Tag Archive: The Quiet Coalition

National Parks: Why quiet matters

By David Sykes, Vice Chair, The Quiet Coalition

On May 4, Science and Phys.org™ published news reports about a recent, significant, multi-year study about the pervasiveness of noise pollution in 492 national parks and natural areas across the U.S.

In “Noise Pollution is invading even the most protected natural areas,” Science writer Ula Chrobak notes that:

The great outdoors is becoming a lot less peaceful. Noise pollution from humans has doubled sound levels in more than half of all protected areas in the United States—from local nature reserves to national parks—and it has made some places 10 times louder, according to a new study. And the cacophony isn’t just bad for animals using natural sounds to hunt and forage—it could also be detrimental to human health.

Under the study, researchers from the National Park Service and Colorado State University “recorded noise at 492 sites across the country with varying levels of protection, [and] used the recordings to predict noise throughout protected areas in the rest of the country.” They also estimated naturally occurring ambient noise and compared the noise levels with and without humanmade noise. The results were damning: noise pollution doubled sound levels in 63% of protected areas and caused a 10-fold increase in 21% of protected areas.

And the impacts of that noise pollution affect all living things withing these areas.  Phys.org reports interviews Rachel Buxton, the study’s lead author and post-doctoral researcher, who states that “[t]he noise levels we found can be harmful to visitor experiences in these areas, and can be harmful to human health, and to wildlife.” The noise pollution findings means that “noise reduced the area that natural sounds can be heard by 50 to 90 percent,” which “also means that what could be heard at 100 feet away could only be heard from 10 to 50 feet.”

So what is the impact on humans and wildlife?  Phys.org explains:

This reduced capacity to hear natural sound reduces the restorative properties of spending time in nature, such as mood enhancement and stress reduction, interfering with the enjoyment typically experienced by park visitors. Noise pollution also negatively impacts wildlife by distracting or scaring animals, and can result in changes in species composition.

High levels of noise pollution were also found in critical habitat for endangered species, namely in endangered plant and insect habitats. “Although plants can’t hear, many animals that disperse seeds or pollinate flowers can hear, and are known to be affected by noise, resulting in indirect impacts on plants,” said Buxton.

The study results have been widely reported, showing that there is real interest in protecting our national parks and natural areas.  Researchers know that “many people don’t really think of noise pollution as pollution,” but they hope that this study will encourage more people to “consider sound as a component of the natural environment.”

The National Park Service’s huge portfolio of parks and natural areas provides a huge canvas for researchers concerned about the impacts of “noise pollution.” You may be surprised to learn that the National Park Service has a research division called “Natural Sounds and Night Skies Division” that has been looking for several years at the effects of noise not only on visitor experiences, but also on plants and animals. Their work is fascinating and resulted in a 2014 report from the National Academy of Engineering called “Preserving National Park Soundscapes.

David Sykes chairs/co-chairs four national professional groups in acoustical science: The Acoustics Research Council, ANSI S12 WG44, The Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Working Group. He is also a board member of the American Tinnitus Association, co-founder of the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics (LARA) at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0 (2012, Springer-Verlag), and a contributor to “Technology for a Quieter America” (2011, National Academy of Engineering). 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.

Looking for a quiet restaurant? Wall St. values this “quiet” chain at $7.5 billion

Photo credit: Mike Mozart CC by 2.0

By David Sykes, Vice-chair, The Quiet Coalition

Yearn for a quiet spot to dine where you can chat (or read) without clamour? If that seems hopeless in America’s noisy restaurants don’t give up—change is on the way.

It’s true that for decades restaurants in America have gotten louder and more cacophonous on purpose. Why? Restaurateurs and their designers say data show that profits climb when noise levels are high because their patrons are:

  1. attracted by the “buzz,”
  2. drink more alcohol,
  3. consume more food faster, and
  4. leave quickly, allowing more patrons to sit down and repeat the process.

True or not, those crowded, noisy eateries are designed to be that way. The good news is that, just as easily, they can be designed to be quiet. The bad news is that so many restaurateurs still don’t understand that the racket drives away large groups of potential patrons, and also alienates restaurant reviewers, some of whom now even carry sound level meters.

Is there such a thing as a successful quiet restaurant chain? One that profits from allowing patrons to converse with each other or read a book, or put a laptop on the table and work quietly–even at peak dining hours? Amazingly, yes. It’s one that already has 2000 stores, is the hottest “fast-casual” chain in America, and is growing faster than Starbucks. The name? Panera. Panera’s stores don’t pretend to be fashionable bistros nor do they serve alcohol. But the food is healthy, natural, fresh, and tasty and the atmosphere is definitely—and, according to acoustics experts, very consciously—designed to provide a haven where people can enjoy quiet conversations and each other without cacophony.

Quiet dining matters to lots of us—more folks than you might imagine. In fact, about 20% of people in their 20s suffer from hearing disorders (which can include hypersensitivities to noise with names like tinnitus, hyperacusis, and misophonia, conditions that make it impossible for them to enjoy restaurants or clubs). And about 50% of people in their 60s and an extraordinary 90% of people in their 80s suffer from an inability to understand speech when background noise levels are elevated. These are not “fringe” groups. Collectively, there are 40 million Americans who probably avoid dining in restaurants because they literally can’t stand the noise.

Do restaurant owners understand that? If they did, they might create quiet sections to broaden their market appeal. Many apparently do not. For those who do, the market opportunity may be considerable.

It just could be that “quiet dining” is the next trend.  For customers looking for quiet, the prospects are mouth-watering.

If you’d like to know how to make a restaurant quieter, check out: Why Acoustics are Important in Restaurant Design and Restaurant Acoustics: Restaurant Noise Reduction by Audimute.

David Sykes chairs/co-chairs four national professional groups in acoustical science: The Acoustics Research Council, ANSI S12 WG44, The Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Working Group. He is also a board member of the American Tinnitus Association, co-founder of the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics (LARA) at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0 (2012, Springer-Verlag), and a contributor to “Technology for a Quieter America” (2011, National Academy of Engineering). 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.

Originally posted at The Quiet Coalition.

How to make an effective noise complaint

Photo credit: George Miller

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

Mad enough to take your noise complaint to city hall? Be prepared. It’s essential to present well-organized factual evidence that will convince your mayor or city council members that noise is “much more than a nuisance,” it’s a public health problem. Your case must be based on facts, precedents, examples from other communities, and solutions that are practical and enforceable.

One organization you can rely on for guidance is GrowNYC, a great resource to help you build your case. If you’re surprised that New York City has an effective noise control program, don’t be. “The city that never sleeps” has made steady progress toward becoming a quieter, more livable place. But it only happened because impassioned citizens worked with former mayor Michael Bloomberg, along with his environmental commissioner and staff, who supported the idea that “quality of life” in New York City needed to include peace and quiet. In 2009, the City rolled-out a new noise control code that is being studied by communities all over the world.

The battle isn’t over even though it has been going on for decades. Case in point: the legendary Arline Bronzaft, PhD, who has worked through five successive NYC mayors. Dr. Bronzaft, who is a founding member of the Quiet Coalition, has been an irresistible force at GrowNYC. She’s a scientist who is familiar with the laws governing noise, and she knows her stuff—particularly how to integrate research into her arguments. At the GrowNYC website you’ll find abundant resources—many written by Dr. Bronzaft–that can help you build a strong body of evidence and precedents to support noise control measures in your own community. Happy reading!

New York City isn’t the only place to look. You might also consider Portland, Oregon, or South Hampton, Long Island or any of a growing number of communities where mayors and town councils—spurred on by citizens–have been working to achieve peace and quiet for residents and visitors.

Originally posted at The Quiet Coalition.

Progress Made Against Hospital Noise

By The Quiet Coalition

Some people care most about airport noise. Others focus on noise in schools or restaurants or stadiums. But one group of about 500 professionals has spent twelve years reducing noise in America’s hospitals and healthcare facilities.

Of course, airport noise is a public health problem—especially for people living near America’s 5,194 airports–but noise is a serious public health problem indoors too. This is particularly so for people whose health is compromised, i.e., the millions of patients in America’s 62,414 hospitals and healthcare facilities, not to mention the quarter-million medical and support staff who work there amid the din.

Healthcare facilities are oftentimes the noisiest, most sleep-deprived places you will find anywhere. Have you tried sleeping in an older-style hospital recently? Furthermore, the noise problem has escalated steadily for decades thanks to the burgeoning use of new technologies such as alarmed medical devices.

Fortunately, a group of about 500 professionals known as the FGI Acoustics Working Group has been working continuously for twelve years to address noise in healthcare facilities. So this story contains good news.

The group published it’s first comprehensive noise control criteria in 2010, which were quickly adopted by most states. To hear the difference, visit just about any recently constructed hospital and compare it to an older hospital.  The group’s criteria have now been “exported” to eighty-seven other countries that struggle with the same indoor noise problems (this was accomplished through partnerships with the International Code Council, the US Green Building Council’s LEED for Health Care initiative, and other groups).

But this group’s crusade against noise is not over. This November 2017, they and their hosts will publish more detailed and updated noise control criteria in three separate volumes, one covering America’s 5,564 hospitals, one for the country’s 25,750 healthcare clinics, and another one for it’s 31,100 residential care facilities. If you’re interested you can see their latest work here, FGI Bulletin #2, and here in their first edition (published in 2012).

The Quiet Coalition is proud that its chair, vice chair, and another TQC co-founder are both involved in leading this important work. According to our vice chair, David Sykes, “this decade-long work shows that a broad coalition of interested professionals–in this case, consisting of doctors, nurses, patients and families, public health advocates, hospital administrators, researchers, regulatory agency personnel, lawyers, planners, architects, engineers, designers, and contractors–can achieve meaningful, national progress toward ending the long-ignored public health problem of noise by taking a focused approach and addressing the needs of people who are particularly vulnerable.”

Originally posted at The Quiet Coalition.

How an inadvertent punch to the jaw changed one woman’s life forever

Bryan Pollard, President of Hyperacusis Research and a founding member of The Quiet Coalition, writes about Katrina Caro, a nightclub waitress who was trying to break into modeling when an inadvertent punch to her jaw during a brawl changed her life. He tells us about Caro’s injury and its aftermath, explaining how a dental injury suddenly “turned out to be far worse,” as Caro’s “jaw pain spread to her ears, causing hyperacusis.”  As the founder and president of Hyperacusis Research, Pollard is particularly knowledgeable about the severe form of hyperacusis that plagues Caro.  Click the link above to learn more.

Declining prevalence of hearing loss in U.S.? What do the data really show?

by Daniel Fink, MD

On December 16, 2016, an article appeared in the New York Times, Americans’ Hearing Loss Decreases Even With Ubiquitous Headphones, which focused on a study by Howard J. Hoffman, MA, et al. (Hoffman) that appeared in the respected medical journal JAMA Otolaryngology–Head & Neck Surgery. The study found that there was a declining prevalence of hearing loss in U.S. adults. The results were considered surprising, as the study showed that the rate of hearing loss in adults age 20-69 had decreased from 15.9% to 14.1%. The researchers, epidemiologists, and statisticians at the National Institute for Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, who conducted the study, are among the best in the world, and the data came from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s well-respected National Health and Nutrition Surgery.

The results were considered surprising because two other recent federal reports, one in October 2015 from the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) and the other in June 2016 from the National Academy of Science’s Institute of Medicine (IOM) (since renamed the Health and Medicine Division), emphasized that hearing loss, especially in older Americans, was a major national problem. Both of these reports cited an analysis by Frank Lin, MD PhD, Johns Hopkins University, that showed that 48 million Americans suffered significant hearing loss, with the prevalence increasing sharply with age.

I am personally involved in the question of what the facts are, since in an editorial in the January 2017 issue of the American Journal of Public Health I write about the inappropriate use of the 85 decibel occupational noise exposure standard, which should not be applied to the general public, citing Lin’s research and other studies that show increased hearing loss in young people age 12-19.

So, what do the data really show?

I am not an epidemiology expert like Mr. Hoffman and his distinguished co-authors. Their methods appear sound, their data sources as good as one can find in the epidemiology of hearing loss. The first caveat is that this study, as with all studies of the epidemiology of hearing loss in the pubic, is based on survey methodology. A group of 3831 participants are the study population, from which conclusions about the entire U.S. population were drawn. It would be too costly to test hearing in millions of people.

The second caveat is that there are newer techniques, currently only used in research and not yet in clinical use, demonstrating that before hearing loss can be detected by standard hearing tests (called pure tone audiometry), a phenomenon dubbed “hidden hearing loss” may have taken place. Hidden hearing loss has been found in young people and older adults. So while Hoffman’s study is encouraging, it may not be able to completely report what is really happening with Americans’ hearing.

The third point–not a caveat–is that Hoffman et al. studied adults age 20-69 and did not include young people under age 20. Those under age 20 may be the group most at risk of hearing loss due to ubiquitous use of personal music players at loud volumes. Two studies, using lower thresholds for measuring hearing loss than Hoffman et al. or Lin et al. used, found high levels of subclinical hearing loss (hearing loss greater than 15 decibels but less than 25 decibels) in young Americans. One from 1998 found that 15% of young people had measurable hearing loss, and the other from 2010 showed an increase in the prevalence of hearing loss to almost 20%. This is worrisome because studies of auditory acuity in young people traditionally found excellent hearing.

The fourth point also isn’t a caveat, but a quote from the last line of Hoffman’s abstract: “Despite the benefit of delayed onset of HI (hearing impairment), hearing health care needs will increase as the US population grows and ages.”

It’s great news that the percentage of Americans age 20-69 with hearing loss (the epidemiology term for this is “prevalence”) has decreased from 15.9% to 14.1%. But that still means that there are millions of Americans with hearing loss–and that’s too many! Further, subclinical hearing loss appears to be increasing in young Americans, and, as the Hoffman study notes, hearing loss in older Americans is a significant health problem.

Finally, a point of contention: noise exposure is a major cause of hearing loss, and not aging as is implied in the study. Why would men have nearly twice as much hearing impairment (18.6%) as women (9.6%)? Is it an effect of testosterone levels on the auditory system, in which case one might actually expect hearing to improve as men get older, or is it the result of more noise exposure from work and recreational activities in men than women? Noise and hearing loss are still major problems in the U.S. and in the world, and the non-auditory effects of noise on health, which are coming into greater focus, continue unabated. 

So yes, the prevalence of hearing loss in American adults may be declining, but when Lin’s analysis showed that approximately 25% of adults in their 60s, 33% of adults in their 70s, and half of those over age 80 have significant hearing loss–data cited in the PCAST and IOM Committee reports–it is obvious that there is still a major problem and still much to be done to prevent noise-induced hearing loss here and abroad.

And I and others have said before, but it bears repeating: noise-induced hearing loss is 100% preventable. If people avoid noise exposure and protect their ears from noise, they should be able to preserve natural hearing well into old age, rather than needing to rely on assistive hearing devices. The only evidence-based safe noise level remains a 70-decibel time-weighted average for a 24-hour period.

Dr. Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area.  He serves on the board of the American Tinnitus Association, is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’s Health Advisory Council, and 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.

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.

 

What Is A Safe Noise Level For The Public?

Dr. Daniel Fink, Founding Board Chair of The Quiet Coalition, explains that there are three safe noise levels, depending on which adverse impact of noise you want to avoid. It’s much lower than you think.  Click here to learn more!

 

Headphones marketed as safe for children aren’t!

kid-wearing-headphones

By Daniel Fink, M.D.

A new analysis on “the best kids’ headphones” by The Wirecutter, a product recommendations website owned by The New York Times, as reported in the New York Times science section, found that headphones marketed as “safe” for children’s hearing were louder than advertised. The Times’ article did not adequately reflect the extensive and thoughtful analysis by The Wirecutter’s reviewers, Lauren Dragan and Brent Butterworth. Their review deserves to be read (and reread) in its entirety, as it is without doubt the most complete and scientifically sound review about any noise topic that I have seen in the popular media.

The Wirecutter review mentions that two problems with headphones marketed as “safe for children”: (1) that the headphones are louder than they claim to be, and (2) that manufacturers are using an industrial-strength occupational noise exposure level as a safe noise level for children. The review doesn’t emphasize the latter point enough.

I discuss the origin of the 85 decibel noise exposure standard in detail in an editorial in the January 2017 issue of The American Journal of Public Health. The 85 decibel volume level at issue was developed by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) to protect workers’ hearing. It comes with strict time limits–an 8-hour day, 240 days a year, for a 40-year work career–and even then does not protect all workers from hearing loss. NIOSH discussed the difference between an occupational noise standard and a safe noise level for the public earlier this year in a blog post titled, “Understanding Noise Exposure Limits: Occupational vs. General Environmental Noise.” The NIOSH post makes it very clear that 85 decibels is not a safe noise level for the public, and it certainly is not safe for toddlers or children who may be listening to music or watching videos for more than 7 hours a day, every day. In addition, children, and especially teens, are exposed to other loud noise sources–action movies, sports event, etc.–so their total noise dose likely approaches dangerous levels.

Children’s ears may be more sensitive to noise than adult ears. First, there is no doubt that an 85 decibel headphone speaker is closer to a child’s eardrum because the external auditory canal is shorter in children than adults. (Noise follows the inverse square law, so the closer a noise source is to the ear the louder it is.) Second, it’s unlikely that children will limit their listening to just 240 days a year, on average they will live for almost 80 years, and in the course of their lifetimes they will undoubtedly be exposed to more noise, in gyms, parties, rock concerts, sports events, and the like. A child’s delicate ears have to last her a whole lifetime.

Studies of auditory acuity in so-called primitive populations show that significant hearing loss in old age is not inevitable. These studies are not available online, so I can’t provide links, but the classic studies were done in the 1960’s by Rosen and colleagues in the Mabaan population in the Sudan, and by Dickson and colleagues in the Kalahari Bushmen. Rosen found that the Mabaan could carry on a conversation at normal speech volumes while facing away from each other at a distance of 100 yards. Dickson wrote that the Bushmen could hear an airplane 70 miles away. As noted in The Wirecutter review, acute hearing was a matter of life or death for our primitive ancestors, either to find food or to avoid being a predator’s meal. The Rosen and Dickson studies suggest that hearing loss so commonly seen in the U.S. is likely not part of normal part of normal physiological aging, but rather is noise-induced hearing loss–i.e., the result of a lifetime’s exposure to excessive noise. If one starts listening to 85 decibel sound at age 3, hearing loss and hearing aids may be inevitable–and at an earlier age than in the past.

What can be done to protect children’s hearing from dangerous consumer products marketed to them? The federal agencies charged with protecting the public should do their jobs. The Federal Trade Commission should take enforcement action on the grounds of false advertising against vendors claiming that headphones with the 85 decibel volume limit are safe for children. They may be safer than headphones without a volume limit, but they are by no means safe, especially without recommendations for time limits on use. The Consumer Product Safety Commission should require warning labels on headphones, earbuds, and personal music players, stating “LOUD MUSIC CAUSES DEAFNESS!” The pediatric community should do more to educate parents about the dangers of noise for children. And parents must step up and demand truly safe products for their children or deny their children access to products that will destroy their hearing.

Dr. Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area.  He serves on the board of the American Tinnitus Association, is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’s Health Advisory Council, and 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.

October is National Protect Your Hearing Month

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued an announcement about National Protect Your Hearing Month, stating that it is “a time to raise awareness about the causes and prevention of noise-induced hearing loss.”  Noise-induced hearing loss “can result from occupational noise exposures, leisure activities such as sporting events or concerts, or use of personal listening devices.”  Whatever the cause, it is permanent and irreversible.  More importantly, noise-induced hearing loss is completely preventable.

The CDC notes that noise-induced hearing loss affects people in all age groups. During 2001 to 2008, one in five Americans over the age of 12 years had hearing loss in at least one ear, and one in eight had hearing loss in both ears.  The CDC adds that prevalence of hearing loss is expected to increase.

To learn more about hearing loss and what you can do to avoid it, click the link for access to resources prepared by the CDC and the National Center for Environmental Health, The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, and the National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities.

Thanks to Daniel Fink, M.D. for the link.  Dr. Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area.  He serves on the board of the American Tinnitus Association, is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’s Health Advisory Council, and 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.