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AudioAcoustics

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Cross-Spectrum Acoustics Inc. offers Sound & Vibration Consulting Services

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Mar 31, 2010

A man in Santa Fe has sued his neighbor because he claims that the neighbor’s use of wireless electronics is causing health problems. These types of stories appear on the internet every few months, complete with commentary about how crazy the alleged victims are.

In reading stories like these, I admit that I tend to come down on the side of “the victim is crazy” but it does remind me of a certain type of project that comes my way about once a month or so: I get a call from someone complaining that excessive noise or vibration from a nearby source is extremely disruptive to their quality of life - sleep disruption, nausea, inability to concentrate, etc. I rush over with my equipment, prepared to measure noise and/or vibration levels in exceedance of the relevant criteria.

In these types of projects, the first question I tend to ask when I show up on site is “is the source operating right now” - when the response is “yes” my heart sinks, because I can’t hear or feel anything, and my instruments show nothing above typical background levels.

When I show up on site to investigate a noise or vibration complaint, there are four ways things can go:

  1. I can hear/feel the problem and I can measure the problem
  2. I can’t hear/feel the problem but I can measure the problem
  3. I can’t measure the problem, but I can hear/feel the problem
  4. I can’t hear/feel the problem and I can’t measure the problem

The first are the easy projects - I have data and my own subjective impressions to analyze and document the problem. The second are still straightforward projects and I can let the objective numbers do the talking for me. The third are some somewhat more difficult since I have only my subjective impressions to go on, but as an expert, my impressions carry weight.

The fourth are the worst - I have no data and no subjective descriptions of my own that I can use to describe or analyze the problem. It’s tempting to want to write the complainants off as kooks or people who are imagining things, but I’m usually convinced that the complainants do sincerely experience a disruption. It may be that the source is acoustical in nature but beyond the limits of my equipment and ears to detect. It could be that the source isn’t acoustical - for instance, the negative effects attributed to low-frequency noise from wind turbines may be caused by shadow flicker rather than airborne noise and similar things may be happening with other sources.

In the end, there’s little I can do. But the one thing I won’t do is laugh or poke fun, because to those folks, it’s no laughing matter.


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