Tag Archive: San Francisco

Birds changed their tune during the Covid lockdown

Photo credit: Paul Knittel from Pexels

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

In several blogs I have written recently, I commented that the pandemic’s effect on the soundscape did not just impact humans but other species as well, e.g. birds, whales. A recent article on a study of birds in San Francisco found that birds started singing differently during the silence of the COVID-19 Lockdown, noting that male white-crowned sparrows in San Francisco have begun to sing more softly and with an improved vocal range. The article says this change in singing may make them “sexier to females.”

The article cites a paper that has studied how animals, including whales and birds, have changed their behaviors during the pandemic shutdown. Before the pandemic, cities characterized by loud noises, especially from traffic, forced birds to sing louder to be heard by other birds. The authors reached this finding by comparing birdsong data collected previous years at the same sites they collected data during April and May 2020. Their data allowed them to conclude that birds “can adapt to changing environments.”

Erik Stokstad, writing for Science, states that birdsong “recaptured its former glory,” referring to the white-crowned sparrows of San Francisco. He adds that when birds sing louder in noisy environments the stress created “can speed aging and disrupt their metabolisms.” With the noise also preventing birds from hearing their own chicks, there is the possibility that bird diversity is less in many cities. Furthermore, by demonstrating that some birds can adjust their songs to their environment, it might be that birds who could not adjust, and as a result left noisier cities, might return to places that are now quieter. But the quieter time of the pandemic has passed as cities have been returning to noisier times. Thus, the birds that have quieted down will very likely have to increase the volume of their songs. Also, may I add, that it is unlikely the birds who left will return.

Stokstad interviewed Elizabeth Danberry and her behavioral ecologists who have studied white-crowned sparrows in and around San Francisco for more than twenty years. Their research has clearly demonstrated the impact of noise pollution on the health and well-being of these sparrows. Similarly, long standing research has also clearly found that noise is hazardous to human hearing, health, and well-being. So I ask, how much more research do we need linking noise to adverse effects on humans and other species before we begin to lower decibel level in our environment?

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.

San Franciscans press their congresswoman to arrest airport noise

Photo credit: Bill Abbott licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

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

Congresswoman Jackie Speier, who is featured in this Curbed article, is one of 16 members of California’s Congressional delegation who are actively involved in the 47-member Congressional Quiet Skies Caucus. Her San Francisco constituents have a strong chapter of the the Caucus’s regional support network, The National Quiet Skies Coalition, which has chapters in nearly two dozen states.

Last year, the 50 members of Congress who sit on the Congressional Quiet Skies Caucus thought they’d achieved meaningful change when they succeeded in getting specific noise-control requirements in the Federal Aviation Administration Reauuthorization Act of 2018, which was signed into law in October 2018. Sadly, the FAA doesn’t appear to be taking congress very seriously, as most communities near major U.S. airports have still not gotten any relief.

What’s insightful about the article above is that Congresswoman Speier is pressing for further changes—such as fines against airlines if they land planes during certain night-time hours. Few Americans know that there’s a global United Nations agency called the International Civil Aviation Organization, which is based in Montreal Canada. ICAO has regulatory authority over such matters as how much money can be levied as fines for noisy operation. This tactic used at the local level could help communities get the quieter conditions they yearn for, and the sleep they need.

If nothing else, fining airlines for noisy aircraft could stimulate those airlines to do what 50 airlines around the world have already done: purchase quieter aircraft–such as the 70% quieter Airbus A320neo when equipped with the American-made Pratt & Whitney “Geared Turbofan” engine.

We have no financial ties to airlines or aircraft manufacturers, but it seems essential to us for Americans to realize that quieter jet aircraft exist and are already flying safely around the world—but that only a couple of U.S. airlines have bought them. Why? Don’t we deserve quieter airports here in America too? Why do America’s airlines continue to buy noisy aircraft when quieter and more fuel-efficient alternatives already exist?

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.

Another treatment for tinnitus

Photo credit: Dr. Craig Hacking and Prof Frank Gaillard licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This report from the University of California San Francisco discusses a Phase 1 trial of deep brain stimulation for tinnitus. A Phase 1 trial is a preliminary trial to see how a new treatment works. Then there are Phase 2 and Phase 3 trials.

Most treatments do not pass all the hurdles to be approved for regular use. And deep brain stimulation is expensive and risky.

By comparison, prevention of most forms of tinnitus is cheap, easy, and safe: avoid head trauma and noise exposure and one is unlikely to develop tinnitus.

That sounds like a much better idea than deep brain stimulation to me.

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.

Airplane noise is an increasing problem in San Francisco

Photo credit: Jim Trodel licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This article discusses the problem of airplane noise from San Francisco International Airport (airport code SFO). One of the people affected was Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA), who lives near the airport. She was at home, rather than in Washington, because she was recovering from surgery.

As others have found, when they are at home all day rather than in the office, environmental noise pollution really is a problem. Often it’s gas-powered leaf blowers, but this time it’s airplane noise.

Airplane noise isn’t just an annoyance. Aircraft noise causes heart disease, strokes, and death.

Maybe the fact that an elected official is herself affected by airplane noise will lead to some federal action to help solve this problem.

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.

Can the New York subway system be next, please?

New Wheels May Cut BART’s Noise By Half.

The cause of the screeching with the MTA trains could be something different–sounds like squealing brakes to us–but the idea that a transportation authority would make an effort to identify the source of the noise and do something to correct it, that’s priceless.  Let’s hope that other transportation authorities consider the aural impact of their trains, light rail, trolleys, and buses going forward.