Industrial Noise and Fumes, & their Effects on Health

Susan Cooke

This is an updated and clarified post and reminder of how we’re affected by industrial noise, how we can help others by limiting the noise we make, and how we can begin to persuade government and business to help us find more quiet in our daily lives in the city, including quiet in the few bits of nature we can find there. Research increasingly shows we’re starved for time in nature without industrial noise, and that loud noise in general is decreasing wellbeing and adding to illness.

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Do you ever find that there’s no place near home where you can experience even a few minutes of quiet time in some green space like a garden or park, or even your own yard, porch, or balcony (emphasis on the word quiet)? How many times can you go outside or just open your windows on a lovely day without hearing leaf-blowers, giant lawnmowers, diesel trucks, jets overhead, or construction equipment? Do you go into your garden if you have one, to take a moment to smell the roses or some other flowers you planted, or just to hear the breeze rustling the leaves, and get a lungful of nearby leaf-blower or diesel exhaust along with an earful of roaring noise? Do you get blasted with loud sound systems or TVs in every eatery or store you enter? Do you ever say “enough” to the ever-increasing noise assaults of all kinds? Did you know that besides the stress you feel, and even if you don’t feel it as much as many others do, that so much exposure to all these loud sound assaults, and in the case of engines, their exhaust, is harmful to your health?  

In my town, a small city next to Boston, you can take what you might hope will be a quiet walk as late as 6 or 7 pm and still be forced to hear or inhale, on street after street, noise and fumes from leaf-blowers, giant lawnmowers, weed-whackers, power saws, sanders, stone-cutting equipment, and more. When you add this to the many loud and smelly (and unhealthy for you and the planet) oil trucks, huge UPS trucks, and souped-up motorcycles, you can see you’re living in a chronically toxic atmosphere humans were never exposed to for most of their existence but now experience constantly. 

Our nervous systems haven’t changed much and they don’t react well to this onslaught. While many Americans suffer from hearing such noises most of the day and into the evening, these practices at these hours are illegal in many cities in the world. Noise laws are generally lax in the U.S. In my town and from my research, in many others, the loose laws are clearly designed to make landscape and construction businesses happy, along with a few residents on every street who are in love with their own private stash of power equipment, all of whom are seemingly unable to consider how anyone else may be very stressed by the noise and fumes or even by the effects on their own health.

There is similar lack of empathy in legions of restaurant and store owners who now regularly torture many of their customers (and employees) with sound often loud enough to damage hearing, cause headaches, and raise blood pressure for hours after the exposure. I’ve noticed that the sound systems tend to become louder every year, unless many people request that the volume be turned down (and mostly that doesn’t happen because often such requests are met with surprising hostility). I and many people I’ve interviewed are finding we’re more and more uncomfortable everywhere we go. Lately the music has moved from fairly annoying to sounding like World War III in some of these places, starting as early as 6:30 in the morning when customers’ eyes are barely open. My own experience has convinced me that torture by noise (yes, noise has been used to torture) must be quite effective.

In many American cities, attempts by residents to ease their noise burden are met with passivity, stubborn resistance, or even rage. Heads in the sand, oblivious to the pleas by suffering residents, many city, state, and national leaders put noise on the bottom of their priority lists. This is hard to understand when healthcare costs are so high and the effects on health of noise and fumes are so egregious. In my town loud noise is allowed 7 am to 7 pm on weekdays, and is hardly better on weekends (including Sundays)—8 am to 7 pm.

This kind of schedule would astound people in some other countries whose governments are sensitive to this problem. In Germany, making others suffer with your noise is understood to be rude and to cause stress. As you’ll see below, German cities and some other European ones such as Stockholm are some of the quietest in the world. There is more awareness of the bad health effects of noise in European countries today than in most others worldwide. American cities temporarily became concerned around the 1970’s, but despite more noise than ever now, they’re now less willing to take action than in the 70’s. (But the good news is there’s evidence that’s slowly changing.) To read more about these noise issues, see the wonderfully comprehensive article in Wikipedia at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Noise_regulation . 

The top five quietest cities in the world are all in Europe: Zurich, Vienna, Oslo, Munich, and Stockholm, according to the World Economic Forum. In addition to Munich, three other German cities are in the quietest top 10: Dusseldorf, Hamburg, and Cologne. The criteria used included measuring the sound of music and TVs in restaurants and shops along with all the aforementioned types of industrial noise. The site says the world’s noisiest city is Delhi, followed by Cairo, Mumbai, Istanbul, and Beijing. The only US city among the quietest on this particular list is Portland (the list doesn’t say whether that’s the one in Oregon or Maine but I’m assuming Oregon). Some of the U.S. cities In the moderate range are New York, Houston, Detroit, Chicago, Birmingham, and San Francisco. I think New York may have managed to get a moderate position partly because of Central Park, and Battery Park City, a planned community that’s so uniquely separate from the city that you can be close in, yet experience quiet and lots of nature in that park and along the water. To see the chart of noisiest and quietest cities go to ttps://www.weforum.org/agenda/2017/03/these-are-the-cities-with-the-worst-noise-pollution/

For a more personal viewpoint of one woman who traveled to a number of US cities in search of quiet places to take a vacation, blogger Jessie of Jessie on a Journey lists as the quietest of those she visited Durham, NC, Cape Cod, MA (not actually a city ), Hartford, CT, Santa Fe, New Mexico, and Des Moines, Iowa. She lists the loudest as New York, Detroit, San Francisco, Miami, and Chicago. (See Jessie on a Journey at (https://jessieonajourney.com/usa-quiet-and-loud-cities/.)

In any case it’s likely that If you do live in a U.S. city of any size you often suffer from unwanted, disturbing noise. Noise complaints and new organizations formed to fight noise are common in many U.S cities now. It’s sad and in fact I believe unethical that citizens have to fight so hard for what it seems should be their right not to be assaulted by others’ health-damaging noise, especially since, as you’ll see in my next noise post, so much of it is unnecessary.

So what’s the noise really doing to us? At the web site The Network for Public Health Law, you can see a litany of different types of noise complaints from around the country. The first sentence in its intro is telling: “Community noise can be detrimental to public health. Adverse health effects include cardiovascular problems and learning deficits. Studies indicate the incidence of heart disease increases as community noise levels rise above 40 decibels (db).” And, “Noise is the subject of tens of thousands of complaints to government and citizens, who often cite noise as a significant quality of life issue.” I found it intriguing to learn on the site that noise complaints have been with us for centuries. In sixth century BC a Greek council created a sort of zoning ordinance that required noisy tradesmen to do all their work outside of city walls. Sounds good to me. For more go to https://www.networkforphl.org/_asset/3rvh8q/5-23-13Survey_of_noise_activity_4.pdf . 

Besides the physical effects mentioned above, noise is having significant effects on mental health. Many people  feel isolated and even lonely now (who did not before) because they simply can’t go into most stores or restaurants or even coffee shops they used to enjoy. This is also happening to many UK citizens who can no longer go to the pubs that used to be their main venue for socializing. This is bad news since loneliness is such a problem there that there’s now a Minister of Loneliness. It’s a growing problem here too, but I’ll save that for another post. I’ve met others who feel hopeless about escaping noise, and then depressed (hopelessness often leads to depression). They see they have little control over their quality of life, since it’s scary and often useless to ask for noise relief and it’s lonely when you’re shut out of places you used to enjoy and that helped you get out into the world. Humans are social creatures and unwanted isolation is known by researchers to be extremely bad for mental and ultimately physical health.

So people now often find not only do they miss coffee shops where they used to see and meet many other people, but they no longer can find any peaceful place to have even a few minutes outside their own homes in nature, maybe just to sit on their own balconies or front steps. This is rarely possible from morning till night in more and more places. This is happening to people regardless of sex (noise is not just a “woman’s thing”, ethnicity, or occupation.

Such hopelessness was plain to see in my former neighbor, a U.S. Air Force jet fighter pilot who has flown missions in Afghanistan, and was working on a graduate degree when he was back in the states. He very much wanted and needed to have dinner at 5 or 6 with his young family on the balcony overlooking their small yard after grueling days at grad school. Yet this hero hardly ever could have this modest enough pleasure because of the chronic presence, even at that time of day, of the many yard work teams (often hired by absent landlords who don’t have to hear the noise) that descended on the neighborhood (and still do) almost every day because of our town’s cruelly lax noise laws. He would get depressed about this, and told me he felt hopeless because in the past his requests for relief were ignored. He and his family had lived in Germany for awhile and he said it was quieter there. He deserved better. He lives in another city now, and I hope for him and his family that it’s a quieter one.

To make matters worse, researchers say we desperately need more nature in our lives in order to thrive, yet most of us barely get a whiff of it compared to early humans who lived close to nature much of the time. Right now most nature we can find in the city and increasingly anywhere doesn’t promote wellbeing as it used to because it’s so often accompanied by industrial noise and fumes, loud car radios, and even loud people who shout at each other (when they used to just talk) and who shout on their phones on their porch or steps, ruining your own badly needed quiet time on your porch or steps. (Other writers have noted, as you may have, that Americans, at least lately, are just plain loud.) 

A typical event could go something like this: you do go outside for a few quite minutes (you hope) in nature if, say you have a garden or a nice yard with a few trees, and the neighbor drags out his leaf-blower. What can you do? Risk an enraged or even threatening response (this happened to my husband) or go back inside and shut all the windows.  I’m delighted to report that occasionally someone, such as another of our neighbors, tells us he had no idea the blower bothered people. He was kind and turned it off, for awhile anyway. But sadly, this response is rare.  

Let’s face facts. Researchers say we need relief from noise and we need more nature in order to thrive, yet in American cities today both are extremely hard to come by. Noise comes from all directions at increasing numbers of hours, noise that includes, besides construction, lawn equipment, and retail noise (noise inside stores and restaurants, who also sometimes blast it onto the streets), more and more jets and helicopters over our homes day and night, loud (and polluting) diesel trucks, and “modified” vehicles made artificially loud (illegal in many states but apparently hard to enforce).

A motorcycle and also one of the cars in my neighborhood both sound like the apocalypse when they go down our street. This problem too is common in many U.S. neighborhoods despite laws against it, laws that appear not to be very effective in many cases). In New Jersey alone in 2017, over 2800 summons had been issued for super-noisy vehicles just from January through September. For more, go to https://www.nj.com/traffic/index.ssf/2017/09/do_cops_actually_write_tickets_for_loud_exhaust_systems_we_checked.html .

Loud Noise is often Accompanied by Health Hazards

Besides leaf-blowers’ terrible noise, we see in a report sent by investigators to the Lincoln, MA Board of Health an array of scary components of their exhaust that anyone close to users will be breathing in, and that get into the soil and water. The report says these include the volatile organic compounds benzene, 1,3 butadiene, acetaldehyde, and formaldehyde—all of which are labeled as HAPs or “Hazardous air pollutants,” that “can cause or may cause cancer and other serious health effects.” Then there are nitrogen oxide, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, hydrogen carbon, and particulate matter, labeled by the report as carcinogenic and/or ozone-causing. The particulate matter is composed of a mix of acids, organic chemicals, metals, soil, and dust.

The report compares the effects on the environment of a Ford Raptor Truck’s and a leaf-blower’s hydrocarbon emissions: 30 minutes of running a leaf-blower with a 2-stroke engine equals a 3,900 mile drive in a Raptor. Comparing for non-methane hydrocarbons, the leaf-blower generates 23 times the carbon monoxide and about 300 times more hydrocarbons than the Raptor. The leaf-blower’s particulate matter alone can include animal fecal matter, herbicides, pesticides, fertilizers, allergens such as fungal spores and pollen, diesel soot, brake dust, rubber tire particles, and toxic metals such as arsenic, chromium, lead, and mercury.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is what you’ll be breathing today as you tend your garden next to the yard using the lawn care team. Or, if you just walk by with your dog or your children, who breathe it too. It’s even harder on their ears and lungs than yours. The fumes and particles also hang out in the air for awhile, then settle into dust and any water that’s around. I’ve even seen workers blow dust and leaves or just plain dust from the yard they’re working on into the next yard (where children may play) or on the sidewalk where people walk with kids and dogs. In Harvard Square I recently saw over a period of several days that one worker regularly blew both dust and litter into water drains leading to Boston’s beloved Charles River (yes that’s illegal here). 

How you can Help Yourself & Others

Here’s more technical information you might want to add to the above Lincoln, MA report in order to understand and explain to your town council and local businesses the harmful effects of loud noise and of gas-powered equipment’s noise and fumes. Among comments on the pollution from yard equipment and other smaller gas-powered machinery from California Air Resources Board’s “Small Engine Fact Sheet” is yet another comparison of environmental effects of driving a vehicle with using this machinery, in this case both a lawnmower and a leaf-blower:

“Today, operating the best-selling commercial lawn mower for one hour emits as much smog-forming pollution as driving the best-selling 2017 passenger car, a Toyota Camry, about 300 miles – approximately the distance from Los Angeles to Las Vegas. For the best-selling commercial leaf blower, one hour of operation emits smog-forming pollution comparable to driving a 2017 Toyota Camry about 1100 miles, or approximately the distance from Los Angeles to Denver.” (The Seattle Globalist, at http://www.seattleglobalist.com/2017/09/25/leaf-blowers-flagged-as-polluters-possible-health-threat/68802).

California has done better than many states in combatting noise or at least attempting to, with a number of cities there having completely banned gas-powered leaf-blowers. The Globalist writers say it still struggles against resistant tool companies (such as the big producer of gas-powered machinery Briggs & Stratton) in the state’s fight to protect workers and everyone else from the devastation to health and environment caused by this machinery. Yard workers themselves have complained of headaches, nausea, effects of hours of loud noise exposure that the CDC says will cause hearing loss without ear protection (and most don’t wear protection), and other health problems.

Despite the use of millions of these machines, there’s been relatively little testing, but even “improved” versions of them “still emit toxic contaminants such as carcinogenic benzene as well as surprisingly large amounts of other smog-forming chemicals.” Did you read that right? We’re talking about cancer-causing chemicals in the air here.

Highlighting the immediate medical dangers to us all, Jo Kay Ghosh, epidemiologist and health effects officer for the South Coast AirQuality Management District, a pollution control agency covering much of southern California (where there’s plenty of smog) says in the article “the smaller the particle, the deeper it can be inhaled into the lungs, and the more potential it has then to cause health problems” such as lung cancer, heart disease, asthma, and other respiratory ailments. She adds that ultra fine particles can even pass through cell membranes and slip into the bloodstream.

The writers say unpublished preliminary research by California regulators (to be followed with a more formal study) suggests that the equipment operators were exposed to at least 10 times more ultra fine particles than if they were standing beside a busy roadway. (They also mention a worker who suffered from migraines every day until he switched to a job where electric rather than gas-powered equipment was used.)

I recommend the Globalist article to help you understand and/or communicate the full impact of what these machines are doing to all of us, our pets, our kids, wildlife, and the planet. And yet the writers don’t have space to even begin to cover all the other gas-powered machines affecting our psyches and health besides gas-powered yard equipment, such as those in many gas-powered vehicles.

While many of us may have expected that gas-powered vehicles would have become illegal by now due to the obvious climate crisis we’re experiencing, not only has that not occurred, but there are in fact more and more of them including diesel engines (with their own uniquely dangerous exhaust) on our residential streets.  At least California is working hard to battle all small gas-powered motors including chain saws and other construction equipment that drive a lot of us crazy on residential streets. Later, after I’ve done more research, I hope to list some companies making cleaner, quieter equipment. I know they’re out there because there’s now a successful yard work company near me in Concord, MA using all-electric equipment.

Meanwhile I’ll be posting more on the effects on us of industrial noise and fumes, on extremely damaging-to-health sound systems in almost all retail stores and restaurants, and what we can do about these problems that add so much suffering to already-stressed Americans’ lives. These solutions include a number of quieter, cleaner-running machines you can find online right now.

Stressed Americans not so Happy

Susan Cooke

Why aren’t we Americans higher on lists of countries in which people are the happiest and healthiest? This is in essence what much of my book is about, but let’s just look at a few things for now.

One problem common to many of us is cascading stress and worry that can begin at any time, but often occurs because we haven’t slept enough. Among other bad things this does to us it usually means we’re late for work which just adds to the stress load. Stress and worry often are the reasons why we couldn’t sleep, so if they’re still bothering us on the way to work, we add even more to our stress load.

Maybe we were worrying because we felt we had to finish something for work that seemed an emergency so we didn’t  go to bed near on time. Or we went to bed but woke up at 2 am worrying about the work or the job itself, or about how to get a less stressful job that might pay less but would at least pay the bills (but what would people say?) or worried about our kid(s), spouse, friend, or a conflict we had with someone. Or we might be in physical pain and the pain keeps us up but we don’t want to take too many painkillers, or we desperately need a vacation or some kind of downtime and how can we possibly get it or afford to go much of anywhere even if we do get it, or how can we get the neighbors to stop using leaf-blowers so much so we can enjoy our own yard more and not be so constantly desperate to get away to someplace quiet, etc.

Once we’ve made it to work we have to hurry to get in gear and produce even though we’re tired from so little sleep. We have to be sure not to snap at someone just because we’re worried and exhausted.  We wish we had a job that didn’t take so much out of us or a boss who believed in a less arduous schedule, but who has time to find one and would our commute be even worse than it is now?

For many of us in our country, this is daily life. It probably is similar in other countries in which people live our lifestyle or try to. Many of these issues feel even worse in our chaotic, loud, crazy cities than they might in more rural areas, though those not in cities go through a lot of this too.

One thing my research has revealed to me is that it’s much harder to slow this whole process of living at high speed and often near-panic when many people around us are living at the same pace. Yet if we don’t slow down our levels of stress hormones such as cortisol are likely to remain high, making a slew of illnesses more possible for us due to the inflammation caused by stress. (You probably know this already, but inflammation seems to be the source of many of our illnesses.)

I write a great deal about the staggering effects of stress on people, and I find that Americans seem to have a unique brand of stressful lifestyle and approach to life that’s extra tricky and tough to battle. Not that we all willingly choose to live this way. Many of us are simply infused with a work ethic that seems oriented toward acquiring fame or power or at least being near the top of the competition most of the time (in addition to more money, that while up to a certain number of dollars is helpful, may in fact be unnecessary in larger amounts for us to be happy. Yet we’re not necessarily aware, or maybe we forget sometimes, of how trapped in this vortex we can become. We’re too busy just trying to get through it all.

The need for fame or wealth beyond what’s practical or pretty okay may come partly from a completely understandable craving to matter in this world, to be known as someone who walked this earth and made something happen that was good or useful. But there are many ways to be good and useful without shortening our lives from stress in the process. It helps to accept that not every one of us can be high-profile. Certainly most of us can’t be super-wealthy. So if we turn out to be one of the majority who are not going to be famous or wealthy, we can reduce our stress and our constant speeding through life to get wherever we’re trying so hard to go by accepting that and getting on with the business of living a meaningful life that makes us and a few others happy. I absolutely believe this is possible, though it would help us all if we got a little support from government and businesses. They can help by learning about what helps people become happy and healthy, and a big part of what I try to do is show them the research on this. It can help them help us to thrive.

Here are not all, but a few things, most suggested by research, that can help us and help our leaders help us:

Access to nature close to home most days (without industrial noise)–so more quiet local parks and gardens not filled with traffic noise and fumes

Access to safe places to move and exercise outside in bright light, away from traffic & other industrial noise & fumes

Access to many easy places to meet and socialize with those living near us, places such as coffee shops and cafes, ideally including outdoor seating, and ideally away from traffic, near home so we can walk to them

Noise and fume laws that are well enforced, so that wellbeing doesn’t continue to plummet due to bullying by thousands of leaf-blowers and other loud, unhealthy lawn equipment (leaf-blower fumes especially are truly dangerous to our health due to their particulates highly suspected to cause cancer, and leaf-blower noise is extremely bad for mental health, causing misery for millions around the world)

Access to abundant healthy organic plant food for all in even the poorest neighborhoods, through stores, farmers’ markets, and community gardens

Highest quality efficient transportation services so we can get where we need to go without added cascades of stress hormones

Higher minimum wage, and more time off for everyone; Americans are absurdly and dangerously overworked, and many are absurdly and dangerously underpaid. These are both recipes for extreme stress and shortened lives.

Homes for every single person. There are many exciting and innovative ways to do this. It can be done and we must do it. No more homelessness is necessary.  Look at Los Angeles for starters.

Drastic reduction of firearms across the country. The U.S. gun prevalence is absurd, barbaric, cruel, and beneath the dignity of a supposedly advanced country considered (at one time) to lead the world

Good health care for everyone including the homeless (who we’re going to house ASAP, right?)

Tax breaks and other aids and incentives for everyone to have a garden, large or tiny

Education (especially for the President and EPA) and directions for all in taking immediate steps to stop pollution and global warming, using gardens, green roofs, conservation in general, solar panels in more places (with more help in paying for them), more parks, more trees (again more nature also does wonders for our wellbeing, too, but it must be away from industrial noise and fumes to work the most magic, and we need to drastically reduce all such fumes to help global warming anyway)

Kindness and respect for others’ desperate need for quiet and nature. Caring for others’ peace of mind–why they need some quiet–includes such thoughtful acts as not turning on speaker phones or shouting into phones so everyone in the cafe or park must listen to only that person and is forced by them to stop their own conversation, reading, or thinking. In other words not invading each others’ sound space which we do throughout our current society indoors and out to a degree that everyone’s stress hormones must surely be at way above normal levels most of the day. We cannot close our ears the way we close our eyes, and most of us can’t carry around noise-cancelling headphones, nor should we feel forced to wear them just to keep our own stress levels down. Public service announcements would help a lot with this problem since so many people seem unaware of the damage they’re doing to fellow citizens.

I’ll write more on noise later–it’s a huge problem–but it helps to make sure our government leaders know the World Health Organization (WHO) considers loud industrial noise to be so damaging that it calls it a worldwide health emergency.

 

Kind Acts that Reduce Stress

Susan Cooke

We don’t often think about these things, but if we all practice them, daily life, especially in cities, will feel so much less stressful, and will actually be healthier. The most benefit comes from all people practicing these kindnesses, not just a few people. But if you’re the first, that’s still a good start. We can help if we:

1. Use as few loud pieces of machinery as possible, both indoors (when windows are open) and outdoors

2. Use electric or battery-powered outdoor equipment–the quietest we can afford–to not only lower noise levels but also stop adding to pollution. Gas-powered leaf-blowers especially are now known to emit particulates highly suspected of causing cancer, endangering anyone (or any animals) who breathe near them, and adding them to soil and groundwater

3. Try not to slam car doors (or house doors), especially at night. Kids, moms, and many other people must sleep in the daytime too so quieter door-closing all the time is helpful.

4. Play music at home softly when windows are open, especially in the city where homes are so close. In an apartment that doesn’t have soundproof walls the same thing applies–we invade others’ rest space or their own sound space when we blast music. Of course they ideally will do the same for us.

5. Play music in the car softly if parked and waiting for someone, on residential streets, or even at a stoplight. Other people want to hear their own music or at least not to be assaulted by our music which they might not like, or they might have a headache, etc. Again we invade their space if we blast the car radio. We all need to help each other with noise issues, because we can’t close our ears the way we close our eyes.

6.  If we own or manage a business we can help many people by playing music more softly than is currently common. Unless a place is known to be a loud nightclub, many customers don’t want to be blasted with loud music. Many who want coffee or a meal or to shop don’t want to be hit over the head with a sound system, especially if they don’t even like the music (and businesses can’t possibly know which music everyone likes). Some people do enjoy loud music in a store or restaurant, but it’s likely they’d suffer less without it than those who can’t take the loud sound suffer when they can’t get it turned down. It’s especially stressful when they want very much to be in a place such as a cafe because they live alone and want to be around people for awhile even if they’re reading or writing at their own table (more people are now living alone). If they have to stay in some places awhile such as a doctor’s office it ‘s tough too, especially since some now even have TV which drives a lot of people nuts since they get plenty of that at home already. People sensitive to loud sound often tell me they’re afraid to ask that it be turned down since they’re often ridiculed or scowled at. They say they just don’t return to those places (so the places lose what might have become a longtime customer). But they miss going to many places they used to love now, all because of loud music, and in many cities this is making people lonelier and more isolated. This is happening in the UK in many pubs as well.

Often the “upbeat mood” managers want from loud music is made by customers on their own, no music required. Some managers are told by marketers that loud and fast music brings in more money, but how can they know for sure since people whose nervous systems can’t take it (an estimated 20% of the population) can never come in? Sometimes it’s staff that wants the music loud, but even if the customer isn’t always right anymore, you’d think she could have a say once in a while. (However, I understand that staff often find the music too loud too. Waiters in two different places told me the boss would fire them if they ever asked again that volume be lowered for a customer!) I read one article that said marketers tell owners we chew faster when the music is fast. Maybe so, but I say to both restaurant owners and marketers, the notion of secretly trying to make us chew faster for more profit is just…Ew, creepy.

Some people try to use headphones to block loud music, but that’s isolating too if you like to go to a coffee shop to be around people. This new cause of even more isolation contributes to depression and isn’t good for building the sense of community that’s so healthy for humans. So loud sound systems are contributing not only to more stress and early hearing loss (especially in employees), but also more isolation and depression.

7.  We might think more about outdoor grilling if we do it often. A lot of people do, adding a large volume of pollutants to the air, contributing to global warming, and making it hard for nearby neighbors with asthma, lung or heart disease or smoke allergy to be outside in their own space. We can try to find cleaner ways of grilling or at least do some of it without smoke, indoors or out, so on a lovely day neighbors too can be in their own yards (or on their own decks or balconies) without suffering. We can ask neighbors if smoke bothers them–they’ll appreciate it and be kinder to us about other matters later. The best part of an outdoor party is the people gathering to meet and eat, isn’t it? (You probably know this already but grilled foods contribute to cancer, and meat today is quite unhealthy too due to toxins, even in pasture-raised and organic meat.)

8. We can think more about our fireplaces. We might consider some other way of heating that’s cleaner and smokeless. Sadly, it’s now known wood-burning fireplaces are really bad for us (see https://www.wsj.com/articles/one-fire-please-hold-the-soot-1449170833), and people with asthma won’t be able to visit for long even if they too love the idea of a fireplace. They’ll start coughing and their eyes may begin to sting, Many people won’t be able to take walks in neighborhoods where most houses use fireplaces (I only have mild asthma but can begin coughing within seconds of walking by a couple of houses burning wood, even though I love the smell!) You’ll again help decrease global warming if you use a different method, You might try to substitute for some of the lost coziness by simmering apples, orange peels, cloves, cinnamon, etc. on the stove, and there are other good fireplace choices, some on the site of the link I just placed above.

9. Driving kindness:  we help others a great deal if we use signals, pass politely, don’t drive on others’ bumpers (and start out earlier so we don’t have to speed), don’t run red lights just because we can get away with it (my friend was killed by such a driver), are kind to cyclists and pedestrians and expect them to make mistakes and unexpected moves at times, and remember that many drivers are new–we all have to start sometime!–and they can’t handle our unexpected or un-signaled moves, or our talking on the phone and not paying attention.. Pushing lost or new drivers will just frighten them and make an accident more likely. It’s good to assume most people on the road aren’t paying enough attention. When driving where people live we can be extra careful not to speed, especially up and down hills and in bigger vehicles since this is very noisy and stresses people and pets–especially at night. Finally, it’s better if we can control our outrage when something stupid or rude happens. Rage tends to make most people feel worse afterwards and will probably raise their blood pressure!

10. When cycling or walking we have to remember drivers can’t stop on a dime just because we dashed into the middle of the street unexpectedly. It’s best to use lights and reflective clothing, signal when we can, and try to get one of those new helmets with turn signals you control from the handlebars. (When I drive I often see cyclists and pedestrians dressed in muted colors at dawn or earlier, with no lights, and it’s nearly impossible to see them until I’m so close it’s hard to stop in time.) Also, ditto the last two lines of no. 9.

11. We can think more about phone kindness:  most people don’t want to hear others’ private but loud (even shouted) conversations either in person or on the phone, and lately there’s a lot of shouting going on for some reason. In my city, coffee shops often become personal private offices in a lot of customers’ minds, where they carry on loud business calls right next to some poor Joe who just wants to read a little in peace before going to work. People want to enjoy the space where they’ve gone for coffee, reading or writing some or talking quietly to their own friend. If some other person is shouting, the first person can’t do any of those things. Recently I’ve experienced a number of people shouting on phones while sitting by themselves next to me in a coffee shop, and somehow it’s even more disturbing than when they shout at a live person sitting with them when there is one (which is pretty unpleasant too compared to if they just talk to that person in a reasonable voice, and why are they shouting?)

It’s kind also not to talk loud on porches or in our yards if we can be heard by neighbors trying to enjoy their own porch or yard. They just want some of that quiet time outside we all need. One of our neighbors used to sit on his balcony and shout long business.  calls, and another did the same on his screened porch. They both did it often so when I was in my garden trying to have some calming time I felt like I was in the middle of an angry business conference, and the one on the porch was all the way across the street–now that’s shouting! (Again I ask, why do they do that?) When it’s that loud in the garden I can’t relax so I just have to retreat back inside. The garden gets no attention and I don’t get the dose of nature I crave. After enough days like that I get depressed. (But the the loud neighbor does get to enjoy seeing my garden. That’s fine–I love when others enjoy it–but there won’t be much to see for long if I can’t get out there and work.)

If we don’t protect each other from such disturbances we’ll all have to drive long distances to the country just to find even one hour of calm, if we’re to stay sane, and most of us could do with some calm in nature every day. I can’t manage that drive to the country often enough. That’s why I grew the garden! If we want others to grow gardens–great for their health and for our city’s air quality–we have to help them by not making it miserable to be outside.

We can also help others find badly-needed calm by not making a park bench our personal office either, so others can enjoy the park and the sound of birds or the whisper of leaves in the trees.

12. We’re kind when we decide we won’t ever leave butts, trash, gum, receipts, plastic bags, or dog poop in other people’s yards or sidewalks, or put the poop in their trash cans, forcing them to do constant clean-up. About the dog poop, they often don’t know it’s there in the trash, so after a while the bag degrades, the poop dries out, stinks, and sticks like cement to the bottom of the trash can. Then it’s a huge clean-up job. (So would whoever is dropping it in our trash can please cut it out?)

13. Before throwing a party it’s really nice if we talk to neighbors, tell them we’ll try to keep the noise down, and ask them to let us know if it’s disturbing them. They will LOVE this. Even if it gets a little too noisy they’ll feel they have some control–which we’ve given them–and they know we won’t be angry if they ask us to turn down the volume. So they’ll probably put up with more noise than otherwise just because we’ve given them some control. And hopefully they’ll do the same for us.

14. If we do end up having to sometimes hire loud yard work or construction teams at our homes, we can apologize  ahead of time to neighbors, tell them we hate all that noise too (so they know that for when they have to make noise and will then take care of us), tell them we’ll ask workers to be as quick and quiet as possible, and tell them to tell us if they’re going nuts so we can try to time things a little better depending on their sleep/work schedule. Or we can ask ahead when they need it the quietest and tell them we’ll at least try to keep it quieter then. We can tell them we’ll instruct workers not to play loud radios outside or with windows open. If we make such efforts, showing we care, neighbors will likely do the same thing for us or help us in other ways that are equally kind.

15. Write to me about other ways you’ve discovered to be kind or in which you need more kindness and consideration so we can all learn more.