by Beth Miller Curda

The Davis Enterprise

January 15, 2002

What do West Hollywood, Norman, Okla., and Richmond, Va., have in common? According to a new national organization rooted in Davis, they are too loud.

Noise-Free America, an organization established in November by Ted Rueter of Davis, issues monthly “Dirty Dozen” awards, alerting one U.S. city each month that it needs to turn down the volume. Rueter – who established the organization after teaching at UCLA for two years and noting, he said, 40 sources of unnecessary noise on campus – sends press releases to the cities, saying he has received nominations of the cities for the monthly acknowledgments. He said the cities’ official responses have been either indifference or negativity.

Rueter said the organization has plans to expand through endorsement, its Web site and, eventually, lobbying efforts. He said he will start sending fact sheets with the monthly news releases relating noise with health problems, in an effort to convince cities to reduce noise levels. He is concerned that people do not realize how noise affects them; he suspects that even chronic fatigue can be related.

“People are tired all the time in this country, and I think a big reason is the level of noise we are exposed to every day,” he said.

Shannon White, a hearing health educator for the Agency for Hearing in Sacramento, said excessive noise levels can cause sleep disturbances, elevations in blood pressure, gastrointestinal changes and mental health issues such as tension, anger and frustration. She add that children’s social behaviors can be affected.

Other expansion ideas for the organization include an upcoming endorsement by celebrity Julie Newmar, whom Rueter said is a longtime opponent of leaf blowers, and using the group’s Web site for information, modes for alerting authorities of excessive noise, a list of related legislation and model ordinances governments could consider.

Rueter said a list of 45 common noise producers available on the organization’s Web site includes leaf blowers, cars with loud radios, airplanes and freeway noise.

“One that bothers a lot of people, including me, is so-called background music in stores and restaurants,” he said. “Sometimes you can’t hear; you can’t talk.”

White said according to government figures, 85 decibels and above is considered potentially harmful, and the safe exposure amount decreases as the noise level increases by five decibels.

People can be exposed to 90 decibels for eight hours at a time, she said. This level includes dirt bikes, tractors and street traffic, she said. For four hours at a time, people can be exposed to noises 95 decibels; for two hours, people can hear 100-decibels noises, which can include some personal headsets.

For one hour, people can tolerate 105 decibels, she said, and for 25 minutes, exposure to 115 decibels is tolerable.

For comparison, she said car stereos can reach 150-decibel levels, rock concerts can reach 120 decibels and airplanes can be at 140 decibels.

She added that people must be mindful of different types of noises when considering their exposure.

“Over time you notice the hearing loss, as it takes time with all the different exposures to things,” she said. “So, you might have someone in a factory who’s exposed to 90 decibels, but that doesn’t count the other things, like a blow dryer at home — that’s a 90 decibels.”

Davisite Greg Preston said he understands first-hands Rueter’s complaints.

“I moved to Davis in 1979 to work at Shields Library,” Preston said, “and in the years since I and my wife have lived in all parts of town — Central, East, South and North, in that order. Unfortunately, unless I’ve just been extremely unlucky, I’ve discovered that Davis is noisy all — specifically, either uncontrolled dog barking, or loud stereos, or both. …I’ve even noticed recently that background music in businesses, which used to feature soft elevator music, has become louder and more grating.”

Preston said before he moved to Davis he had never called the police to report noise. He said he has called several times since his move to town, as well as sending written notes to neighbors about noise levels. He said he understands that some loudness, such as traffic and lawn mowers, is essential to society, but he considers unnecessary noise invasive.

Rueter said cities and states should better enforce noise restrictions. According to the Davis municipal code, residential areas’ noise levels can reach 50 decibels in ambient noise between 9 p.m. and 7 a.m. and 55 decibels between 7 a.m. and 9 p.m. Commercial zone levels can reach 55 decibels between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m., and Industrial areas’ levels can reach 60 decibels between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m.

High-noise traffic corridors — including Highway 113 and Interstate 80 — can reach 65 decibels anytime, the code says.

According to the code, residential areas include single-family and multi-family housing and greenbelts. Commercial and industrial use includes all non-residential areas or arterial zones. Property bordering high noise traffic corridors, by city of Davis definition, falls wholly or partilly within 100 feet of a designated high-noise corridor.

Also, the municipal code caps property-line levels at 20 decibels over the ambient level or 80 decibels, whichever is lower.

People interested in getting involved in Noise-Free America can sign up through the Web site — — call 740-0552 or toll-free at (866) NOISE-FREE, or send an e-mail to [email protected].