Tag Archive: secondhand noise

It is a matter of life or death

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This piece from Business Standard states that secondhand noise is a problem but isn’t a matter of life or death.

That may be the only statement I disagree with in it.

The hearing sense evolved from a primitive vibration sense that single cell organisms used to find food or to avoid being eaten. Exquisitely sensitive hearing was important to survival. Other than a few marine mammals that can close their ears, mammals including humans evolved no protection against loud noise.

In the 1980s research in animal models and in humans showed that noise has major involuntary physiological stress impacts on mammals, including humans, such as faster heart rate, high blood pressure, and increases in stress hormone levels.

More recent epidemiology studies, using advanced statistical techniques and the processing power of modern computers, shows that noise causes hypertension, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and increased death rates. This is not new information and it is not a secret. The scientifically inclined may want to read these two excellent review articles on environmental noise pollution in the U.S. and auditory and non-auditory effects of noise on health. These health impacts are small for each person exposed to excess noise, but have a large population health impact because of the hundreds of millions–if not billions–of people affected.

It’s long past time for the public to demand quieter cars, trucks, buses, airplanes, and trains, and for those sworn to protect the public–elected officials and public health authorities–to take action to make the world quiet.

After all, it’s still national policy (in the Noise Control Act of 1972) to promote an environment for all Americans free from noise that jeopardizes their health and well-being.

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.

The “new secondhand smoke”

Photo credit: Kris Arnold licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Mindy Fetterman, Governing.com, writes about what cities and states are doing to cut noise. The short answer is “not enough.” But at least they are starting to address noise, as cities go after the low hanging fruit, like helicopters and leaf blowers.

So click the link and see if your city is doing anything to address noise.  And for those who think noise is a mere annoyance, consider the comments of Rick Neitzel, Ph.D., director of environmental health policy at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, and a co-founder of The Quiet Coalition, who said:

“The consensus is that if we can keep noise below 70 decibels on average, that would eliminate hearing loss,” Neitzel said. “But the problem is that if noise is more than 50 decibels, there’s an increased risk of heart attack and hypertension,” he said. “Noise at 70 decibels is not safe.”

New Umbrella Organization Takes Aim at Noise

On October 1, 2016, members of nine scientific, medical, and legal organizations launched a national umbrella anti-noise group, The Quiet Coalition (TQC), hosted by the nonprofit organization Quiet Communities, to advocate for a quieter world. TQC brings together a diverse group of organizations and individuals, each with a unique focus or interest, in the fight against noise. It brings medical, scientific, legal, and other specialized knowledge to the public policy process to advocate for all Americans to make our world quieter, more sustainable, and livable. On December 7th, TQC’s website went live.

TQC recognizes that noise is like secondhand smoke, in that it is both a nuisance and a health hazard. Both environmental noise and secondhand smoke involuntarily expose large segments of the public to harmful conditions, increasing their risk of disease.  And decades of research show conclusively that excessive environmental noise adversely affects health, learning, productivity, and the environment.

Why have decision makers been so slow to regulate noise? According to a newly published editorial in the American Journal of Public Health by Daniel Fink, MD, Founding Chair of the TQC, the answer lies in public policy.  “Although noise was known to be a health hazard, it was treated as an environmental pollutant…with federal noise control activities assigned to the EPA.” These noise control activities were never adequately funded or supported, and federal and local health agencies were left with no meaningful responsibility. As a result, the issue has remained under the radar. TQC intends to change this now.

“The scientific evidence is incontrovertible: noise causes hearing loss and other health problems. We have a responsibility to speak up just as experts did when the dangers of smoking became known,” says Fink. Fink adds that “through recent discoveries, the mechanisms by which noise damages auditory cells, the nervous system, and the cardiovascular system are becoming clear.”  TQC Program Director Jamie Banks, PhD, notes that “[p]ublic health policy to protect the nation’s health from environmental noise is long overdue,” and declares that, “[TQC] will provide decision makers with the scientific evidence needed to make informed policy decisions.”

To learn more about TQC and it’s mission to protect the public from noise, visit the TQC website.