Noise awareness is something we at Acentech take very seriously. As noise and vibration control consultants, acousticians, and technology designers, sound (and noise, which we typically define as ‘unwanted sound’) is the focus of our work. That said, we wanted to help the Center for Hearing and Communication spread awareness of International Noise Awareness Day, which occurs in April every year. INAD’s mission is to raise awareness of the harmful effects of excessive noise on hearing, health, and quality of life. In recognizing Noise Awareness Day they hope to inspire positive action.
I was able to chat with Michael Bahtiarian, an INCE Board Certified Principal Consultant in Acentech’s Noise and Vibration Group, and the current President of the Institute of Noise Control Engineering (INCE-USA) to find out more about noise awareness and typical issues that he deals with on a daily basis.
Q: Mike, let’s start from the beginning. So, what got you interested in the field of noise control?
MB: It all started my senior year at Penn State, back in 1984. I needed one more senior-level class for my bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering. Back then, I wanted to go into robotics. (It’s funny how robotics is very big now, but back in the 1980’s was when it first got popular.) Because it was so popular the class was full, and I needed the credits to graduate. One of the remaining options was a course on acoustics and noise control. I thought, well if I am designing machinery, I should know how to keep it quiet. At the time I was not really thinking about a career in the noise control field.
Q: Noise is a problem in so many areas of life – school, work, home, and healing environments like hospitals. What are a few examples of problematic noise that you have come across during your career?
MB: I spent 25 years of my career working on shipboard noise control. To this day, the loudest places I have worked are engine rooms of any ship: tugboat, research vessel, ferry, or cruise ship. I have measured levels as high as 130 dBA in shipboard engine rooms. It is so loud, that if you were to scream as loud as you can, you would not hear yourself.
Q: What about more recent work?
MB: At Acentech, we are doing more work in the renewable energy sector, like solar and battery storage facilities. These are not as loud as shipboard engine rooms, but they create their own types of sounds. Facilities located near residential areas need to be analyzed, and in some cases mitigation considered.
Q: The INAD website is, in my mind, a good resource for those just starting their noise awareness journey. To quote their mission page: “Why do we care so much about unwanted noise? In the short term, noise causes stress (a well-established fact), and stress is hazardous to our health. In the long term, noise can also cause hearing loss—and hearing loss itself is detrimental to our health and well-being.” What are your thoughts on that?
MB: Like many things related to your health, you do not always realize what you have, until it is lost. Your hearing gives you so many great things: music, laughter from a child, the crack of a bat (but only the Red Sox). Hearing also gives us many warning signs to keep us safe. The 2019 movie “Sound of Metal” gave me an appreciation for what it is like to live without sound.
Q: What are some other noise control/awareness resources that interested readers can look into?
MB: As you noted above, I am the President of INCE-USA, which is the only NGO in the United States devoted exclusively to professionals in the field of noise and vibration control. We have an annual conference, NOISECON (this year in Lexington, Kentucky) where professionals in the field gather and talk about projects, analysis methods, and results. For non-professionals, I really like the work being done at the Noise Pollution Clearinghouse. Another organization dealing with noise control is the Acoustical Society of America (ASA). They have a public facing website with a lot of information.
Q: What about community noise regulation has changed since you started your career? Anything?
MB: More communities have their own municipal noise ordinances than they did 20 years ago. I believe that the best noise regulations are those at the local level, which can then cover specific areas of the town or city, associated zoning, and other local issues. On the other hand, I don’t think the municipal ordinances or state regulations, that were put in-place many years ago, have been updated. All of my colleagues in Massachusetts agonize over the vagueness of the State’s noise regulation. I also just came across a local noise ordinance for a small town in Massachusetts, which used frequency band definitions that have been out of date for at least 60 years.
Q: I remember you chaired an underwater noise symposium a few years ago in London, England. How are things progressing in the ‘quieter ship’ movement, if at all? And if things are not progressing, why?
MB: That area of noise control will be getting a lot of attention in the next 1-2 years. I just finished chairing a second committee that was hosted by Transport Canada, the Government of Canada’s Department of Transportation. This committee’s work was to identify appropriate underwater noise limits for ALL ships that sail into Canadian waters. Similarly, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) a sub-organization of the United Nations has taken up a 1-year review of its guidelines for the reduction of underwater noise from ships. I had the honor and pleasure to be one of the members of the U.S. delegation at those meetings.
Q: Are there new technologies, devices or understandings about noise control that were not available to the general population two decades ago?
MB: Not really! There are lots of new instruments for measurement of both sound and vibration. There is also new software for analysis. Many years ago, active noise control became popular, but it has not become widespread in use because it is still a very difficult technology to apply effectively. However, my colleagues at Acentech (and other firms in the industry) apply our knowledge to unique situations and learn something new every day.
Q: What can average folks (like me) do to improve our work or home environments, should intrusive noise be a problem with concentrating, work or sleep?
MB: One of the golden rules of noise control is to reduce sound at the source. So, if something in your house is making noise, instead of building a better wall, find a way to reduce the sound from the noise-producing element. If that cannot be done, blocking sound between two rooms is best done with mass. I see so many people using sprayed foam, or other lightweight insulation and that will not provide much sound reduction. There are many websites which sell products to home owners like Acoustics First or Acoustical Solutions. If your solution is going to cost more than $2,000 you might want to call an acoustical consultant. Acentech may be able to help, but if we are not available, you can go to the National Council of Acoustical Consultants which has a directory of consultants like us.
Q: So, what are you doing this International Noise Awareness Day, Wednesday April 27, 2022?
MB: I know INCE-USA will post recognition for INAD on LinkedIn. I also see that 27th is also Administrative Professionals Day, so I would like to give a shout-out (low volume of course) to Acentech’s office administrative team including Marketing, IT and Human Resources departments.
Q: Thanks Mike! For our readers, here are some hashtags for more information about the International Noise Awareness day movement: