for fish. And like those miners’ canaries, noise is also signaling the ongoing pollution of our air and water. That affects every thing.

It’s time to take off our headphones and earbuds and listen while there are still birds singing and we can still hear them. Listen before we’ve all been rendered unable to hear anymore.

TQC’s chair, Dr. Fink wrote an article two years ago about “Another Silent Spring.” I absolutely agree with him that “we can make a quieter world, so future generations won’t have to endure another silent spring.”

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.

Noise: the forgotten pollutant

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

, The Irish Times, writes about environmental noise, which he terms “the forgotten pollutant.” Why forgotten? Because Purcell believes that people living in urban areas have grown accustomed to ignoring noise.  But that may be coming to an end, Purcell opines, because due to “the constant and rapid development of globalised economies and cities, the world is getting noisier.”

Purcell examines the known negative health effects of noise and looks at the work done by acoustic scientists and engineers, who “generate sophisticated noise maps, which graphically represent urban areas based on how loud or quiet they are.”  He interviews Dr. Eoin King, an assistant professor at the University of Hartford, who states that “noise mapping is the first step in the environmental noise management process.”

Why is noise mapping is important?  Dr. King says that it “enables policymakers to determine the overall extent of noise pollution, so that appropriate decisions can be made.”  But making a noise map is both time-consuming and expensive, or at least it used to be time-consuming and expensive. One exciting development led by Dr. Enda Murphy, associate professor at University College Dublin, and Dr. King, is the use of simple smartphone apps to create the maps inexpensively. Eventually, says King, “smartphone apps that can measure noise accurately…might present the possibility of live noise mapping in the future.”  And with live noise mapping comes “new noise data [with] a range of applications, from predicting health problems, to the market pricing of real estate.”

Click the link to read the full article.  It’s a very interesting read.


The Greatest Threat to Our National Parks?

It Might Be Noise Pollution.  Max Ufberg, writing for Outside, introduces us to Davyd Betchkal, the National Park Service’s soundscape specialist in Alaska, who studies the parks’ natural acoustic environment to determine “the ecological impacts of human-made noise.”  In doocumenting all 54 million acres of Alaska’s parks, Betchkal stated that two things are clear:

[S]ound is crucial to the health of plants and wildlife and everything from airplanes cruising overhead to the roaring of snowmobiles on the ground or the muffled ring of an iPhone in a jacket pocket affects—and often disrupts—the ambiance of our most precious natural areas.

Ufberg adds:

To be clear, in the context of natural places, birdsong isn’t noise; the buzz of an airplane is. Sound, by contrast, is a protected resource under the Park Service’s foundational Organic Act of 1916 as part of the profile of a natural environment. According to an estimate by Park Service senior scientist Kurt Fristrup, a national park goer hears human-created noise, much of it aviation-related, during about 25 percent of his or her visit.

“Noise is just as ubiquitous and broad in its impacts on the continent as air pollution,” Fristrup says.

Ufberg points outs that noise is linked to cardiovascular disease and elevated blood pressure, among other ills, noting that the Environmental Protection Agency classified noise as a pollutant since 1970.  “While [noise] poses a greater risk in cities,” writes Ufberg, “it’s increasingly become an issue in nature, too.”

Click the link to learn about how noise harms wildlife and how the Park Service is working to protect them and us from noise pollution in our national parks.