From New York to New Orleans, noise pollution terrorizes the public


Shhhhhh. Can you hear me? We need to talk again.

A couple of times since I started this blog, I’ve told you about another environmental battle that I’ve been waging in my hometown for a long time — a problem that predates the nefarious doings of BP and the fracking boom from coast to coast. It’s a war against noise pollution — an assault on the ears, just as much as the environmental crimes of Big Oil and Gas can attack our other senses. Here in New Orleans, I’m a supporter of a group called Hear the Music, Stop the Noise which has launched a crusade against loud nuisance bars, especially in the French Quarter. (You can join the Facebook group here.)

You might think that New Orleans — the Big Easy, home to Mardi Gras and the Jazz Festival, Louis Armstrong and Professor Longhair — is a strange place for a campaign against noise pollution. Actually, it’s the perfect place for our cause. The once sweet sounds of muted jazz or the blues filtering out into a hot night on Bourbon Street has been swamped with pulsating, eardrum-busting waves of noise from a handful of thoughtless nuisance bars.  We’re beginning to have some success getting attention from city officials and the police, but there is still, much more work to be done to curb noise pollution in the Crescent City.

But of course, this is hardly a New Orleans-only problem. Not long ago, the New York Times published a revealing article about the problems they’re experiencing in the Big Apple — and why noise pollution is becoming so prevalent in so many large and lively American cities:

Across New York City, in restaurants and bars, but also in stores and gyms, loud noise has become a fact of life in the very places where people have traditionally sought respite from urban stress. The New York Times measured noise levels at 37 restaurants, bars, stores and gyms across the city and found levels that experts said bordered on dangerous at one-third of them.

At the Brooklyn Star in Williamsburg, the volume averaged 94 decibels over an hour and a half — as loud as an electric drill. At the Standard Hotel’s Biergarten in the meatpacking district, where workers can log 10-hour shifts, the noise level averaged 96 decibels. No music was playing: the noise was generated by hundreds of voices bouncing off the metal skeleton of the High Line.

At Beaumarchais, a nightclub-like brasserie on West 13th Street, the music averaged 99 decibels over 20 minutes and reached 102 in its loudest 5 minutes. “It definitely takes a toll,” a waiter said.

The Times’ article does an excellent not just of documenting the problem, but explaining why this is happening now. The thing is, loud throbbing music can be annoying and dangerous, but it can also be addictive to some, and there are too many club owners and merchants who are eager to capitalize on this.

Some research has shown that people drink more when music is loud; one study found that people chewed faster when tempos were sped up. Armed with this knowledge, some bars, retailers and restaurants are finely tuning sound systems, according to audio engineers and restaurant consultants.

“Think about places where they’re trying to get you in and out as quickly as possible,” said John Mayberry, an acoustical engineer in San Marino, Calif., who has railed against what he terms the “weaponization” of audio. “It’s real obvious what their intentions are.”

The article notes that loud music can help some businesses attract a younger clientele who can withstand the aural assault. But it comes at a price. These noise violations are clearly a health risk — not only causing ear damage but even linked to maladies from heart disease to increased stress, headaches and high blood pressure. In addition to unwilling neighbors, some of the most-impacted victims of noise pollutions are workers, who in a difficult economy often risk their occupational health because so few other jobs are available.

The real tragedy is that noise laws are in the books in most places where these violations take place — but officials don’t or in some cases won’t enforce them. That’s why we formed our group of dedicated citizens in New Orleans to fight noise pollution — and I would urge beleaguered residents of New York and other city to join our cause. If you really want to stop noise pollution — and it must stop — we are all going to have to raise our voices a bit.

To keep informed about the battle for balance in New Orleans, visit the “Hear The Music Stop the Noise” website – and sign our petition:

Please visit and “like” our Facebook page:

Check out my Feb. 9 blog post about New Orleans noise pollution at:

To read the New York Times article on noise pollution, please go to:

© Smith Stag, LLC 2012 – All Rights Reserved

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
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