Photo Source: Wikimedia Commons
The power of sound to cause discomfort and affect people’s behavior became evident, somewhat humorously, in a story last week from Modesto, CA. Recently, as part of a pilot project in the 7-Eleven convenience store franchise, Sukhi Sandhu, a store owner, started playing classical music, including operas, from two speakers in the front of his store near downtown Modesto. The music serves to stop people in a non-confrontational way from loitering and sleeping in front of his business (Modesto Bee) Mr. Sandhu, who owns a number of stores in the area, also experimented with using a buzzing sound like a mosquito in another store but found the classical music more effective in clearing loiterers and panhandlers. People found the music to be disruptive, preventing conversation and hanging out. Sound possesses the enormous power to affect people and animals. In a landmark set of studies conducted in New York, NY in the 1970s, Professor Arline L. Bronzaft, Ph.D. of City University of New York found that the regular sound of an elevated train affected children’s learning ability in school. Bronzaft first compared the reading ability of children in a school that had an elevated train passing by classrooms every four minutes on one side of the building to the children in classes on the other side of the building where they could not hear the trains. She found that by sixth grade, the kids on the quiet side of the building read at a full grade level higher than the kids on the noisy side of the school (Environment and Behavior). Later, working with train engineers and sound technicians, she helped develop quieter rails and had sound dampening tiles installed in the school which led to raising the reading level of the children on the train side of the building to read at the same level as children on the other side of the school. Much research ensued into the effects of sound on physical and psychological wellbeing. In an article published in Environmental Health Perspectives titled, “Decibel Hell: The Effects of Living in a Noisy World,” Ron Chepesiuk cites the effects of noise on raising the risk of hearing loss, cardiovascular disease, and impaired child development.
A new source of noise pollution with potential physical and psychological effects threatens to add another dimension to the noise pollution in cities and towns across the country. Amazon has repeatedly and publicly made their aspirations to develop autonomous drones for product delivery a reality in the near future. They call their delivery system Prime Air. A United States patent filed by Amazon in 2015 describes massive beehive towers that would have ports all over them from which drones carrying deliveries will buzz out over every city in the country. (CNNTech) Dr. Bronzaft describes noise as “any unwanted, uncontrollable, unpredictable sound.” The buzzing sound of unmanned aerial vehicles or drones falls into top ten of most annoying sounds of all. Jennifer Werner in a WebMD article called, “The 10 Most Annoying Sounds and Why They Bother Us,” noted that sounds in the range of 2,000-5,000 Hertz deeply annoys people, and that range happens to be shared by the sound of a buzzing bee. Research at Duke University titled “Small UAV Noise Analysis,” examined that the sound made by drones was at the same range as that as a bee. The authors looked into the disturbing sound of drones because they noticed that when researchers studied African elephants using drones, the animals displayed signs of stress and discomfort. Other researchers had observed a similar effect on bears when examined using drones.
Sound pollution causes physical, developmental, and psychological damage. Sound affects cardiovascular health, impairs learning in children, and stresses animals. The danger posed by stinging bees may be one explanation of why buzzing at 2,000-5,000 Hertz causes so much distress. However, regardless of the reason why buzzing distresses people and animals, the sound should not be added to the already crowded soundscape of our cities and towns with autonomous drones filling our skies and our ears. Now, before Amazon finishes developing their Prime Air drone delivery system, citizens in cities that care about the effects of sound on humans and animals should preemptively work with their towns to establish anti-drone rules to protect people from an unnecessary and burdensome addition of drones to the soundscape of our towns.