When a New York Times reporter wrote a stunning expose on noise levels in Manhattan businesses last month, folks were in an uproar. Noise pollution is a growing problem, not just in America’s biggest citied but in smaller residential communities as well. The New York Times article measured off-the-charts noise levels in restaurants, gyms, bars, and an assortment of other businesses.
Earlier this month, Los Angeles Times reporter Betty Hallock set out on a similar mission, clandestinely measuring noise levels in some L.A. restaurants as customer complaints about restaurant noise has risen, and food critics have taken to mentioning the noise levels in their reviews.
The goal was to answer the question, “Just how noisy is it out there in restaurant land?”
Everyone who has ever stepped foot in a restaurant understands the problem; noise in eateries can ruin even a great meal. No one wants to yell to their dinner companion just to be heard; we just want a nice meal and conversation. That can’t be asking too much, can it?
First, let’s take a look at the structural problems. Restaurants have a lot of hard surfaces – stainless steel, wood, glass, porcelain. There is almost no noise absorption going on anywhere, and exacerbating the problem is the fact that noise – in the form of kitchen activities, serving activities, customers talking, music (if there is any), traffic from outside, doors opening and closing - reverberates off of hard surfaces, turning ordinary noise into crazy obnoxious noise that makes us want to eat fast and leave.
Hallock picked up a decibel Pro sound meter and headed out to dozens of restaurants and bars in the Greater Los Angeles area. In many establishments, she measured decibel readings as high as 90.
A normal conversation will register at 60-65 decibels, and the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends businesses keep their noise levels under 80 decibels to protect the hearing of staff. As Hallock points out in her article, a decibel reading of 90 is the equivalent of standing next to a loud power lawn mower.
One thing I found particularly interesting about Hallock’s report is her excellent decision to clarify the fact that sound meters read sound intensity, not loudness. Sound intensity measures the pressure of sound waves traveling through the air from the noise source. Loudness is simply the noise we hear, and it’s subjective. What seems too loud to me may not bother my dinner date as much. The issue of perception is significant when it comes to noise, but for now we’ll stick to restaurant clatter.
We already understand that a restaurant's noise level will vary significantly depending on the day or even the hour of the day. Hallock measured decibel levels of 80 or higher consistently during high traffic hours. To restaurant guests, this translates to an unpleasant dining experience, but for staff, spending eight hours or more in an environment louder than 80 decibels can lead to permanent hearing damage. In fact, WHO recently reported that 80 decibels might be high, that hearing damage can occur in lower decibel ranges.
Hallock recorded “noise snapshots” taken from some of L.A.’s worst offenders in the restaurant noise department. This can’t be good for business.
1. Bottega Louie, Downtown Los Angeles, 8 p.m. Sunday. Decibel reading: 87
This is a10,000 square foot restaurant with an open, stainless steel kitchen, soaring 20-foot ceilings, a marble-tiled floor and 20,000 feet of brass millwork. Hard surface hell when you’re talking noise. The restaurant had installed sound-absorbing material under chairs and banquettes, but by 7:30 p.m. Sunday the clamor of dishes, kitchen activities, and hundreds of guests talking took the decibel meter to 87. “But it sounds even louder,” Hallock writes.
Hallock’s sound equivalent: Heavy traffic
2. Laurel Hardware, West Hollywood, 8:38 p.m. Saturday. Decibel reading: 88.3
Music cranked, patrons “out for a cocktail-fueled good time.” With a packed house of guests in various stages of inebriation, Hallock says the noise was “bouncing off the floor-to-ceiling windows and the bar's mirrored and metal-paneled walls.”
It’s hard to believe that these design elements were chosen for a restaurant, but they were. No one was considering the possibility of gentle conversation over a laid back meal, I guess.
Hallock’s sound equivalent: A whirring blender
So, you get the picture. One by one, Hallock narrows down the noise levels of so many L.A. restaurants with a one- or two-word sound analogy: “power drill,” “lawn mower,” “alarm clock one foot away.”
In June, Los Angeles Times Reporter Tiffany Hsu also wrote an article on noise in restaurants, a closer look at the volatile combination of hard surfaces, kitchens, loud music and patrons who like to be heard.
“It's all amplified by cavernous ceilings, spartan walls and bare floors,” Tsu points out about one particularly noisy restaurant. In fact, she and Hallock performed noise reviews on a few of the same restaurants, and both came to similar conclusions: noise makes dining unpleasant.
Noise also makes for unhealthy working conditions for staff.
Yelp, which publishes user reviews and recommendations of top restaurants now includes noise levels in its reviews. And Yelp is not alone, as the practice of including noise ratings in restaurant reviews is catching on quickly.
Zagat, the international restaurant review guide, lists noise as the second highest source of complaints among restaurant goers, with lousy service being number one. The increased awareness of noise pollution and noise in hard surface venues like restaurants is the cause for some changes in restaurant acoustical design. Newer noise absorption and noise deadening materials are far more effective than old solutions involving curtains and popcorn ceilings (ugh!) And restaurant owners are taking heed and installing new soundproofing products that actually work without drastically altering the design aesthetic.
One restaurant owner in Downtown Los Angeles installed sound abatement material throughout his restaurant, and he said the restaurant’s noise levels went from “unbearable” to "It has worked wonders."
The majority of customers, Hsu points out, want peace and quiet when they eat out, especially older customers and professionals.
And although many younger people told Hsu that they enjoy noisy, busy restaurants, the consensus is that most of the younger diners would be happy with quieter eatery options too.
The problem with restaurant noise is almost always anchored in the interior design. Cavernous hard spaces do not make for gentle dining experiences. Thankfully, noise absorbing and soundproofing solutions exist today that work to alleviate the sound without changing the design aesthetic.
An Australian couple could have saved themselves a lot of money and neighborly discord had they looked into installing noise abatement material in their Adelaide home before moving in. Instead, they’ve been hauled off to jail and face fines of $4,000, a figure that will most likely increase with court costs. The relentless noisemaking of Colin MacKenzie, 45 and Jessie Angel, 34 has left the pair demonized by their traumatized neighbors, and a local newspaper poll received almost 10,000 votes from Australian readers who agreed with the police decision to arrest the noisy pair.
They weren’t playing their stereo too loud, and they weren’t fighting. They just happen to be a particularly demonstrative and vocal pair of lovebirds who, according to Colin, spend up to seven hours a day showing each other their love.
But their neighbors aren't feeling the love, and have been complaining to police about the high decibel sounds that keep them awake all night, and shocked, embarassed, and slightly grossed out all day.
Colin is quick to blame his partner, despite the fact that both stand accused of “screaming, loud moaning, swearing and raising their voices.”
“It is mostly Jessie," he told a Perth reporter. "Our average (shenanigans) goes anywhere from four, six, seven hours, basically five nights a week.”
"That's pretty much why I am asleep at six o'clock in the afternoon,” Colin continued. “I will probably die of a heart attack, she is almost killing me as it is."
Jessie, Colin’s soul mate and partner in environmental crime, apparently had a rare burst of silence upon hearing Colin's concern for his heart.
Although studies show that repeated exposure to loud noise can cause heart attacks, roadway traffic and industrial noise are largely the noise sources researchers blame.
However, Colin insists he is not repentant about their behavior, even though police were called to their home 20 times between April and August for excessive noise complaints. In fact, the noise coming from the couple’s love nest repeatedly exceeded EPA noise standards, making them the first to be charged with offences under the Environmental Protection Act as a direct result of noisy love making.
Jessie is the one who has been formally charged by the EPA for breaching the community’s peace and quiet.
After paying 20 visits to the home in just four months, the last few visits - on a recent Sunday night and twice the following Tuesday - resulted in the couple being charged with disturbing the public peace and hindering an environmental protection officer.
"We exceeded the noise pollution (limits) to the point we were arrested and taken out of our own house and told we couldn't have sex," a stunned Jessie told the Perth reporter. And as they began their journey through noise pollution regulation hell, the story made national and international news.
Here's the sequence of events that led to their arrest:
When police were called out on Sunday night at 7:30, Jessie, (deemed by police to be the loudest of the two) was issued an official emergency Environment Protection Order by police:
Apparently Jessie didn’t take it seriously because police were back on Tuesday morning on a new noise complaint. The two were fined $315 for breaching Sunday’s order and given another warning to be quiet. Stunningly, police were called back at 3:30 Tuesday afternoon and the couple, who had by now worn themselves out and fallen asleep, had to be woken up by police to arrest them.
Both were formally charged with breaching the peace, made bail, and went home with orders to appear in Adelaide Magistrates Court next month.
Both Jessie and Colin wonder why their neighbors didn’t simply knock on their door and complain to them personally instead of calling the police. It is not uncommon for people to be hesitant about complaining directly to their noisy neighbors, for fear of an unfriendly reaction or in this case, fear of never catching the couple at the, er, right time. Still the couple feels the complaints were malicious, and wonder if a neighbor or police actually measured the decibel levels of their vocalizations with a decibel meter.
The local police chief said that they don’t like being the killjoys in this situation, and they do believe that people have the right to privacy within their own home. But when their actions have an impact on others, police have no option but to step in.
"In the past, police have been called to this property and warnings were issued,” the police chief said. “On this occasion police had been called earlier in the day, so when they were called back they took steps to ensure neighbors got a good night's sleep."
Noise-related sleep deprivation is a growing problem worldwide, and studies have linked it with long term health problems. However, studies of people suffering from noise-related sleep problems and secondary health issues caused at least in part by sleep deprivation have no known cases of sleep impairment caused by amorous neighbors.
One of Colin and Jessie’s neighbors who was woken early Tuesday when he said he “heard screams.” described the disturbance:
"It was quite loud and they sounded very obscene," he said.
No one asked Colin, Jessie, or the neighbors if anyone had looked into noise reduction solutions that could alleviate a lot trouble for all involved.
We’ll keep you posted on any follow-up.
You can’t help but feel for Mumbai. The commercial and entertainment capital of India, it ranks as a top 10 world commerce leader in terms of global financial flow, generating five percent of India’s GDP. Mumbai is responsible for 25 percent of all of India’s industrial output, 70 percent of the country’s maritime trade, and 70 percent of India’s economic capital transactions.
But Mumbai's noise pollution is eviscerating its citizen's quality of life and challenging the future of its children.
One of the world’s noisiest cities, Mumbai's din is so severe that the future health of its residents is in question. In fact. levels of noise and air pollution in Mumbai are through the roof and rising, and the noise is having a marked effect on the sleep patterns and health of the people who live there.
In residential areas, recent studies show that noise levels have steadily increased both during the daytime and at night over the past five years. The city’s established “silence zones” are never silent, and noise levels measure in at 63 decibels (daytime) and 78 decibels (night time) – the allowed limits are 50 and 40 decibels respectively. In Mumbai, areas within 100 meters (328 feet) of schools, hospitals, shrines and courts are designated as silence zones.
Mumbai has 1,112 designated silence zones that are routinely disregarded. In fact, noise in these silence zones has steadily increased over the past four years, and officials even admit that most people are unaware that silence zones exist in their communities.
According to Mumbian environmentalists and public health officials, its residents are unaware of the health hazards they face from the never-ending exposure to high decibel sounds. Heart attack rates are steadily increasing, and cardiologists blame Mumbai’s dismal noise pollution stats for triggering the stress hormones that increase blood pressure and raise the risk of heart attack significantly. Mumbai’s high air pollution rates are exacerbating the health effects of the city’s noise, which leaves many Mumbian health officials to question what it will take to effectively address this burgeoning risk to the health and welfare of the general population.
Mumbai has some serious obstacles to overcome if it is to ever address its noise pollution problem in any meaningful way. Its citizens are largely unaware of the fact that noise can cause them harm, although the Indian government does consider it a serious problem. By aligning itself with the World Health Organization, the Indian government has tried to establish standard noise caps for residential areas (55 decibels), commercial areas (65 decibels) and industrial areas (75 decibels). However these noise caps are violated daily and offenders are almost never admonished.
In Mumbai, like most of India’s cities, traffic noise is the primary cause of noise pollution, and there is no escape from the 24/7 cacophony of traffic-related sound, from construction to horns hinking incessantly, night and day with no relief. In 2008, to honor World Health Day, Mumbai held a "No Honking Day" – by all accounts a remarkable feat made possible only because of the Mumbai traffic police’s unwaivering efforts to enforce the ban. Mumbai’s citizens had a taste of what it was like to experience a day without the unwelcome blaring of auto horns filling every waking minute. For the average Mumbai citizenm, the respite was nice but only impeded one of the many sources of Mumbai's daily noise monsters.
Predictions were that “No Honking Day” would lead to countless accidents and chaos among both motorists and pedestrians, although no problems occurred. Still, the one day moratorium didn't scratch the surface of Mumbai’s very serious noise pollution problem.
Mumbai and Delhi, two of India’s most important metro areas, are also two of the world’s noisiest places, and the world in general is a dangerously noisy place. Many organizations taking on the world’s noise pollution problems blame governments for waiting too long and not taking the health risks of noise pollution seriously. After all, just 40 years ago most of the world’s inhabitants had some place to go to escape noise levels that were a risk to their hearing and health. Today, the earth's quiet spaces are growing smaller and more elusive from one year to the next.
As long as governments are in bed with corporations, the quality of life for Mumbai’s citizens as well as the citizens of most of the world’s major metropolitan areas will never be a priority. Where is the follow-up to environmental reports telling us about the dangers of the noise to which ordinary citizens are subjected? When will the well-being of the people of Mumbai matter to its government more than the economic impact of regulatory compliance?
There’s got to be a Nobel Prize in it for the person who comes up with the answer. In the meantime, the children of Mumbai, Delhi, Buenos Aires, Cairo, and New York City (to name just a few of the world’s noisiest cities) are facing a future of hearing damage and loss, impeded learning, sleep disorders, elevated blood pressure and heart disease without ever having known any other life but one filled with noise.
In the ancient, picturesque Town of Kendal, County of Cumbria in the UK’s Lake District just under 300 miles north of London, you could almost doze off just looking at the gentle green pastures, rolling hills, and soft puffy clouds against pale blue skies. This quiet, peaceful place, seemingly devoid of anything remotely resembling noise pollution, borders Scotland to the north and the Irish Sea to the West (just beyond the Lake District National Forest.)
There are dells with grazing sheep, and nearby towns with names that sound like they were lifted from the pages of Harry Potter.
Kendal is actually famed for its peace and quiet – despite the fact that for the past 120 years, a series of iconic bells in the Kendal Town Hall bell tower have rung every 15 minutes, 24 hours a day. Night and day.
Every 15 minutes.
For 120 years.
But that’s about to change.
Two ladies who own the Rainbow Tavern pub (across the road from the Kendal Town Hall), Carol Page and Sharon Clement, have been trying to undo 120 years of tradition since they took ownership of their pub for months, citing noise levels well above the World Health Organization’s recommendation of 45 decibels – well above. The pub owners have measured decibel levels of 79 and higher, and they say they have had enough.
Page and Clement aren’t the first people to complain about the noisy bells, but they are apparently the first not to back down to the locals who grew up within earshot of those bells ringing every 15 minutes, 24 hours a day, and are rather attached. It’s the locals who hold the bells in high esteem, and do not want them turned off at night, which is what the pub ladies and a few other local hotel and B&B owners have requested. Just turn them off from 11.p.m. to 7 a.m. is all they’re asking.
See, the Town of Kendall depends on tourism for its livelihood, and those bells – an important part of the tiny British country town’s identity for more than a century - are bad for business. They’re disturbing the sleep of residents and vacationers alike, and they’re stressing Page and Clement out. They need their vacationers to be happy and well rested, not only so they come back, but so they don’t leave bad reviews on the travel websites.
The landladies of the Rainbow Tavern pub say the bells’ peal interferes with their sleep and enrages their guests.
The bells risk 'crippling' their business, just across the road.
“We get so many complaints from guests,” Page told a British tabloid reporter. “If someone complains on Trip Advisor, it could cripple us.”
Page and Clement took ownership of the Rainbow Tavern just three months ago and the women have been trying to get the noisy bells turned off at night ever since.
Local environmental health officials had in the past ruled the bells sound levels to be "appropriate,” but the pub ladies say no one never actually tested the sound levels.
Now, after monitoring the decibel levels from the pub for 24 hours, the decibel reading measured up to 79, well in the range of unacceptable, and constitutes a statutory noise nuisance under the Environmental Protection Act.
The constant clamor of the bells was increasing anxiety and stress levels in some of the town’s residents, including Page and Clement, and finally the town council last week ordered a bell curfew between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m.
We have seen other incidents here in the U.S. of neighbors complaining about noisy church bells in residential communities that were so loud they constituted noise pollution in the ears of the neighbors who were stuck listening to them all day on Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays.
Noise abatement notices are being doled out to churches in the U.K and the U.S. lately, as awareness of the dangers of noise pollution spreads. In the U.S., a battle began brewing when legal action was taken against a Phoenix, Arizona church after the pastor defied a legal action demanding he stop ringing his church’s electronic chimes incessantly on weekends and holidays. In fact three Phoenix worship centers were closed down due to their bell clamor, and worshippers are calling foul, claiming their freedom to worship is being infringed upon. Similar battles are being waged in San Francisco and elsewhere.
It’s not always easy to explain why a sound that is joyous to one person can be excruciating to another, but in the church bell dramas unfolding across the U.S. and Britain, it seems high decibel levels are causing courts to side against the bell ringers.
Back in Kendal, generations of locals who grew up listening to those bells every 15 minutes, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, are incensed that people moving to the area are changing the town’s traditions.
Kendal Civic Society member Patricia Hovey said she spoke for a majority of locals who grew up in Kendal, stating 'So, for 120 years we’ve all been subjected to unacceptable noise?
'I think it’s ridiculous - certain noises are unacceptable but this isn’t one of them, it is part of the town’s charm and history,” Hovey said.
“I don’t see why (the bells) should be turned off; it should be for local people to decide - if you move next to a pig farm, you wouldn’t complain about the smell!”
Page, Clement, and other bell noise whistle blowers say that they’re only asking for a break at night so their guests and they can get a good night’s sleep.
“One or two people have argued that the bells have been around for a long time, but so was slavery,” Page said. “It’s a beautiful sound and we respect tradition, but I don’t understand who benefits at night.”
But the issue has been raised in the past. In the 1980s, a similar struggle to quiet the bells at night was rejected by the town council. But in the 1940’s, residents of a local hotel had the bells muted at night after much complaining.
Christian groups in the U.S. and the UK say they believe the move to silence church bells is driven by secularists to restrict Christian freedom to worship. However, folks who want the bells quieted insist the noise is affecting their sleep and health, and they just want some peace and quiet.
Let’s talk about hard surfaces. Today’s home and commercial interiors embrace hard surfaces in their design like nobody’s business. We love open spaces, high ceilings, and hardwood floors, granite, stone, stainless steel. Who even installs carpet anymore?
There’s something incredibly appealing about the clean lines of hard surfaces, until they’re installed and you move in to the house only to realize you’ve built an echo chamber. Turn on an appliance or two, and the noise is amplified as it ricochets all over the place with no absorbent surface to be found. What may once have been the cute little voices of preschoolers playing, or the subtle background sound of music playing has become an inescapable capsule of noise that should have been taken into consideration during the design phase.
Luckily, there are post-construction fixes for different types of noise, which is the usually the most pressing noise problem hard surface spaces face.
In a recent Wall Street Journal article titled "Airy, Sleek, and Really Loud," writer Anne Marie Chaker talks about the conundrum so many modern home owners find when they’ve built their dream home without taking acoustics into account. We’ve actually seen this problem play out for decades in hospitals, where hard surfaces are abundant and patients’ medical problems are compounded by the resulting high noise levels.
Restaurants too; when was the last time you ate in a moderately busy restaurant and didn’t have to raise your voice to carry on a conversation?
Hard surface noise is a tough one to address too, especially since most noise absorbing materials like carpeting and heavy drapes simply don’t work with the design aesthetic of today’s hard-surface homes. Architects are beginning to address the issue, and more and more of them are discussing noise abatement solutions that can be worked into the home’s design and installed during the construction phase - under drywall, under flooring and in ceilings. There are some great after-the-fact noise absorbing materials that can be incorporated into these spaces as well.
We are tactile creatures. We love not only the look of our hard surface living spaces, we love the way they feel. From the concrete or granite countertop in the kitchen, to the natural stone and tile in the bath, we get a feeling akin to serenity when we run a hand over a lovely marble surface, or walk across cool tile in the summer, which becomes heated tile in the winter thanks to the miracle of radiant heat. But serenity is not lasting in a home that has little to no noise insulation or soundproofing.
In Chaker’s article, she quotes Princeton, New Jersey Architect T. Jeffrey Clarke on the subject saying: "If you have a large room with big windows, a high ceiling and a minimalist kind of look, you're going to have a problem, guaranteed.
“Homeowners and architects are sometimes so focused on the nitty-gritty of a construction project that something intangible, like the acoustics, often gets ignored."
The science of acoustics is an extremely sophisticated one, and understanding the nature of different noise has helped engineer some insanely effective soundproofing products for indoors and outdoors, and for different noise sources.
Sometime a noise barrier is necessary to keep the offending noise out of a space, or to contain it within. For instance, a home office can use a noise barrier material installed under the drywall, or on top of the drywall. Noise absorbing materials are the ticket to peace in hard surface spaces where reverberant sound is a problem. Home theaters can benefit from noise absorbing panels just to keep ambient noise levels to a minimum so that the sounds you want to hear from the theater’s sound system come across crisp and clear.
But noise absorbing material can become a necessity in other rooms, particularly in large, open spaces with lots of hard surfaces. Sound absorbing material can be worked into the décor of a room quite nicely – The RLounge in Los Angeles, for instance, hung fabric-covered panels of noise absorbing material in its ultra-chic, hard surface outdoor smoking patio with amazing results.
And when Reno, Nevada-based Decorative artists Bryan Melillo and Bruce Czopek were called in to create some space-appropriate, noise absorbing panels for a home theatre in Lake Tahoe, they created a series of original movie poster-style paintings directly on top of four large QuietFiber panels that addressed the home theater’s subtle reverberant noise issue that was interfering with the room’s acoustical performance.
Interior designers and architects are learning all they can about new soundproofing and noise abatement solutions to keep up with the growing demand among homeowners to resolve noise issues within their residential space. And as in anything else, an ounce of prevention…
When noise abatement material is worked into the architectural design of a home, solutions can be addressed before the house goes up, and this is where the most cost-effective noise insulating and noise barrier solution is going to take hold.
Retrofitting after construction is complete can be messy and expensive, but it is definitely do-able. There are new noise barrier materials that can go on top of an existing wall to avoid messy drywall tear-outs and the associated expense, this solution can be pricey too.
There's probably no turning back from our love of hard surfaces in our living spaces, not only for aesthetic value but also because they’re hypoallergenic and easy to clean. And, thanks to some amazing noise abatement solutions available today, they’re getting much quieter.
News about noise pollution seems to be trending in a big way, as growing awareness of the health risks of noise makes more and more Americans less willing to put up with it. Recent articles and news coverage about unbearably loud environments in New York, Virginia, New Orleans and Los Angeles to name just a few raise a good question: Does noise pollution have to go hand-in-hand with urban living, or are city dwellers within their rights to demand change in the form of lowered decibels?
Recent articles in the New York Times, L.A. Times, and Wall Street Journal have blown the lid off of the life-threatening nuisance that is noise pollution. Several articles hit the media in early summer pinpointing roadway traffic noise as a proven contributor to heart attacks among people exposed. Long Island and Hamptons residents are close to anarchy over the uber-rich one-percenters flying back and forth in private helicopters daily between their Hamptons vacation homes to their Manhattan offices, with no regulation in place regarding flight paths or flight times. The helicopter noise, which residents claim shakes their homes and wakes them from their sleep, is being interpreted by the unhappy neighbors of these wealthy heli-commuters as intentionally inflicted harassment .
Yet the helicopter offenders don’t seem to care that they’re making their neighbors miserable and probably even affecting their health. Or if they do care, it’s not enough to give up their airborne transportation and return to fighting Manhattan-to-Hamptons roadway traffic every day.
But the escalating attention given to the hazards of noise pollution on everyday working Americans hit home hardest a few weeks ago when the New York Times published reporter Cara Buckley’s jaw-dropping account of noise levels measured in 37 Manhattan businesses - bars, restaurants, gyms and shops. Noise levels in one of every three business visited was 10-20 decibels or more above those levels deemed safe by OSHA and the World Health Organization.
City noise is no longer something Americans are taking in stride and chalking off as the price we pay to live in the city. Shortly after Ms. Buckley’s expose ran, New York Tines architectural critic Michael Kimmelman, tweeted about Manhattan noise.
"Not a sign of big city grit, but an urban blight." he tweeted. In a follow-up tweet, Mr. Kimmelman called noise pollution “the next ecological challenge for the city."
Could it be that people are becoming proactive about noise pollution? Maybe. Architects and builders in recent years have discovered the importance of including noise abatement materials in new home and renovation designs, as noise pollution creeps further and further into every cranny of our existence, with disastrous consequences to health and hearing. Soundproofing increases the value of real estate, as buyers find real appeal in the idea of home being a true haven, particularly when home is in the heart of any major urban area.
And, new and improved noise barrier and noise deadening materials are available today for use in residential, commercial, and industrial structures. As it stands, the U.S. is significantly less stringent on acceptable decibel levels in the workplace than almost every other country on earth! The economic impact of enforcing noise abatement in public places vs. the health risks of noise pollution has so far been siding with economics. For instance, noisy sightseeing planes in the Grand Canyon have been proven to damage wildlife habitats, and impose unhealthy noise levels on tourists, park rangers, and park employees alike; but a recent bill to regulate low flying aircraft noise over the Grand Canyon was rejected by Congress during passage of a federal transportation funding bill in early July that opponents claim was unexpected and unannounced.
Ironically, this happened just before the National Park Service was about to present its final recommendations on reducing aircraft noise over the Grand Canyon – a recommendation that was formulated after years of noise studies, at a cost of $6 million, plus the collection of nearly 30,000 public comments researchers had gathered. Arizona Senator John McCain spearheaded the effort to quash aircraft noise regulation in the national park, stating that the regulations would cause serious economic hardship to small plane and helicopter tour operators at the Grand Canyon.
It’s hard to say how much longer noise pollution in the U.S. will be relatively free of limitations. At lease noise deadening materials keep improving, so that if you choose to live in the city, you can install a noise abatement solution that can give you some peace and quiet.
QUIET, PLEASE A lighted device monitors noise at a New York hospital.
Sleep plays a critical role in maintaining health and well-being; however, hospital patients are often immersed in noise that can interfere with sleep. Efforts to quiet hospital noise have been slow to take hold, but that may be changing as new studies surface on the relationship between sleep and healing.
Noise has been a growing concern for patients in hospitals across the U.S. for years. In fact, hospitals have begun documenting the overwhelming number of patients who stall or avoid going to the hospital despite serious medical symptoms because the environment there is just too stressful!
Patients have become hypercritical of hospital care, and many of their complaints boil down to noise – incessant beeping, blaring, rattling, crashing noise that prevents them from sleeping or even getting adequate rest to heal. Patient complaints about noise have been ignored for years because hospital administrators, physicians, nurses and staff have all been operating under the belief that information delivered by the multitude of alarms, buzzers, beepers, and other noise-making devices is more important than quiet surroundings.
Thankfully, old attitudes toward noise are changing, albeit at a snail's pace, as noise pollution studies in recent years have proven the damaging effects of noise on human health, and as focus in hospitals is turning toward patient satisfaction. New policies linking hospital reimbursement to patient satisfaction are central to changes being made to lower the volume in hospitals so that patients can get better.
Some hospitals have launched noise abatement campaigns, with names like “Hush” (Help Us Support Healing), “Shhh” (Silent Hospitals Help Healing), “Too Loud,” - three of a handful of noise reduction programs at hospitals nationwide. These programs and others like them institute mandatory noise reduction measures to quiet hospital environments.
For decades, patients have endured noise levels that far exceed World Health Organization (WHO) limits for hospitals, and studies are proving that the high noise levels in medical facilities are causing patients to suffer. A recent study from the University of Chicago discovered that the average noise levels in hospital rooms often exceed the 30 decibel limit established by the WHO. Thirty decibels is slightly louder than a whisper; the University of Chicago study found decibel levels in patient rooms measuring 100 – 110 decibels -- the equivalent of a chainsaw!
Many patients in hospitals are suffering from severe noise-induced sleep deprivation, studies show, and for every hour of sleep they did not get, their blood pressure measured increases of six points or more.
“There is a threat perceived in the noises they are exposed to,” says Orfeu M. Buxton, lead author of “Sleep Disruption Due to Hospital Noises: A Prospective Evaluation,” published in June 2012 in the Annals of Internal Medicine. Buxton, assistant professor in the division of sleep medicine at Harvard Medical School, says that hospitalized patients are probably in a high state of ‘threat vigilance’ already, and unnecessary noise seems to exacerbate their sleep difficulties.
Buxton's study concludes that "sounds during sleep influence both cortical brain activity and cardiovascular function, confirming the disruptive capacity of a range of hospital sounds on sleep and providing evidence that is essential to improving the acoustic environments of new and existing health care facilities to enable the highest quality of care."
New initiatives to add soundproofing materials and install noise abatement practices within hospitals are still slow going. And, while the jury remains out on whether any of these initiatives will take permanent hold, one thing is clear: patient complaints about hospital noise and their inability to sleep because of it has come to be recognized as a direct reflection on a hospital’s quality of care.
Have you ever been a patient in a hospital, or visited a patient in a hospital in which noise was prevalent and problematic? If so, tell us your story.