Noise Pollution Threatens Quiet

Noise Pollution: Is Quiet Another Natural Resource Worth Protecting?

The Salt Lake Valley Health Department is making some changes to the current noise regulations that will address the health concerns of noise within the community, and its effects on Salt lake residents. The health department, after all, is responsible for the public’s well-being, and noise pollution is not good for anyone’s well-being.

The Salt Lake community already has some pretty impressive noise ordinances in place, but the Health Department has a hard time enforcing them since measuring noise has become trickier over the years with the advancement of technology.

Current noise regulations call for an analysis of sound readings taken during a one-second period of time, which is highly subjective. Some of the proposed amendments to Salt Lake’s current regulations will provide a time-weighted average of the impact a sound might be having. Restrictions will stay in place for garbage collection, construction work, fireworks and explosives, as well as for loading and unloading operations between the hours of 10 p.m. and 7 a.m. But instead of issuing tickets for violations, the department plans to utilize technology to analyze the source of noise and to determine what kind of an impact it is having on human health.

Noise from a loud party at your next door neighbor’s will have a different effect on long term well-being than, say, noise from an ongoing construction site; Health Department officials plan to address different sources and qualities of noise to determine the appropriate action to take, the goal being to approach noise issues scientifically to preserve residents’ health and to protect the region’s nighttime quiet, which Eric Peterson, enforcement coordinator for the department’s Division of Environmental Health considers a natural resource.

“We have a resource here, and that resource is a fair amount of quiet during the nighttime hours,” Peterson says. “That is not the case in many other cities and we’re trying our best to preserve it.”

Noise Pollution Threatens Quiet

The list of adverse health effects of noise is growing longer, as studies are becoming more sophisticated and more comprehensive. In addition to hearing loss and tinnitus, cardiovascular disease, mental illness, sleep problems, concentration and learning impairment, are some conditions that can either be caused by or made worse by noise.

Ongoing low frequency sound, which can come from any one or more of a variety of sources including amplified music, pumps, fans, boilers, ventilation plants, foundries, blasting/quarrying, roads, rail and air traffic and electrical installations (to name just a handful)  can also cause joint damage and, as new studies suggest, even hair loss.

“We’re trying to fall back to a more measurable, objective standard that applies across the country,” Peterson said.

The Community Noise Pollution Control Regulation moderates sounds commonly found within residential, commercial and industrial areas.

The Salt Lake Health Department’s approach to noise pollution should be considered a promising step in the largely ignored domain of noise pollution regulation. Peterson says that it is the Health Department’s job to investigate if any harm is being done, and when it comes to noise pollution, the studies are quickly adding up to one conclusion: noise pollution is unhealthy and needs to be addressed.

While the Health Department will not be able to enforce noise regulations dealing with interstate highways, air space, railroads or military installations, it can make a dent in the everyday noise that adversely affect area residents.

“There aren’t too many circumstances where we deal with people being exposed to really dangerous levels of noise,” Peterson said. “For the most part, we’re trying to preserve the level of quiet that we have so that as the city expands and the valley grows, we don’t create new sources of harmful noise.”

Noise Pollution Threatens Quiet

Noise Pollution from FBI Terrorist Screening Center Terrorizes Town

In an otherwise quaint community just outside of Washington D.C., noise emanating from an unmarked three-story office building is driving the residents of Vienna, Virginia to distraction. For almost two years the building has been subjecting the Vienna community to a loud, high-pitched noise caused by 23 industrial rooftop air-conditioning units, which residents compare to the sound of a helicopter hovering a block away, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

It just doesn’t stop.

The building’s only tenant is the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center. Here agents gather sensitive national security data like no-fly lists. The building houses tons of high tech computing instruments, and to protect the equipment it needs to be kept cool, 24/7.

The noise is coming from 23 “dry cooler” air-conditioning units that run non-stop on the building’s roof. Each unit has 10 high velocity fans – that means 230 high-velocity fans are filling the community with their high velocity fan noise morning, noon and night. The noise is not so loud that it interferes with conversation, but it is loud enough and annoying enough to have locals at their wits’ end. After two years, promises to fix the noise problem have gone unfulfilled, meaning residents’ vulnerability to noise-related health problems has gone unresolved.

One neighbor, Jeff Lewis, told a Washington Post reporter that the “hellish unending noise” is a constant outside his home’s windows. Another neighbor, Ken Foley, says the noise penetrates his home’s double pane windows. Even his air conditioning unit turned up full blast doesn’t drown out the sound. Foley has been asking for help with the noise problem since August.

Before the FBI moved in, the building on Follin Lane was occupied by the CIA. They were quiet, according to the neighbors. The CIA moved out of the 200,000 square foot building years ago and the building was bought by a Bethesda-based company called Goldstar Group and Chicago-based Transwestern Commercial Services for $25 million. When Goldstar took possession of the building and its 18-acre adjacent property, it told Vienna it would be a good neighbor.

Vienna says they have been anything but a good neighbor.

Noise Pollution Threatens Quiet

Although the noise problem didn’t start until the FBI decided to move its Terrorist Screening Center to the property and call it Liberty Park. And here is where it gets really crazy.

The building was gutted and rebuilt prior to the FBI taking occupancy in the fall. In August, those 23 air conditioning units were installed on the roof and the noise was immediate and alarming when they were first fired up. Local residents immediately began complaining to town officials, and the Vienna planning and zoning director issued a “modified stop work order” on the building – they were ordered to stop working between 8 p.m. and 7 a.m. Nights when the noise continued after 8 p.m., police would be called to the site, and only then would the air conditioning units be shut down for the night.

At first Vienna officials denied the FBI an occupancy permit because of the air conditioners’ noise, but Goldstar, the FBI and the General Services Administration (GSA) – the federal agency that helps manage and support the basic functioning of federal agencies – promised the town that if the FBI could have the occupancy permit and move in, these three offices would work diligently to correct the noise problem. Town leaders believed what they were told – I mean, it is the FBI we’re talking about here, what could go wrong? So, the occupancy permit was issued in November.

Since air conditioning isn’t a necessity in the D.C. come November, the noise had thinned. But by spring those 23 air conditioning units were fired up again and the noise pervaded the community night and day. Adding insult to injury, once Goldstar had their occupancy license in hand, the 8 p.m. – 7 a.m. stop work order was nothing but a distant memory. Pleas to Goldstar, the GSA and the FBI to make it stop did not make it stop. It still hasn’t stopped.

In November, Goldstar promised Vienna that a noise absorbing solution would be installed around the roof units. Of course, by then another winter was rolling in and the units were shut down. The next spring turned into a repeat of the previous spring, with more stalling from the building’s owner, more decibel testing by Vienna officials, and more outrage pouring from Vienna’s beleaguered citizens.

Noise Pollution Threatens Quiet

One thing that should be addressed in all of this is the long-term health effects this non-stop noise could be having on area residents. Studies prove that exposure to noise above 65 decibels for more than eight hours daily increase the risk of permanent hearing loss, high blood pressure, heart attacks and strokes. But scientists are quick to point out that the decibel levels can be significantly lower than 65 and still have a harmful effect when people are exposed day in and day out with no relief. Many of Vienna’s residents are also suffering from noise-induced sleep deprivation as a result of the building’s din, which exacerbates existing health problems and creates new ones.

Children exposed to noise pollution have trouble concentrating and their school performance suffers. Children, the elderly, and people battling illness are the most vulnerable to noise-related health problems, but no one is immune. One resident says that the noise resembled a propeller plane taking off in his direction. After two years of that imagery, the psychological impact, combined with the fact that it’s loud enough to keep everyone’s stress level high (the fight-or-flight reflex is not meant to be turned on all the time) has the community in an uproar.

Goldstar, at this point, is shuffling papers and issuing statements that basically claim that the building’s operations do not violate any ordinances of the Town of Vienna. However, Goldstar claims that, in collaboration with GSA, it wants to address the noise concerns and “be a good neighbor.’”

Needless to say, after giving the community its word two years ago in exchange for an occupancy permit and then never making good on its word, Goldstar should have no reason to expect the Vienna community to believe, well, one word its company officials say.

Plus, Goldstar is committing only to reducing the noise to “legal levels” – which in Vienna were defined back in 1950, using outdated decibel and frequency measurement criteria.

Air conditioning units like these didn’t even exist when Vienna’s noise ordinance was written, and the effects of noise pollution on human health were not known back then either.

As town officials and residents mull over their next course of action, it’s a tough road any way you look at it. The town absolutely can’t face another summer of noise, and all options are on the table at this point – including a legal injunction.

So despite all the broken promises and the growing resentment of the community, what has kept Vienna residents from taking drastic action even after two years have passed and they still have received no relief from the noise?

Vienna residents are proud to have the Terrorist Screening Center in their community. After all, who wants to sue the Terrorist Screening Center?

Planes and Trains and Noise: Have We Forgotten How to be Quiet?

Even though most of us long for more peace and quiet in this noisy world, could it be that we’re not capable of making it happen?

This week, Virgin Airlines announced that it will make cell phone service available during flight time between London and New York. Also, the Economist reports that the so-called “quiet cars” or “quiet carriages” that have popped up on trains across the U.S. and Europe in recent years aren’t succeeding as planned.

Why can’t we all just pipe down for 30 minutes to eight hours of travel time? Planes have, until now, had a no-choice ban on cell phone use – even texting is forbidden once that aircraft door is closed and the pilot has turned on the fasten-seat-belt light, even if the aircraft has not begun taxiing. Ask Alec Baldwin – not even a friendly iPhone-based “Words for Friends” match will be tolerated.

If Virgin Airlines is about to start a trend that other airlines can’t afford to ignore, will we soon be trapped on a flight next to the cell-phone holler of a man talking to his hard-of-hearing mother? Or a teenager fighting with a boyfriend or girlfriend? Will it be less unpleasant if it’s just some person conducting business, while you find yourself re-reading page 109 of “Indignation” again and again because you can’t concentrate, because your seat mate is selling swivel couplings and hose retention systems at 33,000 feet?

Noise Pollution Threatens Quiet

Planes are noisy places to begin with. The roar of the aircraft’s engines drone continuously in the  background, which many of us think we don’t hear, but we do. Babies crying, people talking, refreshment carts rattling – why not just throw cell phone talking onto the pile, am i right?

Let’s look at the “quiet carriages,” which began as such a great idea. People who needed to take a train to or from work, or just occasionally, can opt to ride in one of these quiet cars, where the rule is ‘turn off your cell phone and keep your chattering to a minimum.’ Voila! Peaceful trips every day for the stressed and cranky who just want some peace and quiet.

Trouble is, being quiet in these cars is voluntary, and not everyone who lands in a quiet car meant to. They ended up in the quiet car by accident, and had no intention of being quiet in the first place. And there are those who really want the quiet car, but find it impossible to ignore an important incoming call. So, there’s noise, even in the quiet car.

Some train operators are trying to figure out how to make being quiet in the quiet cars mandatory. Trains in Queensland, Australia, are having permanent signs added to show exactly what is expected; a British operator has invested in signal-jamming technology to prevent phone calls. Microeconomics suggests another approach: putting a price on noise.

Fining people for making noise would surely dissuade most, and in theory it’s a nifty solution, but in reality it’s a costly one that will require monitoring and enforcement. Another approach under consideration is to charge more for a ticket in the quiet car, which might confirm the passenger’s commitment to shutting up for the duration of the trip. Make it an optional extra when purchasing the ticket, and the passenger believes they are making a commitment to quiet when they pay the extra fare.

Noise Pollution Threatens Quiet

But the risk is that some passengers who pay the extra fare will find an unexpected excuse to breach the silence, and the blood pressure of the rest of the quiet car passengers will shoot up. Noise can be very unhealthy.

Still, some believe that charging a premium for quiet could solve the commitment problem. They’re also suggesting schemes that reward the zipper-lipped: a rating system among fellow passengers, for instance. The theory is similar to those people who pay for their purchases on eBay in a timely fashion – they get stars and accolades, so everyone knows they’re a good eBayer. But it isn’t clear how this would work for a quiet car rider, unless perhaps you can have the premium waived if you’re quiet for, say, 20 rides in a row and you can prove it because your fellow passengers motioned their approval. If losing your hard-won reputation as a courteous quiet person offsets the short-term gain from using the phone, well, it’s hard to say how many folks would value such a hard-won reputation.

Now, back to the cell phones on flights news. According to Virgin, cell phone service will cost the same as any other international roaming voice call, which can add up fast.  At $1.29 or more per minute, price could be an effective deterrent to anything but the most critical calls for most flyers.

How do you feel about chatter and cell phone use on trains and planes? One more unpleasantry, or just another 55-75 decibels added to the din? Send us your thoughts.