Photo credit: Kampus Production

by Arline L. Bronzaft, Ph.D., Board of Directors, GrowNYC, Co-founder, The Quiet Coalition, and Honorary Chair, Quiet American Skies

This BBC article starts with the complaint of a wife who cannot stand her husband’s snores and how he has tried to cure the problems, but the author, Natalie Lisbona, quickly identifies other disturbing noises, like road and highway sounds and noisy neighbors, that also interfere with sleep. Lisbona writes that “noise pollution can have a detrimental impact on mental health,” and she notes that the European Environmental Agency has estimated that “long term exposure causes 12,000 premature deaths per year across the European Union.”

Thus, what do we do to lessen the noises in our lives? Ear plugs and noise-canceling headphones have been used for years. Now, we learn of a new technology developed by an Israeli business company named Silentium that uses a microphone that can listen to the unwanted sound and with an accompanying speaker can emit “a noise that cancels it out.” The husband’s snoring can be cancelled out by a speaker and sensors attached to the bed’s headboard.

While the noise cancellation employed by this technology has existed in headphones for a number of years, the company claims this new technology can do the job without having “a pair of cans over your ears.” Silenium is working with Jaguar Land Rover on warning sounds that will be heard by people near the vehicle and not by people in the surrounding neighborhood. Brigade Electronics in the UK already has reversing car alarms that are only audible to nearby pedestrians. Brigade Electronics’ spokesperson says that the firm’s speaker releases “short-travelling multi-frequency sounds, rather than ‘painful’ narrowband frequencies” that travel a distance.

Poppy Szkiler, the chief spokesperson for UK-based Quiet Mark, which recognizes products and companies that keep the sound level low, says that there has been a greater awareness that noise needs to be reduced in our environment. Szkiler’s grandfather, John Connell, was the founder of the Noise Abatement Society in 1959, and he pushed Parliament to pass the Noise Abatement Act in 1960 that recognized noise as a pollutant “for the first time.”

Lisbona’s article not only speaks to new technology to reduce noise pollution, but it strongly stresses the harmful effects of noise on our health. It ends by noting that each of us needs a few minutes of silence every day to reset after being inundated with so many sounds.