Arline Bronzaft is a leading expert on noise.
Her research on noise and its impact on the reading scores of New York City school students led to positive changes in the city. From acoustical modifications in the classroom to improvements to the tracks on the New York City subways, Dr. Bronzaft — an environmental psychologist — succeeded in solving noise problems beyond her original area of expertise. She became a sought-after consultant on noise issues.
Featured in publications such as The New York Times, The Atlantic, and The New Yorker, Dr. Bronzaft consults with people and organizations who need help with noise issues. She’s a mayoral appointee on the board of GrowNYC and the author of several books and publications, including co-authoring Why Noise Matters (with John Stewart) and the children’s book Listen to the Raindrops (available through the New York City Department of Environmental Protection). She worked with the city on developing its sound and noise education module.
“We know what to do to lessen the noise around us. But we lack the will — we’re not willing to do it.” – Dr. Arline Bronzaft
In this podcast episode, Dr. Bronzaft shares how she helped to reduce noise in the classroom and raise children’s reading scores. She also outlines some of the history of U.S. noise policy. Her noise-conscious grandson Matt joined in to talk about how plane traffic from nearby LaGuardia airport affects him at home and at school.
Intro: This is episode nine of Soundproofist. Today I’m going to talk with Dr. Arline Bronzaft, a New York City-based researcher, psychologist, educator, noise activist, noise consultant, problem solver and mentor. We’ll learn about some of her activities and her insider knowledge around the politics of noise pollution since the 1970s. And we’ll talk about where we might go from here. In addition, we’ll get some perspective from the next generation. Her grandson, Matt Santoro. Matt has grown up under the flight paths of LaGuardia Airport, and it’s impacted him at home and at school. In this episode, you’ll hear examples of how noise affects everyone: young and old, urban and rural, and every economic group. Though most often those with the least amount of money get affected the most.
Cary: Can you tell us how you got involved originally with noise issues?
Arline Bronzaft: Well, I am an environmental psychologist. And as an environmental psychologist, we’re interested in those variables like light and sound that impact us as human beings. And I was giving a lecture on noise in a classroom when a student of mine said she had to tell me something. And what she told me was that her son was attending class adjacent to an elevated train in the city of New York, in upper Manhattan. And that the train passed the classroom every four, four-and-a-half minutes. And the children could not learn at that time. And the parents of the children in those classrooms adjacent to the elevated train tracks were going to sue the city of New York because they believed that the trains were disrupting their learning. Well as the wife of an attorney, I didn’t think they could sue, because you have to prove damages.
Arline Bronzaft: So I told the mother that the mother would really have to show that the students weren’t doing as well. And that’s when she said, “can you help us?” So I did. I went to the principal of the school. I asked to look at the reading scores of the children that were adjacent to the train tracks and then compared them to children on the quiet side of the building — the other side. Perfect experiment. Same school, same neighborhood, teachers were comparable, same principal. The only difference was the exposure to the train noise or not. And it turned out that by the sixth grade, the children in the classes adjacent to the tracks were nearly a year behind in reading.
Cary: Wow, that’s pretty amazing.
Arline Bronzaft: And that’s significant.
Arline Bronzaft: Oh, the paper was published in peer-reviewed academic journals. But the next question should be: “Did you help the children?” Publishing a paper as an academic does not necessarily lead to results. And the mother asked me to help the children, not to publish a paper.
Arline Bronzaft: And so what I did is I went to the transit authority, found out they had a procedure that would have quieted the tracks, asked them if they would test out that procedure, adjacent to that school. They agreed. The people, the transit authority, the Board of Ed agreed to put acoustical ceilings in the classrooms. People who know New York City wondered how I got these two agencies to go along with this. And I have to thank the parents, the media, the public officials. The study I published got a great deal of attention. And it turned out that after the abatements were in place, I was asked to go back again to do another study. And this time it was quieter in those classes adjacent to the track. And the children on both sides of the building were now reading at the same level.
Cary: Wow. That’s very impressive.
Arline Bronzaft: It was. These are the two landmark studies in the field. What’s good about it is that after these studies, other people did comparable studies with aircraft noise, traffic noise. And guess what? Children really can’t learn in the noisy environment. And I tell people — my daughter was eight at the time — and she said, “Mommy, what are you doing?” When I explained what her mommy was doing, she said, “Mommy, how could children learn in a noisy classroom?” I guess she got it when she was eight.
Cary: She was probably experiencing it herself.
Arline Bronzaft: But the point was that once these studies were done, I got a phone call from a parent whose child was being exposed to aircraft noise. And I said, “Yes, I think it would be comparable, and please use my studies to assist you.” So now it’s years later, the research is in. Noise does impact adversely on children’s cognition, on children’s learning. The teachers find it difficult to teach. And in the United States, the Federal Aviation Administration has spent several hundred million dollars to abate schools near airports. So those two studies, I think, led the way. And there were many schools near airports, and now there’s abatement. And it’s the studies and the research that has led up to the actions that the FAA has taken.
Cary: It’s ironic that now — once you’re out of the classroom and you’re in the workplace — we’re in very noisy workplace environments. So we’ve kind of gone full circle from protecting the learning environment. But now you go to work and you need to focus and you’re sitting in this shared desk environment with many, many other people and people talking on cell phones and everything.
Arline Bronzaft: Oh, the studies have been done on that. Gary Evans, a professor at Cornell University has addressed the issue of noise in the workplace. Yes, you need quiet in the workplace too. You also need quiet when you’re going to sleep and you have neighbors upstairs that are noisy. Or traffic, or you want to just sit and relax in your backyard, and you can’t because of aircraft noise. So there are many sources of noise in our society.
Cary: And some of my concerns now are not just in in those types of environments, but the part that you can’t control at all. Like for example the people going through neighborhoods every day — at least where I live — with leaf blowers, for example. I mean the level of noise there and the lack of control over it is almost as bad as having an airplane flying overhead for 45 minutes.
Arline Bronzaft: There’s an organization, Quiet Communities. And I am in touch with Jamie Banks, who oversees the agency… or the organization, rather. And they are working with cities, and legislation is being introduced for quieter lawn equipment. The thing about noise is that we really can lessen the noise. This is not rocket science. After my studies, the transit authority asked me actually to be a consultant. I was a consultant to the transit authority on noise. I had never taken an engineering course, and yet I was able to assist them in designing a quieter traction motor. We know what to do to lessen the noise around us. It’s, we lack the will, we’re not willing to do it. And I want to add a very important component, and it is one at our country’s concerned about. That’s cost. We’re always worried that if we have to lessen noise, it’s going to be costly. Well, let me ask you, how much would the cost be to remediate children whose learning has been impeded by the noise of the planes or the trains? And we now have studies that show increased risk for cardiovascular disease in people who live near airports. How much will it cost to take care of these people? What about medical costs and education costs? I think it would be far cheaper if we remedied the problem before. And you’ll see that we can make the world quieter and we will save money.
Cary: I think so too. I agree. The question is really: how do you map those costs to legislators? And legislators are representing industries that are often very noisy. And they look at the profit end of things. So how are you going to impress on them that some of these costs are actually being caused by noise?
Arline Bronzaft: Well, in the 70s — when the office of Noise Abatement and Control existed in the Environmental Protection Agency, you could approach government to discuss this. The people who were involved in EPA. And we had two very excellent men who headed EPA, William Ruckelshaus and Russell Train. And they understood that noise could be abated. And what they were about to do at EPA when Ronald Reagan became president is they were going to ask industry to start decreasing the noise by employing techniques that would lead to products that would be quieter. Quieter air conditioners, quieter washing machines, quieter dishwashers. And the program was going to be called “Buy Quiet,” and that sounded terrific. And then Ronald Reagan became president. Because the industries, and this is my hypothesis, said that they’ll get to these things when they wish to. They didn’t want it imposed on them. They didn’t want the government telling them what to do. And essentially defunded the Office of Noise Abatement.
Arline Bronzaft: The interesting thing is the industry did come up with quieter air conditioners, did come up with quieter dishwashers and washing machines, and we’re even talking about quieter cars now. Electric cars. I think the pressure there came from the public. The public demanded this. The public went to their legislators and pushed them to do it. I think they could have been done earlier. I still think the Office of Noise Abatement and Control should be in existence. I think EPA should be functioning in other areas as well. I think in the long run you will find that when you introduce quiet into the environment, the health of the people — we’re talking about mental and physical health — those could be far more costly if they’re impaired than actually producing something that is quieter.
Cary: It’s interesting because there was a lot of emphasis on energy-saver appliances. And I think in some cases the energy-saving aspects of some of these appliances also made them quieter in some cases. Like dishwashers, for example.
Arline Bronzaft: Yes, yes, they go hand in hand. In fact, Eric Lindbergh who is the grandson of Charles Lindbergh, is working on developing a quieter aircraft, but it also will be less polluting and with respect to the air. So you do find the two go together. I would like to see the green world, the people who talk about “green,” the legislators that are focusing on the green world, I’d like them to include noise. I don’t think noise gets included as it should next to air pollution and climate change. They all work hand-in-hand, and you are correct that you will find that when you save energy you also will have probably a quieter product. And the people who are running for office now should be able to include noise pollution as they talk about air pollution and climate change.
Cary: We had this conversation a few weeks ago when I talked to John Stewart and he, you know, the question is really like why are certain environmental groups not engaged in noise issues? And I think part of it is that we have so many large problems to solve that are really urgent, that people are not focusing on noise because it seems like maybe almost a problem for privileged people as opposed to climate change, which affects everyone. But in fact they both affect everyone.
Arline Bronzaft: You know, the wonderful thing about aircraft noise, it’s an equal opportunity offender.
Arline Bronzaft: I’m now doing this interview in Queens, New York. People who listen to this interview, who live in Queens, will understand very clearly when I say that the house in which I’m sitting now is in the path of flights from LaGuardia Airport. I probably could not do this interview outside. Even though my daughter has an enclosed deck to this home, you will still hear the airplanes. And as I’m talking to you, I hear an airplane now. So you will find that when it comes to noise, people are equally being offended by it, whether they live in a wonderful neighborhood on Long Island and New York City. My daughter lived in Cheviot Hills in Los Angeles and she was exposed to aircraft noise. And I wish Donald Trump would listen to this interview, because Donald Trump could not stand the noise of the planes going over his home in Mar a Lago in Florida, and he initiated a lawsuit which he could not resolve.
Arline Bronzaft: So he decided to run for president and now they’re not sending the planes over his home. But here’s a man with wealth, and had this 20-year lawsuit because he couldn’t get them to stop flying planes over his home. So I think you will find when it comes to aircraft noise, people are going to be exposed to it whether they live in poorer homes or in well-to-do homes. Though I do agree that in neighborhoods that are poorer, there are more of the sources of the noise and those people are being impacted in more than just one way in a number of ways.
Cary: In multiple ways. Yeah, I agree. A lot of times the construction of homes in poor areas may not have some of the enhancements that newer or more expensive homes have, such as soundproofing in the walls and construction with staggered studs and the sort of things that people do now. To keep from noise transferring from one apartment to another.
Arline Bronzaft: Agreed. But again, that falls on the landlords. And they did go to the Owens Corning site because I did work with Owens Corning. Owens Corning realized that homes should just not be visually beautiful, but also in terms of sound, they should be comfortable and pleasant. And I think people who are building homes should be aware of this, and the people who are living in their homes, whether they’re built in well-to-do communities or poorer communities. In the long run, we’re all gonna pay. If people are going to be stressed out by noise and this is going to affect their health — their mental and physical health — then we as taxpayers are going to pay for this. Because their medical bills are going to be higher. I think people have to look at what happens when you don’t pay attention to potential noise. The costs will be greater. I focus on cost because I don’t think the transit authority would have asked me to come in as a consultant if I was going to just tell them to spend money. It turns out, that if you have a train and its wheels are not trued and smooth, and you have rail that have problems and the train itself is bouncing on the rail making noise, it’s also putting stress on the entire system. And eventually that system is going to break down. And the transit authority at that time understood that.
Cary: That’s exactly the issue that we’ve had in the Bay Area for awhile with the BART trains, because the tracks were old. There’s only one tube going underneath the San Francisco Bay and the noise is well over a hundred decibels when you’re inside the tube. And so they had to try to do some track maintenance while at the same time not disrupting the commuter schedule. And I don’t think it’s really very successful so far. I’d love to know how you managed to do that.
Arline Bronzaft: If you keep the wheels smooth. Now here’s what I learned. If you keep the wheels smooth, you have to have a procedure in maintenance that checks on when the wheel may in some way show a problem. It may be some dent. If you have rail that’s smooth, you must make sure that the vats that lubricate the rail are filled. I’ve asked the question, “Are your vats filled?” At one point I was told “we don’t know.” My daughter went to Stanford, so I am familiar with the system out there. Maybe you can give me a connection and I could make a phone call and see if what I learned about working with the New York City transit authority can help them in San Francisco.
Cary: Obviously you’ve learned that even though this wasn’t your original path, you learned a lot about the engineering of train tracks. And actually yes, it probably would be a good conversation to have if I could find the right person to connect you to. It is a problem.
Arline Bronzaft: Yeah. When when I wrote a paper on “the way” — we know the way, we don’t have the will, I did one strictly on transit, which I should share with you. Because what I learned when I went to the transit authority of all the ways you could prevent the noise — let me just give an example, which I think is just so simple. The transit authority was going to buy a traction motor with a fan that cooled the motor. Its tips were hitting the housing that enclosed the motor and the fan. And the tips of the fan were hitting the housing, making noise. I simply said, “what if we just cut off a little bit of the tips? The fan will go around and then it won’t make noise.” Plus if the tips are going to hit the structure enclosing the fan and the motor, it’s going to break down faster. So by cutting the tips, you’ll get a quiet, attract your motor, but one that will last longer.
Cary: Absolutely right. Did it work?
Arline Bronzaft: It worked. And they listened to me. I worked with the engineers and I got to learn a lot about what to do in transit to make it quieter. But what I really learned is how much money they could save by a quieter system.
Cary: And this really illustrates how, as an activist — as a noise activist — you can start to solve problems. Which is by learning the details about the engineering of something and then testing whether or not a relatively simple solution can a difference. In this case — in a couple of these cases, actually — that’s exactly what you did.
Arline Bronzaft: Well even though I’m a psychologist, I’m still an academic. And I still believe that you have to do research to demonstrate that noise impacts on people’s health and wellbeing. I find that the researcher has to go the next step. We have to apply this research in a way that helps people. And that’s what I do as an environmental psychologist. I do the research, I’ve done research on the effects of aircraft noise on people’s health and wellbeing. But I also feel that once I’ve completed the data, I would like to join with other researchers and introduce this data to legislators, to the public and the media. The media are very important. And we have to have action. And so it’s not just enough to publish a paper. One has to also go the next step and see that that research benefits the people in our society.
Cary: And that does seem to be the challenge. Where you know, many people have done research on similar topics, but it seems like we have this massive body of research but we still haven’t really necessarily implemented solutions to some of these issues. And some of them have actually gotten worse.
Arline Bronzaft: I agree. That’s why I said “it’s not the way.” I think we know how to do things. I’m going to quote, from an Environmental Protection Agency booklet that came out in 1978. 1978! You hear me? 40 years ago…
Cary: Yeah — 41 years ago.
Arline Bronzaft: They were actually quoting someone who spoke about this earlier. It’s in their book “Noise, a health problem.” The booklet did not say “Is noise a health problem?” The booklet said “Noise, a health problem.” And in that booklet it said, “while we may not have found the connection between every cause and effect, we have not made a link between the cause and the effect. We have enough data to know that we must do something about noise. Not to means we’re subjecting people to suffering.” So we may not have found out everything. I may not know exactly which part of the brain is being affected by this particular noise. Except I know the person is suffering. That’s enough for me. The person is suffering. I don’t know if I had to go back into the laboratory and clearly define what has been aroused in the cerebral hemispheres that have led to that suffering. It’s suffering. Why don’t we do something about it? So while I do appreciate lab work, I am a Columbia University graduate — PhD from Columbia — spent many hours in the lab. But if somebody is saying to me, I can’t deal with this anymore, I just can’t stand it. We have to stop those planes. I think the action should be taken with all due respect to the fact that maybe we can find closer links in the future. But as the EPA booklets said, to not do anything now means we’re allowing people to suffer.
Cary: I agree. And I think it’s not just cardiovascular issues that can be triggered longterm from exposure to noise, but psychological issues. I mean it’s actually a form of torture in a way to not let someone be able to sleep without being disrupted by noise — random noise. And it can have a longterm impact on someone’s psychological health, and that could lead to dangerous acts.
Arline Bronzaft: Noise is stress. I serve, you know, on the Board of Directors of GrowNYC. We run the farmer’s markets in New York City. We run recycling programs, we educate children about the importance of eating healthy. We have gardening programs, and we also have a section on noise. Anyone in the city of New York who has a noise problem can call me about it. And it turns out New York City noise is a major complaint to 311. I wish you could see the emails I get from people, and I wish you could listen to the phone calls I get and the suffering of the other end. And the people crying of how stressful this is. Plus they can’t do their work. I’m dealing with two people now who are artists, and they’re finding it’s impacting on their ability to engage in their art. So you are 100% right — mental stress, which in the future can lead to physiological disorders — means you are not living a decent quality of life. And according to the World Health Organization, concept of health, health is not simply the absence of symptoms. It is the failure to be living a decent good life.
Cary: I had no idea that you were getting all these letters. It seems like it’s almost like you need a column or something. You know, like a way that you could reach more people instead of having to deal with this one on one. Because each person’s problem is probably replicated many, many times across the city.
Arline Bronzaft: But I have to deal with it because very often they could be neighbor noises. The person upstairs will not put carpeting down on the floor. So you have to hear the high heels at 6:30 in the morning. The person is playing her music too loudly. So I do work with complaint by complaint. Then I’ll work with group complaints if it’s dealing aircraft noise. If they are dealing with a potential highway that’s going to be repaired and they would like environmental impact statement to consider noise for repair of that highway. Then I work with groups. So in New York City, if you go to GrowNYC and go to the noise section, it does say if you have a noise concern, you can contact Dr. Bronzaft at GrowNYC, and then they forward the complaint to me.
Cary: That’s terrific. Thanks for that. I think I also have a link to that now on my website as well. Well, let’s get back again for a minute to the Noise Control Act of 1972 and the demise of certain aspects of the EPA. Why do you think that they never moved beyond… you know, there’ve been no updates to the Noise Control Act of 1972. Is it because of Ronald Reagan and everything that happened after that?
Arline Bronzaft: Well, I think the presidents after Ronald Reagan have to take some responsibility. Remember it was Richard Nixon who set up the EPA, who gave us the Noise Control Act, the Clear Air Act. And then we had Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter, and we have to give them credit. Yes? Now we have Ronald Reagan and then we have the Bushes. And we had Clinton, and we had Barack Obama, and now we have Donald Trump. So I think they have to give some responsibility. We do have a group of legislators that are working to try to get some attention paid by the FAA to the noise issue. And they have introduced legislation. We also one time introduced legislation to re-fund ONAC. And I was working with the center for hearing and rehabilitation. But this goes back years ago, and which we wrote to every single legislator asking to have refunding of ONAC. And somewhere in my records I have the names of all the people and they said, “yes, we’ll work on that.” And Nita Lowey, Congresswoman from New York, introduced legislation calling for the re-funding. So efforts were made, but we didn’t have any cooperation from the person in the White House. So it isn’t just Ronald Reagan. We have to talk about the George Bush. We have to talk about Bill Clinton, we have to mention Barack Obama and Donald Trump. There has not been interest from the executive branch in this issue.
Cary: Now there are some municipalities that do have a stronger or more recent noise control acts in their legislation. Whether or not they’re enforced is another issue. Of course, I’ve looked into them, many cities do have a noise control act of some kind, but I’m not sure whether or not it’s really made a difference in citizens’ lives.
Arline Bronzaft: Well, I can speak to New York City because we have the noise code. We’ve updated it. So we have the noise code in the 70s. We updated it 11 years ago. We even recently have updated the construction section. I’m not saying New York code is ideal. Because when it came out — and I did assist in its being developed and written — I had some criticisms. But it is a good start and we care about it. But the other thing New York City has in addition to its code — it has an agency that is devoted to the enforcement. And that’s really what you were addressing. Municipalities may have legislation that covers certain types of noise. Do they have an agency dedicated to the enforcement. Because laws that are not enforced are not worth the paper they’re written on. So New York City has made effort. And we’ve increased the number of agents. So yes, we do have a noisy city, but we also have wonderful sounds in the city. We have the ball dropping on New Year’s Eve and the shouts accompanying that ball. We have the children at the Macy’s day parade. And you want those sounds. I think in New York City, we recognized enforcement. So although the municipalities do have legislation, they have to make sure that they have agents that will be directed to the enforcement of that legislation.
Cary: Good point. And I think anytime that you’re in a very densely populated environment, that’s very important. Because small things can impact someone else much more than they would if you lived in a rural area. And I think without the ability to enforce or do anything about, for example, neighbor noise or construction noise — which impacts a lot of us now because everything’s being built up — you end up with people feeling disempowered and frustrated and nowhere to turn.
Arline Bronzaft: Let me also address the issue of small towns. People talk to me about noise and they think of New York City. And I do serve as an expert witness and I’m going to give you the areas: Wyoming, Montana, Texas. Now you’re going to say to me, Wyoming and Montana? Let me tell you, the small town in Wyoming had a complex of senior citizen homes. So someone is sixty-two years old, buys a home in this senior citizen community and would expect that it would be quiet. And what a wonderful way to have a home that you’ve wanted all these years while you were working. And then you hear a motocross raceway is going to be built next to your home. How are you going to feel about that? And you’re in Montana or you’re in Wyoming. Really?
Cary: Wow. That would be your worst fear, not even one that you expected to have happened to you. It’s almost as bad as the airport.
Arline Bronzaft: Alright, so I can tell you, you can check out the cases because the attorneys I work with were excellent. And the judges understood the impact of noise on people’s health. And they were not built. The raceways, were not. And the court cases I think are cases that people should look at even if they’re living in large urban centers, because the judges seem to understand the impact of noise on people’s wellbeing. And I felt very good about that.
Cary: Well, congratulations. That was great work.
Arline Bronzaft: And great work to the attorneys.
Cary: I just wanted to also mention here, even though I know about these publications already, I’d like all the listeners to know. You’ve written some books, and certainly contributed to different publications. Let’s talk about those books for a minute. So “Why Noise Matters.” You were a coauthor on that book with three other people, or was it four other people?
Arline Bronzaft: Four other people. All British. I was the lone American.
Cary: “Listen to the Raindrops” was a book for children …an Illustrated book for children …
Arline Bronzaft: By Steve Parton. Let me just address that. New York City has gone beyond passing legislation dealing with noise and having an agency, the Department of Environmental Protection, enforcing the code. We also have at the Department of Environmental Protection an education arm. And I worked with them and they’ve developed curriculum for children from first grade through high school, which teaches them about the beauty of the good sounds in our environment and the dangers of noise. So that if you type in “New York City DP sound and noise module,” you will be able to access curriculum to teach children. And that’s where I think we should start, that there are dangers to noise, particularly the loud sounds that can hurt their ears. And then they have to look at the wonderful sounds. And my children’s book, “Listen to the Raindrops,” which deals with the beautiful sounds as well as the noises, is part of that curriculum. And this can be accessed by anyone in the world so that they could start teaching children very early on to protect their hearing and to protect their ears and to recognize as the world becomes too loud, the beautiful sounds of the birds, the wind blowing in the trees and other sounds that are so precious will not be heard.
Cary: Nice. What else would you like to share? Is there anything else you wanted to share with listeners here?
Arline Bronzaft: Well, I, I think you should speak to my grandson, Matthew, and he’s the one that could speak to how noise has affected him in this household. And he can also talk about a school that he attended that was noisy.
Cary: Okay, great. Well let’s talk to him.
Matt: Hi. My name is Matt and I’ve dealt with noise ever since I was playing outside, which was also in kindergarten. And it was a lot of noise from airplanes that would fly from LaGuardia Airport and it always would be very loud. And you know, it went from up and down. So sometimes it would be very loud and it mainly woke me up for the past year. Last year really got bad and it woke me up at around 5:30 in the morning. Which, you know, was kind of, you know, not so pleasant to be woken up to.
Cary: Does it go on all night?
Matt: It’s not all night. It does happen sometimes at night, but it’s not typically at night. Mainly I notice it in the morning and outside.
Cary: Do you try wearing earplugs or anything, or does — maybe even the earplugs don’t help?
Matt: I never tried wearing earplugs, you know, it’s just a very annoying sound.
Cary: And disruptive. It’s very disruptive. And I’m sure you’re also much more aware of noise in general just because of your grandmother, right? And her work.
Matt: Yeah. Especially at school with the trains … before. But this is now, it’s not trains. In my past school it was actually planes. And it was especially bad on one side of the class and you know, it was already harder to learn in that class ’cause it was a language class. But planes did not help at all.
Cary: Certainly trying to speak another language when there’s any kind of background noise is very, very difficult when you’re in a learning process. And I think with planes flying overhead, considering how many planes are probably flying over New York every day. How many minutes apart do you think they are?
Matt: I’d say from the times that I actually counted around like um, there was one every two to three minutes.
Cary: That is a lot. That is really a lot. And they’re all probably fairly low this point, circling over New York as they leave the airport.
Matt: Yeah, they are, you know. They’re during take off and they are using a high amount of power and it’s mainly just a few, like just a tiny piece of land that gets affected. Then it goes over water, but that piece of land is so close to the airport where it gets extremely loud.
Cary: Did your other classmates also used to talk about this and complain about it?
Matt: Oh, well if I ever brought it up to them and I said, “Oh my gosh, these planes are annoying,” then they would comment on it, but they wouldn’t bring it up themselves.
Cary: I know also that you’re technically oriented. Do you ever consider going into a field that would be dealing with engineering or acoustics or anything that would involve noise abatement in the future? Has that influenced you at all?
Matt: Partially at some point, but that’s never been like a go-to job. But I’d always be interested in engineering and trying to, you know, stop noise and stuff. Because I also am interested in aircrafts and stuff. And I’d like to fly an airplane one day, but you know, the noise would kind of get on my nerves, and it would be annoying to also be saying, “Oh, I could be bothering people while I’m flying this plane.” So I’d like to try to do something to make an engine quieter or something that would like at least make it a bit quieter… but not silent. That would be nice though.
Cary: Yeah, it would be. I’m sure it’s possible. Hopefully someday we will not have some of these issues in the classroom or disrupting people’s sleep in the same way that we have right now. Do you think that there’s enough awareness of people in your generation about how noise impacts their health in general?
Matt: I actually don’t think that people are that aware about the noise. There are many people that are, but I wouldn’t say that there a lot of people from my knowledge.
Cary: And why do you think that is? Is it just not discussed, or is it that maybe people like to turn up their music players and maybe it might seem like it’s no fun to talk about noise. Do you know?
Matt: Yeah. Possibly that. So when I’m in class and people are trying to wear their headphones during the class, they’re actually listening to the music so loud where I can hear them even though they’re in headphones. And those are just the small in-ear headphones, they’re not like the ones that you wear over your head. And I don’t think they know that what they’re doing could, you know, cause hearing loss, a lot of people are not talking about it. In my experience, especially with the planes.
Matt: Because I still have friends that were in seventh grade when I was in eighth grade, and they have probably that same room. And you know, it’s sad just knowing that they could be learning about something but they can’t because of the planes that are going over.
Cary: And it’s just another example of how you can’t really multitask. You know, you can’t really process two different things at once. So your attention may be focused more on the plane, but maybe they don’t even realize it, that they’re focused on the plane and not on the classroom for at least a few seconds.
Matt: Yeah. That actually, you know, kind of happened to me and I’m like, why am I listening to the planes? I should be listening to the teacher, listening to the lesson.
Cary: Okay. Well thank you. I really appreciate it.
Arline Bronzaft: Cary — it’s true. He’s my grandson, but he’s complained about the noise on his own. And when he calls me, in fact he’s one of the people who complains to me. But that’s why this sound and noise module, this educational program for students I think is very important. I think students do not realize that by listening to that loud music, they will probably be losing their hearing a lot earlier than they would if they were not listening to the loud music.
Cary: But I do think that going forward I think we need to also focus on particular issues. And as you’ve shown, as well as doing the research, focus on solutions and focus on money saved by actually implementing those solutions.
Arline Bronzaft: 100%. I like to move forward. That’s why I say educate young people — key. Let them know about the potential dangers and engage them in efforts to lessen the noise. Also, youngsters come home and talk to their parents about what they’ve learned in school. So I would like to think that these young people are maybe educating their parents. I think that I leave, that we have enough research that we can demonstrate to our legislators, our public officials, that we need to do something about noise. And yes, I do link it to savings because our country seems to care about money. And I think in the long run, if we work on noise pollution and lessen it, we will not only have a healthier society, a happier society, but it will also be less costly.
Cary: I agree. Well, thank you so much.
Arline Bronzaft: And let me thank you. Because it’s you doing this that will promote the idea that we need a quieter society. We didn’t speak as much on quiet. Quiet is very important, but let people know what we’re doing and you’re helping in that. Thank you.
Cary: I’d like to thank Arline Bronzaft and Matt Santoro for joining me in this episode of Soundproofist. And if you’d like to reach out to Dr. Bronzaft, you can reach her through the Grow New York City website. I’ll put the link in the Soundproofist blog notes at Soundproofist.com. Thanks for listening and I hope this episode inspires you to get out there and make a difference.