It’s no secret that noise pollution can be harmful to your health, and the World Health Organization (WHO) wants you to know the potential consequences of this invisible pollutant.
Folks who live in urban areas are exposed to dangerously high levels of noise pollution every day, which translates to anything above 55 decibels – roughly the sound equivalant of ordinary conversational speech. Industrial and manufacturing plants, freeway, highways, and air traffic noise, busy restaurants and bars, overcrowded public spaces - all of these and more can add up to noise pollution levels that are making people sick. Even if you don’t live in the bustling city, you still have a significant chance of suffering the ill effects of noise pollution. Simply attending noisy events, such as indoor basketball games and other sporting events, live concerts, an aerobics class at the gym can expose you to high noise levels that contribute to the development of tinnitus, hearing loss, and other health problems associated with noise pollution.
So what does WHO consider to be the top health issues directly related to noise?
1. Tinnitus and noise induced hearing loss are the most common consequences of exposure to noise for long periods of time. Researchers say that exposure to 85 decibels for eight hours or longer can cause serious hearing damage. In case you’re wondering, 85 decibels sounds like a large truck rambling down the highway. Live rock concerts can emit more than 100 decibels continuously, which is why your ears tingle when you leave. When you develop noise-induced tinnitus, that tingle becomes a constant ringing in your ears that doesn’t go away.
2. Diminished communication skills were found to be the result of prolonged noise exposure. Noise can lessen our ability to communicate as effectively as we once could. The problem can be so severe, victims of this side-effect of exposure to noise lose the ability to concentrate for long periods of time. They can be more easily prone to confusion, stress, faltering speech, indecision and impatience. However, technology is stepping in with some answers. If your hearing is seriously diminished, Apple has an app for that.
3. Sleep disorders can be the result of exposure to high noise levels, which can lead to chronic insomnia, a medical condition that can cause emotional strain, despondency, a sense of dejection, aggressiveness, and antisocial behavior. When your body’s natural sleep cycle is interfered with, your health is put at risk. When the problem is chronic, it can lead to serious mental and physical illnesses, and even put you at a heightened risk of heart attack.
4. Heart arrhythmia can result from exposure to excess noise, since noise pollution is known to cause sleep disorders, stress, and worsen cardiovascular disease. Elevated heart rates, hypertension, elevated heart rate, and inappropriate triggers of the flight-or-fight response are all common repercussions of exposure to excess noise.
5. Psychiatric disorders, although not caused by exposure to noise, are known to be exacerbated by it. People already suffering from stress and anxiety disorders can experience exaggerated symptoms. When the noise is loud and continuous, it can intensify aggressiveness, mood swings, phobias, and antisocial behavior in the mentally ill. Most alarming is the erosion of well-being that noise pollution can have on unstable or medically weakened children and elderly people, who have a heightened inability to cope with loud sounds.
6. Diminished or lost productivity is an expensive and life altering side effect of noise pollution, which is known to reduce cognitive function. In school children, noise pollution has been proven to interfere with learning, reading skills, information retention and overall academic development and performance. In adults, it negatively affects problem-solving skills, socio-emotional development, work performance and ambition. Businesses lose billions of dollars annually as a result of noise-related lost productivity.
7 Negative Emotions: Many clinical studies have shown that low frequency noise produces seriously negative emotions in people, including fatigue, despair, aggression, unhappiness, anxiety and distraction. Even though these behavioral changes are most often subtle, they influence the daily behaviors and activities of sufferers and manifest in some unsocial behaviors such as door slamming, being accident prone, and even avoiding neighbors or friends.
You may even know people who exhibit some of the behaviors associated with noise-induced illness, and maybe you identify a few of them in yourself. Become more aware of your surroundings and make a note of any noise exposure you think may be affecting your mood or your health. Wherever possible, make the changes necessary to eliminate excess noise from your environment.
The U.S. lags behind other industrial nations when it comes to establishing and enforcing federal noise standards, and the problem may boil down to one familiar battle: economics vs. the regulatory process. Stiff resistance to even the suggestion of stronger environmental noise standards leave many wondering if the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has any power when it comes to revising out-dated noise standards or even enforcing standards put in place.
Noise pollution awareness is an uphill battle it seems, but New York City has made formidable progress over the past 15-20 years in toning down its volume. Anyone else remember the constant blare of taxi horns in Manhattan prior to the mid- to late 1990s, when laws were put in place to silence them? Although New York has worked hard to make the city less horrible in the noise pollution department, it still has a long way to go - as do most U.S. cities.
A recent test of sound levels at a handful of bars, gym, and restaurants in New York City measured noise levels so high that guests and employees exposed to the noise for just two hours are put at risk, and the establishments could be in violation of OSHA safety standards if anyone was bothering to enforce them.
But audiologists say that even if these businesses were in compliance with OSHA standards, it wouldn’t be enough to protect workers’ hearing. The fact is, the U.S. trails other industrialized countries when it comes to federal noise protection standards.
The New York Times did a recent “sound tour” of Manhattan, using a noise docimeter to measure decibel levels at 37 businesses including gyms, shops, bars and restaurants. Guided by Rick Neitzel, assistant professor at the University of Michigan’s Risk Science Center, the dosimeter used A-weighting, a science that mimics the human ear’s sensitivity to sound at different frequencies.[i]
Nietzel, who has a substantial background in noise exposure research, in New York City and elsewhere, formatted the dosimeter to record various doses, based on standards established by OSHA, the National Institute for Occupations Safety and Health (NIOSH), and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The docimeter was used to measure noise levels for exposure periods of 20 minutes to eight hours.
If you’re not familiar with how OSHA’s decibel exposure formula works, allow me to describe it as simply as possible. Basically, OSHA requires workers who are exposed to 90 decibels for eight hours to wear hearing protection. Ninety decibels is the approximate noise equivalent of heavy truck traffic.
OSHA states that when noise increases by five decibels, the noise workers are exposed to actually doubles. That means workers who needed hearing protection when exposed to eight hours at 90 decibels can only work four hours without ear plugs if the decibel level goes up to 95.
This might seem reasonable, unless you have worked in a 90-95 decibel environment for years, in which case you’re probably suffering from tinnitus and some significant level of hearing loss, not to mention possible cardio-vascular illness, high blood pressure, stress, and a sleep disorder. And harmful noise exposure is not limited to industrial environments. Teachers exposed to classroom noise for years are suffering from serious hearing loss by the time they reach middle age. If you work in a noisy restaurant with lots of hard surfaces off of which noise ricochets, or a bar in which conversations require yelling to be heard, or a gym with aerobics or spin class music blasting at 105 decibels - you’re probably at risk. Toll booth workers, shopping mall employees, telephone call center staff – and the list goes on, as noise today is an ubiquitous problem that many people have come to accept as part of daily life.
But other countries are doing a better job at complying with established noise standards. In fact, the U.S. is number 23 when it comes to noise exposure standards, tailing Argentina, Chile, Australia and the UK (to name just a few) in noise pollution protection. Britain is taking noise pollution very seriously, as it proved last week when Hyde Park police pulled the plug on a Bruce Springsteen/Paul McCartney concert that ran 10 minutes past the community’s noise curfew.
In fact, Britain has a Web site where people can calculate their daily doses of noise. Canada conducts audiological testing on its teachers annually to make sure they are not going deaf, and to take measures to protect those who are. Brazil and Australia have programs in place that call for routine risk assessments and revisions to broaden the scope of noise-related health and hearing protection and preventive initiatives.
Some powerful U.S. organizations may see to it that the U.S. stays at the bottom of the noise awareness pile despite the health risks of high decibel work environments. In 2010, OSHA reminded employers that providing earplugs for hearing protection in noisy work environments was only meant to be a temporary measure, and the agency would begin enforcing regulations requiring employers to soundproof noisy workplaces that did not comply with decibel limit recommendations. The move was necessary, OSHA representatives said, because too many workers were being harmed by workplace noise.
Additionally, the decibel limit was to be lowered to 85 – the same standard set in 21 of those 22 countries that rank ahead of the U.S. in noise exposure safety. India, home of the world’s two noisiest cities (Mumbai and Kolkata) is the only other country with a 90 decibel worker safety threshold. Plus, under the stricter guidelines, employers would need to acknowledge the change to from five to three decibels doubling the risk of hearing loss.
Before it had a chance to reach public service announcement status, OSHA’s mandate was slapped down by the National Association of Manufacturers and the United States Chamber of Commerce, who claimed the revised guidelines would be too expensive.
Audiologist and President of the National Hearing Conservation Association Laura Kauth says that the general consensus of hearing health professionals is that the U.S. should be adopting the 85 decibel limit in the workplace, and acknowledging the three-decibel standard for noise dose doubling, since regardless of the National Association of Manufacturers and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce objections, U.S. employees are at risk under existing standards.
The New York Times study recorded the average noise level on a recent Saturday night at Manhattan restaurant Beaumarchais at 99 decibels. Under OSHA’s updated standards, exposure to the noise levels in this eatery becomes unsafe to workers after only 19 minutes on the job.
Enforcement of noise regulations at gyms, bars and restaurants in New York is largely non-existent. When employees complain about noise levels, their objections are almost never being reported to OSHA. Noise control proponents say that lack of awareness at the federal level could be partly to blame. The only federal department assigned to address environmental noise, the Office of Noise Abatement, was defunded 30 years ago under President Ronald Reagan, and States were notified then that they would no longer receive federal assistance to curb noise pollution.
Just one month after OSHA proposed the stricter guidelines in 2010, the agency withdrew its proposal.
[i] Working or Playing Indoors, New Yorkers Face an Unabated Roar, Cara Buckley, New York Times, July 19, 2012
Anderson Cooper was so incensed by the decision to literally pull the plug on the Bruce Springsteen/Paul McCartney concert in Hyde Park last week, he contributed a two minute on-air rant on the subject during his “Ridiculist” spot on CNN.
Now, I love Anderson Cooper, I think he is a great journalist who does his job well and with heart. I love Bruce Springsteen and Paul McCartney because, well, who over 40 doesn’t? Still, Bob Dylan himself couldn't have said it better when he wrote these words that I'm going to share with Anderson now: the times, they are a-changin'.
For decades, people advocating a reduction in noise pollution have been working hard to get the message across that man-made noise is harmful. It’s harming plant life, animal life, and human life.
People my age, of the boomer generation, suffer tinnitus and varying degrees of deafness in part due to the decibel levels of bygone concerts featuring great rock and roll masters like Springsteen and McCartney. But we’re not blaming the artists, we’re blaming the decibels, and the cure demands a level of ruthlessness that we could never have imagined 25 years ago. Unplugging Springsteen and McCartney is only the beginning. Anderson, have you heard of the “Rock Concert Effect?” It's the tip of the iceberg.
It’s time to change our ways.
Look, Anderson, if you check into some of the studies on the effects of man-made noise on the earth that have been published over the past 30 years, you might be surprised to know the serious toll noise is taking on the planet and its inhabitants. Birds in urban areas have lost their ability to chirp in their natural tone, which has rendered them unable to attract mates. Man-made noise has so affected certain sparrow populations that disoriented female sparrows are abandoning their nests, and the species is declining. Baby sparrows, abandoned by their mothers who leave the nest to find food, and then can't hear the chirps of their chicks over the din. Parent sparrows are stressed out by all the noise, and they leave! Baby sparrows, abandoned because of man-made noise!
Out west, the iconic pinyon trees grown for centuries on the Mesas of the Western United States have died from the effects of noise caused by high decibel compressors set up at natural gas wells nearby, and with the demise of these historic trees goes the habitat of about 1,000 species of fungi, insects, arthropods, mammals and birds that depend on pinyons for their survival.
Hyde Park and other communities worldwide are making the earliest commitments to ending noise pollution in their neighborhoods and it’s going to hurt for a while. But noise-induced sleep deprivation and stress are both directly linked to almost epidemic levels of increased heart attacks among people worldwide. Noise causes blood pressure to rise and remain high; it compounds anxiety-related illness because noise triggers our natural “fight or flight” response too often; that response exists in us as a survival mechanism to alert us to real danger. Each time it’s triggered, our brain releases adrenaline, which ups the blood pressure and instigates the beginnings of long term health problems, because our hearts aren’t meant to be in “fight or flight” mode several times a day or more for years on end.
Noise pollution, I would like to point out to Anderson, deprives an enormous number of the world’s population of a good night's sleep, and without regular, healthy sleep each night our bodies become less resistant to cardiovascular disease and other ailments. It is creating an entire generation of prematurely deaf and hearing impaired citizens worldwide. Noise hinders healing, reduces resistance to disease, and noise interferes with school children’s ability to learn and retain information.
Noise scares our pets.
Look, I am glad to have lived at a time when we were all oblivious to the effects of high decibels on our delicate ears and cardiovascular systems. Although I have suffered from tinnitus for years, and I assume my hearing loss is fairly profound, I still have fond memories of the days of insanely loud rock concerts well. In fact, they still ring in my ears.
Putting a lid on noise pollution is not going to be easy for anyone who loves their music loud, but it’s time. The Hyde Park community put noise ordinances in effect because they had a problem and decided to address it. The ordinance does not list exemptions such as “excellent rock concerts” because, well, it’s time. The earth is too noisy Anderson, we have to make some dramatic changes and it’s not going to be fun at first. But we’ll adapt. We’ll find new ways to listen to our music without impacting health and well-being.
If we can get a handle on man-made noise pollution, our kids will have a better chance of retaining their hearing past middle age, and maintaining their cardiovascular health well beyond. Our grandchildren will get to see sparrows because we may be able to rescue the species before we kill it off entirely with unchecked, toxic noise pollution. Maybe even the remaining pinyon trees can somehow be salvaged, and that 1,000-plus string of species that depend on it for their survival.
Anderson, I understand your pain. We’re saying goodbye to an era when we pull the plug on our greatest rock and roll artists. This is just one of the many sacrifices we have to make in the long and difficult road to curbing man-made noise pollution that lay ahead. It’s the right thing to do Anderson, you’ll see.
Like second-hand smoke, we need to keep our noise out of the airspace of others who either don’t want to hear it, or who can’t make the choice for themselves. That’s right, I’m talking little children and puppies. Now, does that visual ease the pain of placing a curfew on Rock and Roll?
Hoping to find a more targeted approach to helping people who suffer from sleep deprivation, researchers have been studying the brains of people who are able to sleep through the night even when subjected to noise levels that prevent others from sleeping well.
Are some folks just better wired to block out noise? If so, can the gift nature bestowed on them be used to help others who are struggling with noise-related sleep impairment? As most of us already know, environmental noise can wreak havoc on sleep quality, which can eventually impact our health. In fact, studies showing the heightened incidents of heart attacks in people exposed to noise pollution from excessive road traffic noise note sleep disturbances among those issues that are common to most (if not all) study participants.
According to a 2009 CDC survey, approximately one in 10 Americans report difficulty sleeping. More than 50 million Americans are plagued with chronic sleep disorders that can potentially lead to serious health problems.
Electroencephalography (EEG) testing on 12 healthy people, performed by researchers from Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital, was used in the study to establish sleep quality. By capturing brain wave rhythms through the EEG scans, researchers could identify movements made as each test subject passed from one stage of sleep to the next.
The researchers subjected people to sensory information, including sound, which passes through the thalamus – a structure in the brain that relays sensory and motor signals to the cerebral cortex, and also regulates consciousness, sleep, and alertness. The sound passes through the thalamus before it reaches the brain’s cortex, where communication signals are processed, even during sleep.
Here’s why this is important, if somewhat confusing to non-scientists. In the second and third stages of sleep, brain wave patterns actually slow down but then are scattered with short, quick pulses called spindles. Spindles only occur during sleep, and researchers think that spindles might help block sensory information like noise from reaching the thalamus to begin with. So, maybe some extra spindle activity could be the answer to sleeping through noise?
What these researchers did to test this theory was to alter the noise levels delivered to the sleeping subjects over a three-day period. The first night they kept things quiet, but the second and third nights the subjects were exposed to noise beginning with 40 decibels for 10 second intervals. By measuring the brain activity each night and then comparing the differeces, researchers concluded that those test subjects who could sleep through noise levels equivalent to a telephone ringing or highway traffic were determined to have higher spindle rates on their EEGs.
The effects were so pronounced, according to one researcher, that they could be measured after just one noise-filled night. The next step is to figure out if behavioral techniques, new drugs, or external devices might offer an added boost to spindle activity, which will allow people who are noise sensitive to maintain a healthy, natural state of sleep when confronted with noise.
So far, the best we can do is provide a sleep environment in the home that is as quiet and possible. Installing noise blocking and noise absorbing materials into one or more rooms can have a dramatic effect on sleep quality, and the quality of our sleep plays a huge role in the quality of our lives.
It’s great that researchers are seeking answers to help people sleep in noisy environments, but before we turn to methods to interfere with noise transmission to the brain, shouldn’t we be looking at ways to reduce noise pollution from our environment first?
Noise abatement materials improve all the time, and in many new home building projects architects and contractors are writing the soundproofing material right into the design, so that installation happens before drywall goes up and there’s no worries about retrofitting later. Other options for blocking environmental noise pollution from residences and outdoor spaces are available, effective, and drug-free.
Summertime in the Hamptons is, by and large, a playground for the wealthy - including those who commute from their offices in Manhattan to their Hamptons summer retreats. Residents and vacationers love the idyllic atmosphere of charming beach towns bustling with weekday morning book readings in the local libraries, antique fairs on the weekends, and picturesque beaches often sprinkled with celebrities.
But a group of East Hampton residents is up in arms over a growing problem that is shattering their serenity - a slew of ultra-wealthy homeowners and a growing number of investment bankers and hedge funders traveling to and from the East Hampton airport daily in privately owned helicopters. Noisy helicopters, at all hours of the night and day, and on weekends.
East Hampton residents feeling tormented by the increase in noise pollution caused by the choppers have formed the “Quiet Skies Coalition” in the hopes of setting some ground rules like curfews and other limits on their noisy neighbors who don’t seem to care how much ruckus they make in their commutes.
One of the worst offenders is Wall Street hot shot and billionaire Ira Rennert, whose 63-acre Sagaponick estate was the inspiration for the book “The House That Ate the Hamptons.” Rennert’s 19-seat Sikorsky S-92 "helibus" - one of the world's most powerful civilian helicopters – carries Rennert back and forth daily. Rennert’s traumatized neighbors have registered sound levels from the chopper as it flew over their homes as high as 88 decibels, causing their homes to shake.
The World Health Organization warns against exposure to noise levels from air or roadway traffic exceeding 55 decibels.
Rennert’s neighbors, and for that matter any Long Island residents under Rennert’s flight path are subjected to not only Rennert’s chopper noise, but that of a multitude of others that can travel just minutes apart with no regulations in place regarding flight times, frequencies, or flight path.
The problem has increased in recent years as more and more affluent New Yorkers chopper their way to work and back routinely. Senator Chuck Schumer has been calling for new FAA regulations which would force helicopters to fly over waterways instead of land to protect all Long Island residents. But Hamptons residents want more.
The Quiet Skies Coalition is calling for the East Hampton airport to be closed on weekends and late nights during the week, and they want helicopters banned completely.
The helicopter businesses are fighting back, of course, by calling federal involvement in the fray “overreach” and calling for helicopter operators to voluntarily quiet the Hamptons air space on their own terms.
Helicopter noise is becoming an increasing problem over all of Long Island. Noise pollution connected to helicopters has been linked to serious health problems including cardiovascular disorders, sleep deprivation, increased anxiety, and impaired learning ability among children according to a study released by the Natural Resources Defense Council on helicopter noise pollution in New York and the Tri-State area. Helicopter take-offs and landings in the East Hampton Airport have increased 141 percent since 1998, and takeoffs and landings at Westhampton’s Gabreski Airport in Westhampton Beach are up 38 percent in the past year alone.
Residents of the Hamptons and Long Island are not the only victims of earsplitting helicopter noise polluting the airspace; communities in California and Virginia are turning to lawmakers to curtail flight times on private and chartered helicopters in an effort to lessen the noise impact of the choppers over their homes. But New York seems to have an unrelenting population of wealthy travelers who won't to let go of this form of transportation - they simply can't handle the idea of dealing with ground traffic to and from Manhattan.
In May, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg was caught breaking a law that forbids weekend landing and take-off at the East 34th Street helipad in Manhattan. The law, more than a decade old, seems to not apply to Mayor Bloomberg, who owns a private helicopter and multiple vacation homes in the Hamptons and elsewhere. One weekend in May, Bloomberg’s helicopter took off and landed illegally eight times in two days, defying the weekend ban in place since 1998. The ban was made into law after years of complaints from New York residents plagued by the noise of the helicopters and concerned about rising noise pollution levels.
The weekend ban is policed by the helipad’s operator, which has a contract with the city. Since there are no formal fines or penalties for violations, it's anyone's guess what incentive Mayor Bloomberg or anyone else has to abide by the ban beyond common courtesy.
Residents near the East 34th Street helipad say they don’t think Mayor Bloomberg or others who use it realize the impact the noise has on their lives. Dr. Ron Sticco, a physician who lives in a high rise nearby, took the amateur video footage of the Mayor’s multiple flights that May weekend out of frustration.
Sticco told a New York Times reporter that sometimes the helicopter noise got so loud, he would have to go into his bathroom to talk on the telephone.
Critics view the helicopter trips of Rennert, Bloomberg, and other wealthy residents who rely on this mode of transportation regularly as arrogant and dismissive of the impact their noise pollution has on their neighbors, ordinary residents who live with this noise problem that seems to have no resolution,
Hunter College Professor of Political Science Kenneth Sherrill says it is indicative of the arrogance of power and entitlement among the very wealthy who have stopped thinking about the political and public consequences of their actions, and do not take the fight against noise pollution seriously.
You’ve heard the warnings many times before, and you’re even beginning to become aware of it in your own environment. Noise pollution is taking a toll on our health according to medical researchers around the globe. We all need to step up to the plate and make an effort to quiet our environments before the noise makes us ill, or worse.
Worse? Yes. Noise can kill us. It can also drive us to do crazy things.
I have written plenty of articles about the health effects of noise on humans, animals, and plant life. I have covered new findings relating traffic noise to increased incidents of heart attack, and ambient environmental noise to a host of disorders from sleeplessness to depression, increased blood pressure, delayed recovery from major illnesses and even surgery. Noise can be toxic, but if we all become at least somewhat mindful of the health risks of noise, we can take steps toward making our environments quieter, healthier places.
Once we do that, we can sit back and enjoy our improved quality of life, and watch it work its magic on our friends and families, right? Think about it, if we suddenly all became hypervigilant about our own noise emissions and eradicated 90 percent of environmental noise overnight, the serenity might be overwhelming. Would we know what to do with it, or what it would sound like?
In addition to the toll environmental noise pollution takes on our bodies, there is another way noise can lead to death - murder. Seriously, folks are murdering each other over loud stereos and high volume parties in rising numbers, and this is a whole new side effect of noise that I think we’d better start paying closer attention to. People are killing each other over noise, and the problem seems to be worsening.
OK, we know theoretically that neighbors have had deadly disputes since the Hatfields and McCoys began murdering each other back in 1863 and didn’t stop until 1891. Of course, their ongong feud wasn’t started because of noise, but it created a whole lot of noise for both families and their neighbors on the West Virginia–Kentucky border. Noise can be scary and intimidating, it can be used as a weapon. The Hatfield/McCoy noise occured in the days before restraining orders and costly noise citations were issued to prevent crimes between neighbors, so it probably got pretty loud over there on the Kentucky/West Virginia border.
Fast Forward to Brentwood California, 2004. I once watched a television news report about Actress Julie Newmar, whose Brentwood home is next door to the home of Actor James Belushi. For years these two have been making each other’s lives miserable, a feud triggered when the aging Catwoman first complained about Belushi’s loud music invading her serene home environment.
Now, neighborly spats over noise, and one neighbor’s refusal to turn down the volume causing the offended neighbor to set off on a “campaign of harassment” (so said Belushi’s $4 million lawsuit against Newman when the back and forth became unbearable) is nothing new, and neither of them killed each other (although both alluded to fantasizing about it). But they each had blood pressure spiking for years, trouble sleeping, and heightened states of stress. But, other than the fact that this was Catwoman and the younger brother of the late, great Bluto, they could easily be any two American neighbors being driven crazy over one man’s music being another man’s inability to cope.
It’s never healthy when neighbors begin behaving like bullies, but what’s worse is when one neighbor loses site of reality and takes their rage to the next level. Some people are truly hypersensitive to noise, and it can become pathological. Ligyrophobia is literally a fear of noise, and although not every guy who goes off on a tirade over the neighbor’s barking dog or noise coming from a party is ligyrophobic, you don’t want to be blasting AC/DC in your garage if your neighbor happens to suffer from the condition. Let’s face it, we really do need to become more considerate, we never know when our neighbor might have a legitimate sensitivity to noise. Ligyrophic or not, he or she may have suffered from a traumatic event in their lives, or even an illness that left them with a low tolerance for noise.
Or, they could be doing a schedule II drug like methamphetamine, which can make a person overreact to even the slightest stimuli, in which case it’s just not safe to egg them on.
Such was the case last month in Woodlawn, California when police were called to a home on a noise complaint. When they arrived on the scene, a man who wasn’t happy about noise coming from his neighbor’s house had worked himself up into quite a frenzy, flashing a toy gun he held under a towel at police – the same toy gun he had waved at his noisy neighbors just minutes earlier in an encouraging gesture to get them to turn down their stereo. Of course, brandishing even a toy gun is highly illegal, especially when you do it with methamphetamine in your bloodstream and in a little bag hidden in your sock for later. Had the toy gun been real, the noisy neighbors may never have learned how close to a psychotic episode their noise-sensitive by means of meth neighbor had come, and how seriously agitated he was over their loud music.
Methamphetamine ingestion can cause a person do rash things he or she might never do ordinarily, like shoot their noisy neighbors who refuse a request to pipe down.
And for more than a year we’ve been glued to the trial of a 46-year-old retired firefighter from Houston who shot his unarmed neighbor, a 36-year-old school teacher, over noise coming from a birthday party being hosted in the school teacher’s home next door. The shooter, Raul Rodriguez, insisted he had the right to “stand his ground” at the base of the noisy neghbor's driveway and shoot the neighbor along with two other victims. Rodriguez had a reputation for being a hothead and a bully, and he seriously believed he could use deadly force against a neighbor because the birthday party noise was agitating him. He’ll spend 40 years in prison, having been convicted of murdering his neighbor over noise.
Weren't most of us at one time that smart aleck who thought it was funny to crank the stereo louder when a neighbor complained? It really wasn't a thoughtful gesture, and had I known then what I know now, I would not have participated in those antics. Noise is perceived differently by everyone, and even the most level headed among us, when subjected to noise that is invasive and inescapable for an extended period of time can be driven nuts. Our bodies aren’t designed for long stretches of high decibels. Some of us are more sensitive to noise than others. Of course, we expect our neighbors not to turn into murderous lunatics over sounds that we enjoy and relate to good times, but if they’ve knocked on your door, called you on your phone, or contacted the police because the noise is bothering them, they’re telling you the noise is too loud.
Turn it down. Buy some headphones. Install soundproofing material in your garage or home media room to block and absorb noise so you can crank your stereo without invading your neighbor's privacy.
Everyone will live longer.
When the noise from a residential a/c unit is ignored long enough, even the mildest mannered neighbors can turn into vandals. Who's to blame when it comes to this?
Twenty years ago, the majority of Americans north of the Mason Dixon line braved the few weeks of summer that were unbearably hot (which meant 97-degrees) without air conditioning - once considered an unnecessary luxury in the North. Folks depended on fans, icy beverages, and a neighborhood pool to get them through a heat wave, which never lasted more than a few weeks.
With climate changes raising temperatures in states like Michigan and New York to triple digit levels that would make Floridians gasp, people don’t consider home air conditioning to be a luxury any more, it's become a necessity. Drive through any Boston or Newark neighborhood this week and you will probably notice the drone of air conditioning units that fills the air in what were once bucolic suburban communities. In neighborhoods where homes are particularly close together, noise from one home’s air conditioning compressor could have the next door neighbors seeing red.
Depending on where the unit is placed, an air conditioner's compressor can be much more annoying to the neighbors than it is to you – in fact, unless it’s near a window in your home and you notice the glass rattling, you may never realize how much noise your air conditioning unit is emitting. If you notice that your neighbors who do not have air conditioning are keeping their windows closed, you can bet the racket from your a/c unit may be too much for them. They’d rather broil in their home than be driven nuts by your a/c's clatter.
In a recent article in Boston.com, guest columnist Rona Fischman recalls a case from 10 years ago of a young child who couldn’t sleep due to noise emanating from the neighbor’s a/c unit. The little girl was sensitive to vibrational noise, and the next door neighbor’s clattering air conditioning unit was keeping her awake nights. The a/c owner felt badly for the child, but not badly enough to turn off his air conditioning. The case went to court, and the air conditioner was eventually silenced with effective outdoor noise abatement material that reduced noise levels and vibration considerably – enough to satisfy the parents of the sleep deprived child.
Today, we know more about tackling noise, including noise from vibration, and we have better noise insulating and noise absorbing barrier materials than ever before. Many conscientious homeowners are successfully quieting their noisy a/c and heat pump units for the sake of maintaining peace with their neighbors. However it isn’t always easy to accomplish and If the noise includes vibration, a combination of sound absorbing material and noise barrier material works best.
Some people think that planting a foliage berm in front of the cranky unit will serve to reduce noise leaking into the neighbor's air space, but it’s actually a bad idea. If your air conditioning compressor is located outside the windows of a room in your home that is meant to be quiet, like a bedroom – even if the a/c unit is at ground level and the bedroom is on the second floor - you might be surprised to learn that sound is reflected off of trees and foliage and sent back toward the source. So now your neighbors are losing sleep and so are you, which at this point may give them some weird satisfaction.
Placement of the air conditioning unit is everything. If you purchase or rent a home that has an a/c unit at the side of the house, and the space between your home and the neighbor’s is tight, the likelihood that it is going to be excessively noisy is raised, since the sound is trapped and reflected between the walls and the eaves of the two homes. A fence can’t do much to reduce the noise unless it is treated with a soundproofing material meant specifically for outdoor noise reduction.
Building a noise deadening enclosure around the unit can be a fairly simple and inexpensive task. Such an enclosure needs to be set up in a way that the unit can be accessed for repairs.
Materials used for quieting a/c and heat pump units need to meet UL standards, be safe and effective for outdoor use, and they must be able to be applied in a way that does not interfere with the compressor’s air circulation, or obstruct electrical outlets. Again, the unit must remain accessible for repairs, so the noise insulating solution must be movable or removable.
When the whirring of a compressor combines with vibrational noise, the sound effects can be maddening to neighbors who can’t escape it. Studies have shown that exposure to this type of noise pollution for long periods of time can elevate stress, cause a rise in blood pressure, interfere with concentration (a real problem with record numbers of Americans working from home today), and interfere with sleep. All of these problems can lead to serious illness, not to mention bad blood between neighbors.
Noise pollution is a serious issue in the U.S. and worldwide today, one that has infiltrated residential neighborhoods at levels unimaginable to previous generations. It’s robbing us of our hearing and our health, and interfering with the natural order of flora and fauna.
The next move has to be proactive; step forward and do what you can to alleviate the intrusion of noise from your home to your neighbor’s. The first place to address noise pollution is in our own back yards.
That's right, the beloved American tradition of shooting off fireworks every Fourth of July is nothing more than a scary, anxiety inducing prison term for many noise-sentitive dogs. We already know that loud noises can cause stress levels to rise in people, so it only makes sense that pets are also susceptible to noise-triggered anxiety. With the Fourth of July upon us, those of us with dogs who show obvious signs of distress when noise invades their space may need to give some extra attention to the pooch if they’re living close to a spot where fireworks are launched.
I once had a pug named Maggie who suffered from noise-related anxiety, and the Fourth of July could be a miserable occasion for her. Fireworks blasting away, sometimes for an entire weekend, meant Maggie needed a quiet space in our home to which she could retreat. She also needed a lot of soothing talk and lap time, which is just not easy for a working person. I came to find out later, it’s not the most beneficial thing I could have done for her either.
In fact Maggie's fear of fireworks earned her a spot on the local 6:00 evening news one early July evening in a segment on how some dogs can't cope with fireworks noise. Our Vet recommended her for the spot; he knew she'd perform and she did. She trembled in fright as they turned on and then off a recording of fireworks throughout the demonstration and I swear her teeth were chattering. Maggie could not be calmed, despite a very kind and protective veterinarian holding and calming her throughout as he described to the viewing audience the harmful impacts of noise on our pets' health and discussed some measures people could take to calm their noise-phobic doggies.
Fireworks were Maggie's nemesis, and she proved it on television. She didn't run from the vacuum, and thunderstorms didn't bother her, but fireworks threatened to send her to an early grave. Literally.
Many dogs are hyper-sensitive to loud noises like thunder, air traffic, and yes, fireworks. Some animals are so perturbed by noise they can lose control of their senses and even become destructive if they can’t find a spot that feels safe to them. The hard surfaces common to modern home interiors – wood, tile, granite and concrete fixtures, stainless steel appliances - can combine with high ceilings to create an echo chamber of loud and scary.
Although some dogs have a history of noise-provoked trauma that can explain their inability to cope with loud sounds, there are plenty of dogs with no known history of trauma that can have a phobic relationship to noise. Researchers believe particular breeds of dogs may be more susceptible to noise sensitivity than others, and if you think about it, humans aren’t so different. Loud, unexpected sound triggers the fight or flight response in humans and animals, which causes the heart to pound, the pulse to race, and anxiety to heighten.
Signs of noise-related stress in pets can include taking a potty break in the livingroom, panting, pacing, drooling, trembling, dilated pupils and incessant barking, any one of which can raise a whole new set of problems. Some pets may try to escape the noise that is stressing them out by acting recklessly - some dog owners have stories of their frightened pups jumping through windows, digging at floors, and even attempting to chew through walls in their urgency to escape the noise.
If they become so agitated by noise that they head for an open window or claw at the floor as if to tunnel out, imagine what the stress is doing to their little hearts and nervous systems.
This Fourth of July, if the fireworks trigger anxiety in your pet, be careful not to do anything to reinforce their reactionary behavior. Prolonged exposure to noise loud enough to trigger anxiety can lead to serious health problems for your pet. Noise sensitive dogs need to learn to cope with noise if they're going to live long, healthy lives.
When your dog is reacting irrationally to noise, dog behavior experts say any type of response, whether loving and gentle, or angry and punishing will reinforce their poor behavior. Giving your pet any kind of attention, whether positive or negative while he’s responding badly to noise does nothing to help him learn how to cope and manage stress.
Petting or cuddling your pet to get them through the fireworks, thunder storm, or whatever is contributing to their noise-induced anxiety attacks – exactly what I was guilty of doing for Maggie - will provide the dog with no incentive or tools to cope. In fact, it confirms to her that her fears are legitimate, and that maybe the noise can hurt her. Although it might seem cruel not to reach out to your pet when they’re frightened by noise, to do so may only be robbing her of the ability to adjust. Obviously punishment should never be considered an option, and it would do nothing more than elevate the pet's anxiety level.
My other dog Niles, a rough and ready little Brussels Griffon had no issues with noise. Nothing fazed Niles, there were no dangers too fierce for this curly red-haired, 12 pound superhero-in-his-own-mind; but it pained him to see Maggie feel threatened by noise. Niles was a complete enabler, his instincts to stay close to her and lick her until the noisy threat was gone did her no favors, although I didn’t realize it at the time. I thought it was the cutest thing in the history of the world.
But repressing a dog's ability to face the source of fear (noise) and learn how to handle it without turning into Cujo for the duration is critical in her long term well being. By providing your dog with opportunities to learn coping skills makes sense, and you can begin by looking to see what acoustical challenges in your home might be an easy fix, and taking measures to cut down reverberation and echo in some spaces.
Try changing the environment in at least one room in your house to create an oasis where your dog knows he or she can go to ride out the Fourth of July firecrackers or the teenager-next-door’s garage band practice. You may be able to help your pet cope with their noise-driven stress levels by affording them a room or a spot in which the noise is diminished and they can relax. The dog will learn quickly to retreat to the “quiet room” when noise begins to stress him, and in doing so he will have established a coping mechanism that he can perform on his own.
See if you can figure out the source of your dog’s stress-filled reactions to noise, if you haven’t already. Observe her behavior and make a note of her reactions to noise in various situations. If you can predict what situations will trigger her anxiety in the future, you can make a conscious effort to help her work through her noise phobia, or at least figure out how to self-comfort.
Some dogs are predictable; their stress is triggered by the sound of a vacuum cleaner, or the roar of a jet plane overhead. Then again, we've all known dogs who bark at air with great gusto, as if they know something dangerous that the rest of us are somehow missing, but that's an issue for another day. You can’t do anything about the jet plane noise, and in fact you can’t quit vacuuming either. I found some great tips online for helping your dog learn to cope with noise from Holly Nash, DVM, MS Veterinary Services Department, Drs. Foster & Smith, Inc.
Once you have Identified what kind of noise makes him most anxious:
Try to use "desensitization" to help your dog to overcome noise phobia or anxiety. For example, if your dog is afraid of thunder, try playing a recording of thunder at very low levels. Reassure your dog that everything is fine and no harm will come to him. As he relaxes and does not show any signs of anxiety, gradually increase the volume. This technique requires time and patience for it to be effective. Remember to praise and reward him for remaining calm.
Another way is to try to distract your dog during a thunderstorm by playing his favorite game with him. This will take his mind off the noise and can help calm his anxiety as well.
It is also helpful if you try to talk to your dog softly and reassuringly when he is having an "anxiety attack". You may also consider playing some calm and soothing music before the possible onset of an anxiety attack. For example, if you know a thunderstorm is approaching, start playing some soothing music before the storm starts.
Most Americans love the Independence Day fireworks, but that doesn’t mean their pets do. As a pet owner, you are a steward of his health and well-being. But before your reach out to cuddle him through a noise-driven anxiety attack, consider how you can guide him to adopt coping skills. Provide him with a quiet space to which he can retreat when the volume is just too much, and trust that he can learn the skills that will keep him alive and healthy for many years to come.