Acoustiblok Soundproofing Blog Articles

Fracking: A Controversial and Noisy Energy Process: Part 1 of 2

Posted by Thomas Wiseman on Dec 18, 2013 3:01:00 PM

Fracking Blog Series DUOTONE Header This is a three part blog about the issue of high volume hydraulic fracturing, known to many as "hydrofracking" or "fracking," and noise issues that surround it.  

PART I:  The Controversy

According to the Wall Stree Journal, more than 15 million Americans now live within one mile of a fracking well. America is in the midst of an energy boom. It's expected to continue for decades and natural gas is expected to replace coal as the largest source of U.S. electricity by 2035, the Department of Energy forecasts. This energy bonanza is largely due to the combined use of horizontal drilling and fracking.

New oil and gas wells have turned millions of people into the petroleum industry’s neighbors.While many welcome the oil and gas companies who come bearing checks for temporarily leasing their land, others do not. Many people think the operation is noisy, disruptive and risky to human health and the environment despite the financial benefits.

Fracking History

Fracking technology has existed since 1947, but it mushroomed in the late 1980s when companies began to combine it with horizontal drilling to magnify productivity. In the last 15 years, a frenzy of drilling has taken place in the Western states – involving tens of thousands of individual wells (for example, 30,000 in the State of Colorado alone). This has spread into the Midwest and other areas as well. Millions of acres of land have been leased in 32 states by companies that are eager to get in on the “gas bonanza.” There are more than 500,000 active natural gas wells in the U.S. Fracking is also being done in other countries such as Germany, Netherlands, the United Kingdom and others.

Fracking Process 

fracking how it works 2 D drawingTo get natural gas or oil through hydraulic fracturing, companies:

-  Clear a well site, drill a bore hole, and drive a drill bit thousands of feet through the earth to reach layers of shale rock. 

-  Once they reach the strata of shale rock, they rotate the drill bit by 90 degrees and bore a horizontal cavity laterally through the shale seam to access a longer stretch of the deposit— from 1,000 feet to more than 10,000 feet. 

-  From the well head, they insert explosive charges down the bore hole and into the horizontal opening, and then set them off to perforate the well pipe and burst fissures in the rock. 

-  The drillers then pump millions of gallons of highly pressurized water, sand, ceramic beads, and chemical slurry into the hole to expand the fissures and hold them open. 

  -  As natural gas or oil begins to flow upward to the wellhead on the surface, the sand and beads prevent the fissures from closing. 

  -  Wastewater and drilling fluids that rise to the surface with the gas or oil are stored in ponds or tanks, or trucked away in heavy tank trucks.

The Issues For and Against

The following are some often used views from opponents and proponents about fracking:

Detractors Say:

Supporters and Industry Say:

  • Non-stop truck, heavy machinery, and compressor station noise.
  • The noise is non-stop, 24-hours a day, 7 days per week for about a month.
  • There's more the companies can do to reduce the noise.
  • The wells are often located close to neighborhoods and schools.
  • The chemicals used hurt the environment and are a danger to human health.
  • The drilling is causing earthquakes and making the earth's rock core unstable.
  • The chemicals they use can cause cancer.
  • The process contaminates the local potable water supply. Some people's water can be lit on fire even.
  • Kills animals and disrupts their local habitat. 
  • The process "rapes" the earth, is an invasive process.
  • It degrades the environment.
  • The noise is temporary for one month per well. More steps are being taken to mitigate noise at well sites.
  • The well sites are temporary and not permanent.
  • It's a safe process. The process has been made safer over the decades of doing it.
  • It gives America a chance to be energy self-sufficient for the next 118 years 
  • People don't have "correct" and accurate information about it.
  • Activists use powerful misleading soundbytes to sway public opinion.
  • It creates jobs and the growing industry will put more people to work.
  • It's a clean energy source that is abundant. 

The natural gas contained in the shale formations represents a huge storehouse of America's cleanest fossil fuel. The Potential Gas Committee, a non-profit group of natural gas experts, forecasts that this resource base contains 1,836 Tcf of gas. This, plus the proven reserves (238 Tcf ) identified by the US Department of Energy in 2007, means that the U.S. has enough natural gas to last at current rates of use for 118 years. 

Some aren’t buying into the fracking hype however and think the risks are too high. Attacks on fracking come from environmental, political, and economical sides. Movies such as Gasland, Gasland2, Promised Land, Down Deep and Unearthed have even brought each side’s issues to the big screen and social media. Polarized by divided allegiances to politics, parties, and popular opinion, many people are left wondering who to trust and what to believe. 

PART 2 OF THIS BLOG SERIES WILL COVER:

Noise issues associated with fracking.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tags: environmental noise, hydrofracking noise, fracking noise, city noise laws, drilling noise, compressor noise, industrial noise, Noise pollution, noise barrier

Noise U: College Athletic Complexes are Noise Issue to residents

Posted by Thomas Wiseman on Dec 24, 2012 11:12:00 AM

West Virginia Univ Dick Blek Stadium field view

Today’s collegiate, high school, and recreational multi-sport complexes are getting larger, more complex and costly, and ultimately, noisier for residents who live near them. The collegiate sports facility market alone continues to grow and evolve. As student enrollment increases, outdated facilities age, programs shift and competition on the athletic recruiting front grows more intense.

With the increased expansion of outdoor collegiate sports complexes near residential areas, more and more people are experiencing noise disturbances near their homes. This noise pollution can diminish privacy, affect peace of mind, and increase tension levels for many people. Increasingly, municipalities are looking closer at potential noise issues before new complexes are built. They are seeking proactive approaches and new ways of controlling noise before they are built, rather than rely on reactive solutions later that may or may not be effective.

Let’s look at some recent happenings that made the news at a few colleges and universities. As student populations grow, so must the campuses and physical elements of these schools. As they grow and expand closer and closer to residential areas, so too does the intrusion of noises these complexes onto nearby residential areas.

Northern Kentucky University (NKU), located in Highland Heights, KY, (about 12 miles southeast of downtown Cincinnati) built a new $6.5 million soccer stadium to support its successful men’s and women’s soccer teams. The beautiful, new open-air soccer stadium was built into a hillside on university property near the school’s $69 million state-of-the-art basketball arena.

Norhtern Kentucky University soccer complex  NKUaerialpic

The soccer field borders a residential area located near the backside of the field. Music and voices from the game announcer is broadcast over a public address system before, during and after games. Over the past year, nearby residents have voiced concerns to the university and to the Highland Heights City Council about the noise levels at the complex. Recently, the university announced it is turning to a commonly used solution; planting evergreen trees along the backside area to partially block the noise to nearby residents during games and activities at the soccer complex. These tree barriers are generally not an effective and acceptable noise reduction solution.

West Virginia Univ Dick Blek Stadium aerial 

Similarly, West Virginia University (WVU), located in Morgantown, WV was facing a noise issue at their collegiate soccer complex (shown directly above and at the top of the article). However, rather than using only a natural product like trees to partially block the line of site noise, WVU is taking a more modern and proven approach to solving their noise concerns. They decided to use Acoustiblok’s Acoustifence product, a 1/8-inch thick unique sound deadening material that easily attaches to fences to form a noise barrier. It’s a simple and economical first step noise abatement solution that provides a noise blocker. The material itself provides a meaningful reduction in sound and can represent more than an 80 percent reduction in sound to the human ear depending on the surrounding environment. It is virtually indestructible, very resilient and is proven to reduce noise.

In Kalamazoo, MI, Kalamazoo College (shown below) recently built a new $16-million sports complex that is near a residential community. Even though the new complex is aesthetically pleasing to the residents, some residents of Seven Oaks, Rob Roy on the Lake, and other neighborhoods in the River Hills area formed an organization to oppose the sports complex and retained an attorney to represent their interests. In addition to the traffic issues, they cite problems with wastewater, light pollution and noise. Some residents are concerned that the complex will affect their property values.

Kalamazoo College athletic complex - soccer field View of Kalazoo College athletics complex from nearby street

So the next time the referee blows the whistle to signal the start of a collegiate sports match, it may not be the hundreds or thousands of spectators in the stands that make the most noise. It may be nearby residents who make the loudest noise after the games through noise complaints City Council about their noisy neighbors.

Tags: noise blocking material, college noise issue, noise complaints, noise barrier, noise, residential noise

Airport Traffic Noise Pits Communities Against Eachother

Posted by Thomas Wiseman on Nov 29, 2012 6:30:00 AM

airplane in residential neighborhood

Residents of Minneapolis and nearby Edina raised their collective voices and lobbied successfully to keep aircraft noise out of their backyards last week, effectively delaying a new FAA flight pattern that would have rerouted some aircraft through their neighborhoods to alleviate plane noise plaguing the community of Richfield.

The lesson here is simple and timeless – the squeaky wheel gets the grease, and residents of both Minneapolis and Edina proved it last week. Their gain is now Richfield’s loss.

Similar episodes are playing out across the U.S., illuminating an increasingly common fight that pits community against community over local airport noise. Ultimately, the best organized and often most combative reign victorious, while neighboring communities are left to deal with renewed levels of airport noise pollution. The outcome of these battles can affect everything from residents’ health and well-being to real estate values.

First a little geography. Edina is about nine miles southwest of Minneapolis, and Richfield is just under five miles east of Edina. All three deal with aircraft noise from the Minneapolis St. Paul International Airport Lindbergh Terminal. The community of Richfield bears the brunt of incoming and outgoing aircraft noise due to its close proximity to the airport. But Richfield has been lobbying hard to have some flights rerouted, which would have lightened Richfield’s noise impact while increasing aircraft noise pollution in Minneapolis and Edina.

Just as word got out that the FAA was poised to approve the new flight plan, Minneapolis and Edina slammed the agency with emails, petitions, and phone calls to defeat the plan that would route more aircraft over their own back yards. All the commotion worked, and the FAA’s ruling to delay the flight pattern change left Ritchfield residents back where they started.

As the aircraft noise pollution problem increases from one year to the next, this turn of events illustrates how communities can expect to be pitted against each other to protect their peace and quiet, and how the best organized communities ultimately win the battle.

Ironically, the uproar over aircraft noise pollution has gone from spewing choice words of displeasure at the airlines to battling neighboring communities to determine which one least deserves the bulk of the airwave invasion.

Edina homeowners were the first to organize, and they did so quite effectively. Local activists took up the cause, using language that was alarming and filled with imagery meant to scare others into agreement.  

Emails warning of "Toxic Super Highway for Planes planned for Edina," in the subject line threatened other homeowners with proclamations that “This (new flight pattern) will dramatically reduce your quality of life AND significantly reduce your property values," read another.

Homeowners filled a meeting of the Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC) to review the new flight plan, which uses a system that utilizes satellite technology to reroute planes more precisely over less populated areas. The FAA uses the same system for airports nationwide.

Richfield residents were happy with the new flight pattern system because it would steer air traffic over the city’s Crosstown Expressway, where many of the homes already had government-subsidized sound proofing, and away from neighborhoods in which homes were more vulnerable to noise.

But Edina and Minneapolis activists opposed the new plan because they said that while it would benefit certain homeowners, others would be harmed by it. Now, the rerouting plan is on hold while more studies are conducted, and Richfield residents are back to square one.

Minneapolis homeowners are well known for their anti-airport noise activism, which in 2007 resulted in a settlement that forced the FAA to provide soundproofing material in 5,800 homes that were affected by aircraft noise.

Last summer, we witnessed a similar dilemma when residents of the Hamptons demanded changes be made to alleviate the horrendous levels of noise pollution incurred by neighbors who were utilizing private helicopters to commute to back and forth between homes in the Hamptons and offices in Manhattan.

The helicopter noise was unbearable according to Hamptons residents and visitors alike, who claimed it made windows rattle, woke people from their sleep and heightened anxiety and blood pressure in many of those exposed to the helicopter noise. Residents on Long Island and Manhattan were also subjected to the helicopters’ relentless pounding day and night, seven days a week. However, when FAA officials ordered new flight paths and hours to protect Hamptons residents from the clamor, the proposed changed impacted Long Island and Manhattan residents negatively.

Ten years ago, people were still telling themselves that noise pollution was something we need to live with, something that was unavoidable. Today, the opposite is happening as awareness over the dangers of noise pollution to health and well-being has increased, and people are growing more protective over the quality of their environments.

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Tags: aircraft noise, airport noise, noisy neighborhoods, soundproofing, Noise pollution, noise barrier, residential noise

Are Owl Feathers the Cure for Aircraft Noise Pollution?

Posted by Thomas Wiseman on Nov 21, 2012 8:31:00 AM

owl 

Researchers have figured out something about owls that airports would like to get their hands on to reduce noise pollution.

Owl feathers.

Owls are known to have the unique ability to fly without making a sound.  Turns out their feathers are designed for a quiet flight so they can hunt prey in acoustic stealth.

Aircraft designers are trying to figure out a way to use what they know about owl feathers to mitigate aircraft noise. They just have to figure out how that would work.

Researchers at England’s Cambridge University have been studying the owl’s wing structure to get a better understanding of exactly how it flies quiet so they can apply nature’s engineering to aircraft design. Aircrafts are among the worst noise pollution contributors on earth, and no stone that might help solve the problem will be left unturned.  No feather either.

The Cambridge researchers are scheduled to present their findings to the American Physical Society's (APS) Division of Fluid Dynamics this week in San Diego.

Justin Jaworski, of the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics at Cambridge says that many owl species have developed specialized plumage to effectively eliminate the aerodynamic noise from their wings, which allows them to hunt and capture their prey using their ears alone.

"No one knows exactly how owls achieve this acoustic stealth, and the reasons for this feat are largely speculative based on comparisons of owl feathers and physiology to other not-so-quiet birds such as pigeons,” Jaworski says.

All wings, whether they are created in nature or engineered by Boeing, create turbulent “eddies” as they cut through the air. An eddy is a current of air running contrary to the main current; it can also manifest as a circular current like a whirlpool.

When these eddies hit the trailing edge of the wing, they become audible and even amplified, and they scatter as sound. This is why conventional aircraft with their hard trailing edges are particularly noisy.

On the other hand, owls possess at least three distinct features that are believed to contribute to their ability to fly in silence, eddy or no eddy: First, the leading edge on the owls’ wings are serrated like a comb. Second, the trailing feathers on the back end of the wing are tattered like the fringe of a scarf. And third, the rest of the owls’ wings and legs are covered in velvety down feathers.

The serrated feathers on the leading edge of owl wings have more to do with keeping the raptors stable than quiet, but the fringe on owls’ trailing feathers allows for “a very large noise reduction at the speed owls fly.” The owls’ tattered fringe feathers help to break up the sound waves that are generated as air flows over the top of their wings and forms downstream wakes.

The noise reduction achieved from the tattered fringe makes owls the quietest flying birds.

One more thing: the velvety down feathers found elsewhere on owls’ wings and legs absorb the remaining sound frequencies above 2,000 hertz, making owls completely silent to their prey.

Ornithologists have been fascinated by the silent flight of owls since ornithologists first began watching them. No other birds fly with such stealth. But can the remarkable structure of owl wings and feathers be replicated for aircrafts? And if so, how hilarious would that look?

Some ideas being tossed around include a retractable, brush-like fringe to mimic an owl’s trailing feathers, and applying a velvety coating to aircraft landing gear.

Researchers are still trying to figure out if it is just one of these attributes or a combination of all three responsible for the noise reduction.  But they have been working on figuring out owl stealth by developing a theory for the owl’s noise mitigation skills from the trailing edge of its wing – typically man-made wing’s dominant noise source.

Unfortunately, when it comes to aircraft design, noise reduction still takes a backseat to fuel efficiency. But researchers are optimistic that lessons learned from the study of owl feathers may have the potential to influence the frequency and locations of aircraft takeoffs and landings. And that could make a big difference in airline efficiency. Major airports such as London’s Heathrow and Chicago’s O’Hare place restrictions on the amount of noise any airline can make in a day. If the airlines manage to dampen sound generated by their aircrafts, they are permitted to enlist more flights without threatening to exceed their noise pollution cap.

That way, everyone’s happy.

Remember, the owl has been enjoying its silent flight for some 20 million years. Along comes the human in search of something that will effectively cure aircraft noise pollution, and we think there might be some hope in owl feathers. We’ve got a long way to go. I Give it another 20 years.

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Tags: aircraft noise, owl feathers, stealth owl flight, soundproofing, Noise pollution, noise barrier, noise insulating material

Manmade Noise Pollution is Changing the Song of the Grasshopper

Posted by Liz Ernst on Nov 16, 2012 10:43:00 AM

grasshopper

There’s more bad news for the earth’s urban fauna, subjected to man-made noise pollution levels that already have birds changing the tune of their chirp to be heard above the din of traffic, machinery, industry, music and everything else we subject them to.

It appears that male grasshoppers are responding to road traffic noise in their environment by changing the pitch of their songs just so their voices can be heard by the lady grasshoppers. In fact, a new study published in the journal Functional Ecology is the first to confirm what scientists have long suspected – the male bow-winged grasshopper has altered the actual pitch of his ballads by raising the pitch of its lower notes in order to rise to a mini-crescendo, according to study scientists from the University of Bielefeld in Germany.

That’s right, the bow-winged grasshopper was blessed by nature to create songs that include low and high frequency elements, and we have all heard that distinctive choral routine at some point in our lives. I remember the first time I was made aware of it; our family spent summers in a place called Eagle River Wisconsin – serious “Northwoods” wilderness so far north, its winters are subarctic. One summer evening at dusk, I think I was about six, my dad got me to listen to an unfamiliar sound I might not have noticed had he not shared the moment with me.

I remember how the sweeping notes that distinctly changed pitches made my jaw drop – it was a cloud of grasshoppers. It was the first time it occurred to me that bugs could make any sounds at all, much less relatively sophisticated harmonized sounds.

Grasshoppers sing!

Ulrike Lampe, a research scientist at the University of Bielefeld in Germany, led the new study on grasshoppers responding to noisy environments, said that the creatures have adapted to noise pollution encroaching on their habitats by increasing the volume of the lower-frequency part of their songs. Dr. Lampe explains that this made sense to her group of research scientists because it was already known to them that traffic noise can veil sounds in that spectrum of frequency.

Click HERE to listen to a grasshopper battling traffic noise

grasshopperStudies on the effects of man-made noise pollution on wildlife and domestic animals have increased in recent decades, but this appears to be the first study to focus on the effects of noise on invertebrates such as insects.

“We know that birds shift the frequencies of their songs or use songs with higher mean frequencies under noisy conditions,” Dr. Lampe says. “Some frog species alter their calling rate in response to high background noise levels, and whales have also been found to change the pitch of their acoustic communications as high-volume noise from military submarines, ships, and underwater explosions.

This bow-winged grasshopper that the University of Bielefeld scientists studied is a common species; It grows to about 1.5cm in length, and comes in a variety of colors from green and brown to red and purple. They make their songs by rubbing a toothed file on their hind legs against the “bow” of a bulging vein in their front wings in a similar fashion to playing a cello. And it’s the males doing all the singing during the months of July and September in hopes of attracting the ladies. Ordinarily, the male grasshopper sings two-second-long “phrases” in each of the songs in his repertoire, which rise in volume as it nears the end. A slow “ticking” sound starts out each phrase, increasing in speed and volume and rising to a crescendo of buzzing near the end.

This is a remarkable feat of nature, as we all know, but it is almost bad news to anyone who is learning about the toll noise pollution is taking on the voice of the grasshopper, along with the scrub jay, the pinyon tree, the nightingale, and the remaining host of flora and fauna adversely affected by our noise. Dr. Lampe and her colleagues thought that the low-frequency of the grasshopper’s bass signals might be masked by traffic noise which is why they chose this species for the study.

Bow-winged grasshoppers make a good test subject for the effects of noise pollution on an insect as their process for sexual selection depends upon being able to hear each other. Female grasshoppers are able to respond to a male’s mating song with their own low frequency acoustic signal, according to Dr. Lampe.

“We thought about the possibility that this lower part of the frequency spectrum might be degraded or masked by (manmade noise), such as traffic noise,” she said.

The study’s scientists collected 188 male bow-winged grasshoppers, half from habitat close to a busy roadway, and the other half from open grassland with no manmade noise pollution entering their space. Then they compared the range and frequency of their songs – almost 1,000 songs were recorded in all!

Dr. Lampe said they found that the grasshoppers exposed to traffic noise were proven to have changed the pitch of their songs, which could have a serious effect on their ability to find mates.

“Increased noise levels could affect grasshopper courtship in several ways,” Dr. Lampe writes.   “It could prevent females from hearing male courtship songs properly, prevent females from recognizing males of their own species, or impair females' ability to estimate how attractive a male is from his song.

“We don't know this, yet. We want to find out more about female preferences for spectral parameters of the songs and whether traffic noise affects these preferences in some way,” she added.

All I can think of is that day I realized that what I was hearing was the remarkable orchestra-like precision of that cloud of grasshoppers in Eagle River, Wisconsin, and how scary it seems that future generations of children may never have the opportunity because man made noise pollution changed the way grasshoppers court.

Tags: effects of noise pollution, grasshoppers, sound barrier, Noise pollution, noise barrier, noise insulating material

Retired Couple Tears House Apart Trying to Locate Noise

Posted by Liz Ernst on Oct 26, 2012 6:49:00 AM

Mr. Henry tore house apart                   Paul Henry and his wife Jeanette tore their house apart trying to locate a bothersome noise.

One morning about a month ago, I woke up with a throbbing headache – it was throbbing in a rhythmic way, to the beat of some sound; it took me a minute to wake up enough to figure it out. It was throbbing to the beat of a relentless “beep…beep…beep-ing” noise, and I realized pretty quickly it had to be a dying battery in my smoke alarm, way up there on the ceiling. I knew this because it happened once in my last house which had 17 foot ceilings, and I had to wait hours for a handyman with a huge ladder to come and fix it. It was awful.

So that morning last month I took two aspirin and waited for some pain relief, which came, but the beeping noise was agitating. I have no ladder – I need to get a ladder – just a step stool, and I could just barely reach the thing. By now the noise had really gotten to me, so I just tore the unit out of the ceiling and ripped the failing battery out of it. It hung there like the carcass of a battered piñata.

You know what? It kept beeping.

I could not find another battery anywhere in the house, and I am a battery hoarder. I need to have a battery available to me at any hour of the day or night; you know how it is, when you need a battery. So I always make sure I have a stockpile. But I moved a few months ago, and there are still some boxes…anyway, I tore the house apart and could not find my battery stash.

About an hour had passed since I woke up with my head dancing to the beep beat. My noise-induced high blood pressure by now was through the roof. I had already grown to hate the beep. I despised it, I wanted it dead. I was having crazy person thoughts over this beep after just an hour of its relentless taunting. I threw on jeans and a t-shirt and got out of there. I had to get away from it. I went to Walgreens and bought a new battery, and then I slummed around town for a few hours. I needed to get home, I had a ton of work to do, but I just couldn’t go back there. Not yet. I was chastising myself for not knowing where my battery stash was, and in fact I would unpack those last 10 boxes that night. I swore to myself, never again.

Noise can make you nutty. It can make you tear your house apart looking for batteries.

OK, I’m going somewhere with this. Bear with me.

How many of us have, at least once in our lives, told someone we “tore the house apart” looking for something – missing car keys, reading glasses, or the single roll of Scotch tape that we keep for gift wrapping but we can never find when it comes time to wrap a gift? When we say we tore the house apart, we don’t mean it literally. Maybe we emptied a few drawers and dumped the contents of the kitchen garbage can onto the floor to find something, but we don’t literally tear the house apart.

OK, so did you ever say you tore the house apart looking for a noise? The source of a noise, that is? A mystery sound that is keeping you awake nights and driving you crazy during waking hours?

Paul and Jeanette Henry were in just such a predicament when a mystery sound - some low level beeping sound - drove the retired couple to, as they said themselves, the “edge of sanity.” Their words.

And low frequency noises have been found to drive people to that bad place. In fact, studies completed just this past summer have found that certain sounds that aren’t particularly loud fall within a range of megahertz – a unit of sound that measures wave frequencies, like in radio waves – that is incompatible with happiness and general well-being. There’s just something about these low level sound waves that wreak havoc on the brain via the human ear, and this was the kind of noise that Paul and Jeanette Henry were experiencing.

They tore their house apart trying to locate the source of the noise. Literally, they tore their house apart.

They called in electricians and builders and asked them to locate the source of the sound and put a lid on it, to no avail. Next, Paul and Jeanette took crowbars to their walls and tore out whole sections of drywall, tore up floorboards, ripped gaping holes in their ceilings because the noise was just driving them that nuts.

And yet the menacing beep continued to taunt them, probably something like the Raven in the Edgar Allen Poe masterpiece, which if you’ll recall ended badly.

For more than a year, Paul and Jeanette Henry were harassed by this low level beep that could not be found. They were becoming seriously sick with noise-induced stress, sapped of all energy from noise-induced sleeplessness, and from the look of Mr. Henry’s photo in the local newspaper, shedding some major tears in frustration. These two are in their late 60’s, retired, and living with a monster that wouldn’t leave them alone. It’s heart wrenching to think that this nice retired couple had to go through such misery, and that their house has holes in the walls, floors and ceilings all over the place – you can almost picture their manic frustration as they took crowbar and hammer to every solid surface, only to be left with a mess - and a relentless beep…beep…beep.

I had a lump in my throat just reading about their plight, the memory of my own beeping apocalypse still relatively fresh in my mind. Why couldn’t anyone help these poor people? It seems crazy that electricians and builders couldn’t locate the noise source!

Nothing and no one could help them.

They meticulously took apart every one of their grandchildren’s toys in the hopes of discovering a short circuit in a talking Muppet. No luck.

A year of this insanity drove them to the brink. Noise can do that. It makes the blood pressure rise, it exacerbates stress and depression, it can lead to heart attacks and strokes, and the resulting insomnia makes all these conditions even worse. It makes people knock huge holes in their walls, floors and ceilings – people who ordinarily would never do such a rash and destructive thing.

It makes people flee their homes, leaving their smoke alarm hanging from the ceiling like a beaten piñata.

Mr. Henry said that when they first noticed the noise, it wasn’t consistent; it just went off every now and then, so they lived with it.

Eventually, it was a 24/7 menace, beeping every 30 seconds for the better part of a full year.

The Henrys were at their wits end.

One night, Mr. Henry decided to turn off all the lights in the house and follow the sound in the dark, letting his ears guide him. The relentless beep…beep…beep led him through the house, in the dark, like a bloodhound only without needing to smell anything. The sound led Mr. Henry to an old chest of drawers; when he opened the drawer, the beep got louder.

Voila!

There it was – a 10-year-old smoke alarm unit with a dying battery that someone had shoved in the back of the drawer, probably about a year earlier.

You know the relief they felt – after 12 long months of tearing the house apart to get to the noise source, they had it. Now they were suddenly faced with the realization that it was actually something so simple, and they probably had some burning sense of horror over the condition of their post-beep home. Like waking up out of a nightmare and realizing you put the cat in the dryer and you can’t even believe you did that! And you can't take it back.

But mostly they were relieved. Mrs. Henry says they were amazed, and really relieved.

Noise is a powerful thing. The couple lived with that relentless beeping for so long, the memory of it still torments them. That beep is embedded in their brains.

“We still keep thinking we can hear it," says Mrs. Henry.

I am relieved to say, the sound of my smoke alarm’s beep does not linger in my mind. And although I did manage to shut it up by getting a new battery in it, I was unable to get the unit back in position in the ceiling. I can’t reach, so I have to wait until one of my sons comes to visit me, and both of them live far away, so it could be a while. So I am haunted by my battered piñata of a smoke alarm, still hanging from the ceiling. But at least it’s not beeping.

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Tags: low frequency noise, health effects of noise, soundproofing, Noise pollution, noise abatement, noise barrier, noise insulating material

Navaratri Festival Brings Noise Pollution Levels to Historic Highs

Posted by Liz Ernst on Oct 24, 2012 4:27:00 AM

Navatri festival                The Navatri Festival is beautiful, colorful, vibrant, and way too loud

In India, noise pollution is at historic highs and festivals are compounding the problem. India's culture is steeped in tradition, and festivals observing sacred occasions are an important part of part of Hundu tradition.

The problem is, festivals are loud - very loud. Noise at these events can rise to more than 60 decibels above the legal limit, and despite stricter laws and increased public awareness of the health problems associated with such high levels of noise pollution, little seems to be changing.

The video below was taken by a news crew during this week's Navratri Festival in Mumbai:

Navaratri is an important Hindu festival of worship and dance. In Sanskrit Navatri literally means "nine nights" and that's how long it lasts.  

But as cities like Mumbai, Surat, Bhopal and many others become immerced in the cacophony of the festival's health-threatening decibel levels, no one in government is enforcing or even monitoring the noise levels. In fact, it seems they're encouraging noisemakers. The Mumbai police, for instance, announced their decision to relax a 10 p.m. loudspeaker deadline till midnight on the last two days of the festival, although they reminded people that noise levels should still remain within the prescribed norms as per the law. The result? Noise levels were monitored from 90 to 117 decibels in 45 and 50 decibel "silence zones."

That bears repeating: 90 to 117 decibels, continuously, for nine nights and 10 days. To put that in perspective, OSHA warns that workers in any business - say a restaurant or club - with noise levels above 80 decibels may not work in that environment for more than eight hours in a 24 hour period. Why? They'll suffer hearing damage, for starters, and they will be vulnerable to a variety of noise-related health problems.

While India's Supreme Court has ruled that noise levels should not exceed the maximum set by law — 55 decibels (dBs) during daytime and 45 dBs after 10 pm – even during festivals, politicians of all parties place pressure on police forces to relax the noise levels and avoid enforcing noise laws, even in residential and hospital zones during festivals.

"They don't care about patients and students," said one resident of Malviya Nagar, Bhopal who was interviewed in the midst of the celebrations. "We are not averse to celebrating any festivals but there should be some limit."

Even hospital zones, which have the strictest noise cap at 45 decibels, are registering decibel levels between 90 and 117, with no police or government control stepping in. Exposure to noise levels as high as those being recorded at Navaratri celebrations, even for just a few hours, can cause elevation in blood pressure, raise stress levels, and impair hearing. After nine days and nights of noise levels this high, the possibility of suffering from a noise-realted health event rises sharply.

And for hospital patients, children, and pets that have no ability to escape the noise, the aftermath can be particularly harsh. Hospital patients exposed to noise levels considerably lower than those being measured at festival locations cause patients to suffer from insomnia and other sleep disorders, elevated blood pressure, and stress, all of which impairs healing.

Children exposed to such high decibel levels show a marked inability to focus, and are less able to keep up with school work. The aftermath of noise-induced hearing damage is often irreversible, a serious issue for not only children, but for everyone.

This is not an easy problem to address, as religious festivals like Navaratri are sacred to India's enormous Hindu population and have been celebrated for centuries. But the noise from firecrackers, music, loudspeakers, crowds and traffic is harming Indian citizens.

This is serious.

Some Indian citizens are taking proactive measures to raise awareness and cut noise pollution, particularly during the many festivals. Many are uploading decibel measuring software to their smartphones, measuring noise levels at a multitude of locations, and filing a complaint with the police. Every year, tolerance for festival noise diminishes, and people are now taking the issue into their own hands.

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Tags: festival noise, Navaratri, noise deadening, noise related health problems, soundproofing, Noise pollution, noise abatement, noise barrier, noise insulating material

Study Examines "Boom" Noise and its Effect on Concentration

Posted by Liz Ernst on Oct 19, 2012 1:56:00 PM

trying to concentrate

We've all experienced the frustration of trying to focus on a challenging or difficult task, only to be distracted by noise. By studying how annoying sounds that can interfere with our productivity, arrchitects are learning to design better building environments, and law makers can more effectively address noise regulations, right?

That's the goal, or at least part of it, of a new study on how short bursts of noise affect the mental state of people who are trying to focus on a difficult problem - in this study, it's math problems. That's right, researchers at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln played short bursts of noise clips while test participants tried to solve math problems that required focus.

The researchers were able to document a general trend in lowered performance when louder noise was played, but more interestingly, they were able to identify the sound level ranges that caused study participants to make note of their annoyance. 

The research was triggered by NASA's low-boom supersonic aircraft program. Sonic booms are generated when aircraft traveling faster than the speed of sound leave cones of compressed air in their wake - the resulting noise is extremely loud and can be unnerving to the unsuspecting who are within earshot.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) began flying supersonic jets over Oklahoma City routinely back in 1964 as part of a test called Operation Bongo, immediately causing citizens to complain and file damage claims. Today, NASA is developing aircraft that leave a softer boom, if you will, although it is not clear at what volume the regular booms caused by  commercial supersonic aircraft flying over land would be acceptable.

For this study, Architectural Acoustician Lily Wang of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln worked with graduate student Christopher Ainley to design an experiment that tests how sudden bursts of noise affects a person's performance and perceptions. In the past, sudies have looked at noises that are very loud - 80 decibels or more - which, as expected, established a marked effect on the test subject's ability to concentrate and solve problems.

For this study, Wang and her team reduced the volume to determine if a threshold value exists at which noise does not significantly affect the study's participants. Twenty-seven participants were instructed to memorize 6-digit numbers. Next, they were shown a four-digit number and instructed to subtract the second number from the first number in their heads, then type the answer on a keyboard. Researchers would intermittently play a  burst of noise for a quarter of a second while study participants were being shown the second number.

The noise bursts (or "booms") ranged between 50 and 80 decibels - comparable to  sound levels on a suburban street corner at the low end, and to a loud vacuum-cleaner at the high end. The test subjects ended up solving a lower percentage of problems correctly when interrupted with a noise at the louder end of the spectrum, but the difference between the interference cause by the louder noise and the lower noise was not enough to be statistically significant. So it appears that volume isn't necessarily the only factor when it comes to noise causing a distraction and reducing a person's productivity.

There were significant variations in the levels of annoyance that participants reported when quizzed afterwards about their perceptions of the varying noise levels, however, and it appeared that most managed to somewhat adjust to the quieter booms while the louder ones remained jolting.

"This suggests that the acceptable noise from sonic booms should not be higher than 70 decibels once it gets inside the house," Wang says.

It's important to note that the researchers' lab did not have the necessary equipment to mimic the very low-frequency component of the noise produced by sonic booms, which is an important factor in noise perception, but Wang says the study helped to clarify the effects of the short-duration characteristics of the booms. Next up, researchers hope to study perceptions of the "rattling" component of noise that is often associated with supersonic jets passing overhead.

Researchers will report their findings at the 164th meeting of the Acoustical Society of America (ASA), held Oct. 22-26 in Kansas City, Missouri.

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Tags: effect of noise on concentration, sonic boom noise, sound barrier, Noise pollution, noise abatement, noise barrier, noise insulating material, noise

Do the Most Annoying Noises on Earth Have an Emotional Component?

Posted by Liz Ernst on Oct 17, 2012 2:00:00 AM

 nails on a chalkboard crying baby

The term is such a universal one, it’s long been the catchphrase for annoying sounds – nails on a chalkboard. In fact, when it comes to universally hated noises, you’d think that would be number one on the list, right? But nails on a chalkboard, as hated a sound as it is, does not render the top levels of annoyance according to a new study just released last week and published in the Journal of Neuroscience. But it does stir the same emotion receptors in the brain as the sound of a crying baby!

Since we already understand that noise is basically any unwanted sound, the difference between noise pollution and annoying noise can more readily be differentiated – or can it? When Newcastle University scientists rated 74 different sounds to determine which ones most upset the human brain, their intention was to measure the psychological and physiological responses associated with specific sounds and gain a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of the brain’s re­ac­tion to noise. This type of science, known as psychoacoustics, can be useful in finding treatments for people who have a diminished tolerance to sounds, and for autistic people who often exhibit a heightened sensitivity to noise.

Some sounds cause us to recoil – not necessarily because they’re very loud, but because they trigger a level of distress or discomfort within in us.

As noise pollution fast becomes a global epidemic, scientists are devoting more and more time to sound and noise studies, and the more we understand the amazing capabilities of the human ear, the closer we come to protecting our hearing and our health in a world filled with all sorts of noise.

For this study, researchers placed 16 brave volunteers into a MRI machine, played 74 different sounds, and asked the participants to rate the most annoying. The top 10 most annoying sounds, (go ahead, click on the links to hear them if you can stand it) beginning with the worst offender, include:

1. Knife scraping on a bottle
2. Fork on a glass
3. Chalk on a chalkboard
4. Ruler on a bottle
5. Nails on a chalkboard
6. Female scream
7. Anglegrinder (power tool)
8. Brakes on a cycle squealing
9. Baby crying
10. Electric drill

What the scientists found most interesting is that the sounds ranked as the worst (a knife on a bottle? really?) were shown to have registered the most activity in those parts of the brain associated with both sound processing (auditory cortex) and emotion (amygdala). The MRI scans showed researchers that both portions of the brain lit up in direct proportion to the perceived unpleasantness of the sound, and that the amygdala interacted with signals coming from the auditory cortex when the noises were played – that is to say, emotion and sound responded in unison to certain sounds. This interaction increased the amount of unpleasantness experienced when hearing those most irritating sounds at the top of the list – all of  which happen to occur in the frequency range between 2,000 and 5,000 Hz.

Why would the brain’s emotional center activate specifically for sounds within this range?

“It appears there is something very primitive kicking in,” says Sukhbinder Kumar, the study's lead researcher. “Although there’s still much debate as to why our ears are most sensitive (to sounds) in this range, it also includes the sound of screams, which we find intrinsically unpleasant.”

In the past, scientists speculated that certain high-pitched sounds that fall within this Hz range sound so irritating to humans because they are acoustically similar to warning alarm calls in our primate ancestors, and somewhere along the evolutionary roadway humans evolved the innate tendency to find certain sounds emotionally terrifying – part of the “fight or flight” response. Theoretically, this tendency might have been valid, despite the fact that fingernails scratching on a chalkboard have nothing to do with actual predators.

More recent research dilutes the validity of this theory, especially since recent studies on primates found that the animals’ reactions to both high-pitched scraping noises (like nails on a chalkboard) and plain white noise were similar, whereas humans clearly find the high-pitched scraping sounds much more unpleasant.

A simpler hypothesis seems to make more sense – which is that the actual shape of the human ear happens to amplify certain frequencies to a degree that they trigger physical pain. If that’s the case, the repeated sensation of pain associated with these noises may be causing our minds to automatically consider them to be unpleasant.

While researchers in the field of psychoacoustics continue to study sounds and the brain's interpretations of them, they may be able to get to the bottom of why certain noises are innately irritating to virtually everyone.

As studies have already proven that noise pollution can exacerbate certain health conditions, including mental health problems such as depression and stress, this newest study may offer insight into the effects of certain frequency sounds on not only people who suffer from emotional disorders, but also on physical disorders such as tinnitus and migraines, in which a heightened perception of unpleasant sounds seems to be at play.

The study's findings surprised even the researches, as the brain's emotion centers prove to be more interwoven with noise perception than had previously been known.

On that note, I leave you with a list of the least unpleasant sounds listed in the study, which offers at least one surprise:

1. Applause
2. Baby laughing
3. Thunder
4. Water flowing

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Tags: noise levels, psychoacoustics, soundabatement, soundproofing, Noise pollution, noise abatement, noise barrier

St. Maarten's Westin Must Pay $39,500 for Noise Pollution Violations

Posted by Liz Ernst on Oct 12, 2012 4:45:00 AM

Westin Hotel St. MaartenThis idyllic picture of the Westin Hotel in Dawn Beach, St. Maarten gives no indication of the extreme levels of noise pollution emanating from its sewage treatment plant, or the nearly $40,000 in fines and penalties Westin owners were slapped with in court last week.

The Caribbean paradise that is St. Maarten has been the focus of some pretty surprising noise pollution litigation against a Westin Hotel, owned by the Babitbay Beach Development Corporation N.V. of Fort Mitchell, Kentucky. The company’s Westin Hotel in St. Maarten’s Dawn Beach was slapped with $39,500 in fines and penalties in a court ruling earlier this week after disregarding court orders to lower the decibel levels of its sewage treatment plant, which has been making life miserable for the Michael Roger family, whose home is just 260 feet away from the plant.

In a nutshell, Roger built his Dawn Beach home 20 years ago in 1992, long before the Westin Hotel happened upon the scene. In fact, the hotel wasn’t built until 2006, and its sewage treatment plant went in that same year – 260 feet away from the Roger family home. Michael Roger has been trying to get something done about the unbearable noise that reaches 90 decibels and higher resonating from the sewage treatment plant to his home ever since.

The court ruled this week, after years of contentious back and forth between Westin attorneys and Roger’s attorney, that the Westin had not lived up to an April 13 court ruling that ordered the hotel to take whatever measures were necessary to remedy the sewage treatment plant’s industrial noise pollution problem.  After six years of battling to regain some semblance of peace and quiet in his home, Mr. Roger might finally be close to achieving that goal.

The noise from the Westin sewage treatment plant, according to court documents, is deafening; so deafening that the Roger family is forced to stay inside with doors, windows and hurricane shutters closed – and even then, the noise is overbearing, according to Roger. Over the past six years, as his noise complaint snaked through the legal channels, Mr. Roger moved his home’s terrace to the opposite side of the house, and moved one of his children to a bedroom at the other end of the home because the noise was preventing the child from sleeping.

It’s not like the April 13 ruling came as a surprise to Westin owners either. In June, 2011, the court ordered an expert report on the Westin’s sewage treatment plant’s noise pollution levels. By October of last year, the report was still not completed, so Rogers contracted a civil environmental and geotechnical engineer to perform the sound levels tests on his property and the vicinity around the plant. All measurements taken proved that sound levels from the Westin sewage treatment plant continued to significantly exceed the hotel’s permitted noise limit of 50 decibels, and a second study performed by the court-appointed engineering firm confirmed the first study’s findings.

Somewhere along the line, Westin owners had a structure installed around the sewage treatment plant, and they began turning the pumps off at night, which they felt should satisfy any noise complaints. However, even with the structure in place, noise from the sewage treatment plant was recorded at 80-90 decibels, far above the 50 decibel limit they had been court ordered to establish and maintain. The World Health Organization says that exposure to decibel levels about 70 for eight or more hours per day can lead to hearing loss, high blood pressure and other serious health problems.

The Rogers family has been exposed to these noise levels daily for six years – only within the last year did the Westin begin to shut down the plant at night.

So, after years of battling in court, and after two engineering studies proved Rogers’s complaint to be valid, a St. Maartens judge on April 13 of this year ordered Westin owners once and for all to get the decibel levels down to 50 or lower, or face fines and penalties of $500 per day.

Westin attorneys never showed up to that April hearing, nor did they attend another hearing held in June, a decision that was not overlooked by the judge.

“(The absence of Westin Hotel representatives in court) makes it sufficiently clear that the Westin, even after it received the (engineer’s) reports, does not really care about its noise pollution,” the judge said.

Last month, Westin owners finally became actively involved in the legal process only after discovering that Roger had put a lien on the hotel’s bank account, a move he made to secure the hotel’s mounting fines and penalties - which by now added up to $39,500. Westin attorneys filed a lawsuit against Rogers demanding that he stop the execution of the April 13 court ruling. In last week’s summary proceedings, Westin attorneys also demanded the penalty be reduced to zero, and that Roger be forced to lift the lien on the Westin’s bank account.

Westin attorneys appeared outraged that the hotel owner was being harassed by Roger and the court, as if woken from a deep sleep and previously unaware that there was a problem at all. They had, after all, built a structure around the sewage treatment plant and they began switching the thing off at night. They felt they had done enough, despite the engineering reports that recorded noise still 30-40 decibels over the court mandated limit.

The judge was unsympathetic, and referred to video footage submitted by Roger that proved the 80-90 decibel sound levels were still permeating the area surrounding the sewage treatment plant – most specifically, Roger's property and home. The court ruled that the Westin had not abided by the April 13 ruling and rejected the Westin attorneys’ demands to drop the fines and penalties they had been warned about in April. It also refused to lift Rogers’s lien against the Westin’s bank account.

Further requests to mitigate the penalty were also denied.

This is not the only court-related noise problem the Dawn Beach Westin is facing either.

Last week, the St. Maarten Hospitality and Trade Association (SHTA) President Emil Lee won a court case against the hotel after he was banned from its premises because of pending lawsuits filed against the hotel overnoise pollution caused by the Westin’s generator and its cooling towers. The court decided in Lee’s favor, ruling that the Westin cannot ban the community leader from its property.

After six years of ignoring the complaints of the Roger family and others over its noise pollution violations, Westin owners got a wake-up call straight to their proverbial wallet last week, and are finally realizing that they must comply with local noise ordinances or face serious consequences. It took extreme measures on the part of Roger, who worked through the legal channels and managed not to give up along the way.

And it took extreme measures on the part of the court as well; by refusing to lift the lien on the hotel’s bank account put in place by the neighbor it had ignored for six years, and the court’s refusal to lower the fines and penalties, the message sent to Westin owners is clear. 

It will be interesting to see if the Westin drags its feet on its pending generator and cooling tower noise pollution litigation after this tough love measure by the courts.

Until very recently, most people have taken it for granted that noise ordinances are rarely (if ever) enforced, and that noise polluters could carry on without consequence, despite growing evidence of the health risks to those exposed to continuous high decibel noise. However in recent years, courts have begun ruling in favor of the rights of individuals to peace and quiet, especially in their own homes. Rogers fought for six years for this right, and won.

The craziest part is that Westin owners could have saved themselves so much money and so many headaches if it had simply installed an effective noise abatement barrier around the sewage treatment plant to begin with, instead of throwing up a structure that did nothing to lower the decibel levels. Perhaps they thought they were saving money and appeasing the court by simply appearing to comply. But with no real regard for actual soundproofing qualities in the barrier installed, and by continuously ignoring court dates and deadlines for compliance, the Westin owners dug themselves into a deep financial hole that they could have easily avoided.

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Tags: pump noise, sewage treatment plant noise, soundproofing, Noise pollution, noise barrier, noise insulating material, generator noise, HVAC noise