TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 15, 2011 Testimony of Dr. Arline Bronzaft
New York Environmental Psychologist Dr. Arline Bronzaft is not afraid of attorneys- they don’t faze her one bit. Dr. Bronzaft is a firecracker that says everything in plain English and is ready for any question thrown her way. So when the Andrea Huckins, lawyer for the Ministry of Environment and Albert Engel, lawyer for Suncor, started into their same old rigmarole of trying to remove the expert from the hearing, she was ready with her extensive list of qualifications that would make most of us feel small and wonder how somebody could accomplish so much in life. Well, it helps if you start early like Dr. Bronzaft and begin teaching college at age 19!
A quick list off of some of her accomplishments that qualify her as an Environmental Psychologist with knowledge of Noise and its Effects on Humans:
Professor at the City University of New York where she continues to teach courses; has been appointed by four different mayors in the city of NY as the chair of a noise committee (non-paid position); is a noise consultant to the New York City Transit Committee; is currently overseeing research on aircraft noise on student learning; is an advisor to anti-noise groups in North America and abroad; has written numerous noise related articles for peer reviewed journals, and peer reviews three different journals herself (primarily in noise); and has been an expert witness dating back to 1982.
So how do you attack all the above? Well, there were questions such as, “have you done any noise impact studies in rural settings?” As if rural residents are a different type of species (or receptor…) and wouldn’t react the same as an urban dweller…I’m not sure what that question was supposed prove. Or, “have you ever talked about wind turbine noise in your lectures?” The answer was not until very recently, and that is because, like cell phones, wind turbines are a new source of intrusive sound. Mr. Engel was miffed that that Dr. Bronzaft couldn’t recall some big long ISO number and what it meant (like what out of country psychologist, or average human being for that matter could…give me a break). At one point she was questioned as to whether she’s ever diagnosed a person (a bit of a sad attack on her not being a clinician), to which she fired back that her research showed that the noise in a classroom caused students to be half a year behind in reading – and she’d consider that a diagnosis. Albert Engel shrunk and was done.
So Suncor and the MOE agreed that yes, Dr. Bronzaft was ‘qualified’, but, well, she was just not ‘necessary’, ‘required’, or get this: ‘relevant’ (nice for them to make that kind of judgment) for the panel to hear.
Mr. Gillespie cleared that up by pointing out that the panel has not heard from the psychological background yet (there has been medical, sleep, acoustical, psychoacoustical…). Therefore it is necessary and relevant to hear from this witness.
And yes, she was accepted by the panel!
Dr. Bronzaft dove into her material: first the definitions: Sound is what an acoustician measures, Noise is something humans interpret. Annoyance is when somebody is bothered, when something disturbs you, and intrusive noise that causes annoyance cannot be taken too lightly. When annoyance continues day after day, it can diminish the quality of life of the person experiencing it. When you are in your home it’s expected that you will be able to sleep, relax, play with your kids, open your windows. Dr. Bronzaft compared it to the setting of a court room: we do not allow any sound there, some court rooms have people check their cell phones, and some theatres have you open your candy wrappers before the start of the performance. Our homes need to be respected this way as well because we all deserve a quality of life in our home.
Earlier Dr. Bronzaft had touched on her study from way back in 1974 that examined reading scores of children in separate areas of a NY school- one classroom faced a noisy elevated train structure, and the other classroom was on the quieter side of the building. As she said, this study would not be that important today if it wasn’t for the fact that 30 subsequent studies have since supported its results. First, what this study found was that when children were exposed to noise their learning was impacted- in fact by the time the students in this study reached grade 6 the children with the noisier classroom were a full year behind in reading. So to say that the children were ‘just’ annoyed with the train noise is not true, Dr. Bronzaft said, “It also robbed them of their right to learn.” After this study was done, acoustic, rubber tiles were installed on the wall exposed to the noise, and it lowered the noise levels significantly (~8dBA). The reading levels of both classrooms were examined again, and it was found that they were both reading at the same level.
Something that Dr. Bronzaft stressed was that one should consider the different qualities and types of noise— otherwise a dripping faucet would not be an issue. She spoke about the New York City’s revision to their already stringent noise code. This new revision included two very important issues:
Low frequency Noise (dBC scale) is used for violations, and a 3dB excess is considered a significant Noise Code violation.
In the city LFN was an issue with bars and restaurants below apartments. People would complain of the noise (you know, the deep ba-bum-ba-bum noise you feel in your chest), but the sound did not violate the dBA guidelines.
New York City made these two important changes from the results of just one study!
Dr. Bronzaft finished off with a 1967 quote from Dr. W.H. Stewart- ‘Absolute proof comes too late and to wait for that proof prolongs suffering unnecessarily.” Based on existing evidence, Dr. Bronzaft would recommend refraining from exposing individuals to wind turbine noise.
The MOE started into their questioning, and I kid you not, a few minutes into it a helicopter flew right over the building, with its cyclical deep pulsing noise- the room seemed to vibrate with it. OK, so I tried hard to concentrate, especially since this is what we were talking about…do a little mind over body, how crazy was this for a demonstration? Didn’t work–although the questioning continued on, I had blanked out at least 30 seconds of what was going on. Later on this helicopter returned and I was ready for it, I was going to hear every word over that noise…failed. Maybe I’m just distractible, but it sure drives home the point about constant annoyance – luckily I was only out of the loop for a bit but what if it the noise continues all day and night, like a wind turbine? Would I relentlessly be distracted with the noise? Yes, what Dr. Bronzaft was saying was really sinking in.
Responding to a statement/boast from Ms.Huckins about the huge number of “references” (126 in all) in the A/CanWEA report, Dr. Bronzaft said, “it’s HOW things are discussed, not WHAT (or how many).” As someone who has dealt with rel-world noise complaints on a daily basis, she explained that by the time somebody calls her about a noise issue, they are usually in a pretty distressed state. She noted that people do not register complaints that easily because of the fear of being summarily dismissed. So when somebody calls with a noise complaint she considers that person is the tip of the iceberg, with many others in the same situation, who cannot/will not register a complaint, but are suffering all the same. Ms. Huckins asked whether a person might not just be making a complaint about the noise, but really they are annoyed by the neighbour putting their garbage out early. Dr. Bronzaft said those people (the extreme) are a very small minority, but still need to be listened to because something else is bothering them. In Dr. Bronzaft’s opinion, there are enough complaints about wind turbines to warrant an investigation. Ms. Huckins asked if the harm wind turbines caused could be mitigated – as if there is a flick of the switch solution out there. Dr. Bronzaft said quite simply, “I don’t know”. By inference, Ms.Huckins conceded there are noise problems with wind turbines, even with the so-called “strictest standards” of the MOE.
In Ms. Bronzaft’s view Noise is Disruptive, even football and baseball coaches are talking about noise. Actor Lawrence Fishburne came to mind and she gave the quick quote of him telling an audience member to “turn off that goddamn cell phone!!” To explain the importance of the number of people who are affected by noise she noted that we also do not know who smokes who will get lung cancer, but we now say, “Do not smoke.”
Mr.Engel had what turned out to be a question that was destined to be splattered by Arline. He put a WHO table in front of her and asked if she was “familiar with it”. She said, “Well yes, it’s in front of me”… then there was a pause and, “but I have a problem with it”. This caught Mr.Engel in mid-breath as he was about to launch into his attack, but he backed up and said, “OK, what’s your problem?” She stated, “Well, the chart didn’t say whether it was measuring in dBA or dBC….just dB.” I guess Mr.Engel didn’t know either, because there was another pause. Then he said, “Well, can you make a comment on this table?” Arline shot back: “I cannot comment on a table that wasn’t identified appropriately.” The end.
I think just about everyone in the audience wanted to give her a hug when she finished, she was that good. When I explained to Dr. Bronzaft that her portion of the hearing hit home with me because one of the projects around our home is proposed to surround my kid’s school. She quickly added that it’s not only the school that’s important, it’s the children’s homes (which is true, a huge percentage of the students would be affected by the 40+ wind turbines), and not only that, she added, the lack of sleep and the stress on the parents will affect their ability to parent if they are sleep deprived or ill. A long chain reaction that could be set off by some supposedly benign ‘green machines’ spread over rural Ontario.