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“The New Secondhand Smoke”
Until the introduction of jet aircraft and the building of the interstate highway system, the United States was generally a quiet place except perhaps for a few large cities or for those living near factories, railroad yards, and tracks (Owen, 2019). The first publication about noise as a public health hazard appeared in 1969 (Ward and Fricke, 1969). As part of the nascent environmental movement, noise pollution was rec- ognized as an environmental problem, not a health or public health problem. In 1972, the Noise Control Act (US Congress, 1972) established “a national policy to promote an environ- ment for all Americans free from noise that jeopardizes their health and welfare.” The EPA was directed by Congress to coordinate the programs of all federal agencies relating to noise research and noise control. Additional legislation included the Noise Control Act of 1978 (US Congress, 1978). Unfortunately, during the Reagan years, the attempts by the EPA to control noise pollution ran afoul of that adminis- tration’s antiregulatory stance, and the EPA Office of Noise Abatement and Control (ONAC) was defunded by Congress (Shapiro, 1992). The federal government has done little about noise since then. A rare exception has been the work of the National Park Service about noise in national parks, as required by Congress.
The defunding of the ONAC led to the decline of the acous- tic science and engineering professions in the United States. Noise control was left to cities and states, which lacked the funding and technical expertise to deal with noise. Several recent developments indicate that the federal government is again recognizing hearing and noise as important for the public and the nation. Reports from the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) include Noise and Military Service (Institute of Medicine, 2006), Technology for a Quieter America (National Academy of Engi- neering, 2010), and Hearing Health Care for Adults: Priorities for Improving Access and Affordability (NASEM, 2016). The latter led to passage of the bipartisan Warren-Grassley Over- the-Counter Hearing Aid Act in 2017 (Warren and Grassley, 2017). Finally, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Reauthorization Act of 2018 includes specific mandates for studies of aircraft noise (US Congress, 2018).
This renewed federal interest in noise levels affecting the public offers an opportunity for the Acoustical Society of America and its members to stake out their rightful position as the source for information and standards for noise control, with the expertise to offer solutions to noise problems. This
will help acoustic science and engineering return to relevance in the third millennium, hopefully leading to a quieter and healthier world for all.
I thank David Sykes and Arthur Popper for their helpful com- ments on earlier drafts of this manuscript and Richard Neitzel for suggestions about Table 1. My goal is to find a quiet res- taurant in which I can enjoy the meal and the conversation with my wife, Dr. Ruth Cousineau.
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