I’m not screaming into the void anymore

Photo credit: Ron Lach

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

The headline of a November 18 opinion piece in The New York Times wasI’m a Climate Scientist. I’m Not Screaming Into the Void Anymore.” Climate scientist Kate Marvel, at the environmental nonprofit Project Drawdown, was a lead author on the recently released Fifth National Climate Assessment. She hesitated when asked to help write the report. After four previous assessments and six United Nations reports since 1990, she was skeptical that yet another report was needed. She was reluctant to participate. Nothing anyone did seemed to change the inexorable march towards climate disaster. But she was glad she participated because she found that there had been genuine progress, too.

When I read the headline of Dr. Marvel’s essay, I thought to myself, “I’m not screaming into the void anymore, either.”  Today marks the ninth anniversary of this article about hyperacusis, also in The Times. When I read the article, I circled the headline in red, handed it to my wife, and said to her, “This is why I don’t want to go to restaurants anymore. They are all too noisy, I can’t hear what you’re saying, and the noise hurts my ears.”  At that very moment, at the breakfast table, I decided to become a noise activist, to try to make the world a quieter place.

At first I was alone, but then I met other noise activists. I was nominated and elected to the Board of the American Tinnitus Association in 2015. In 2016, with others I had met on the ATA board and online, we started The Quiet Coalition, a program of the national nonprofit Quiet Communities, Inc.  I learned that the safe noise level wasn’t the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health recommended occupational exposure level of 85 dBA* and that the only evidence-based safe noise exposure level to prevent hearing loss had been calculated to be 70 decibels time-weighted average for a day by the Environmental Protection Agency. I was encouraged to submit an abstract to the Institute for Noise Control Engineering meeting in 2016, and it was accepted. A manuscript based on my presentation was rejected by the American Journal of Public Health, but accepted after revision. One thing followed another, with many failures but a few notable successes.

Last year the American Public Health Association updated its noise policy, retitled Noise as a Public Health Hazard. My new definition of noise is the first sentence of the policy statement. This year, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued its policy statement on noise and children. The Times published an extensive article about the dangers of noise, for which Quiet Communities founder Jamie Banks, PhD, MSc, and I served as experts. And my new definition of noise was adopted by the International Commission on Biological Effects of Noise, enshrined in Article II of ICBEN’s Constitution.

Like Kate Marvel, after nine years of being a noise activist and sometimes wondering if anyone hears me, I don’t feel like I’m screaming into the void anymore.

*A-weighted decibels (dBA) adjust unweighted sound measurements to approximate the frequencies heard in human speech.

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