For many working-class citizens, there are a multitude of worries associated with everyday existence. Some existential (will the scaffolding outside my building crush me to death?), others absolute and rooted in the determinants of health. While certain occupations come bundled with their own set of health risks; a steady paycheck, making rent, and providing for one’s family are oftentimes motivating enough to push any creeping concerns of long-term injury or pain aside.
Albeit low on the ‘needs-fixing’ totem-pole of NYC and other densely populated cities, noise pollution is no joke when speaking of its work-related health effects. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, four million workers go to work each day in damaging noise. While limited treatment is available for noise-induced hearing loss once the damage has occurred, those employed in fields where unreasonable noise is present are inevitably at risk.
We spoke with five professionals in and around NYC who work with an annoying amount of noise to find out how they cope and other sounds that grind their gears.
2 out of 3 WORKERS IN MINING AND CONSTRUCTION will experience hearing loss by the time they are 50. OR Construction workers spend on average 70% of their time in hazardous noise environments yet they protect their ears less than 30% of the time.
Jose Eddie Lopez has worked construction gigs in various capacities for upwards of a decade. Having clocked countless hours with the all-powerful jackhammer, he clued us into the effects of handling a machine that reaches upwards of 110 decibels. “I’d rather push a broom all day then work with a machine like that. You want that machine out of your hand,” Lopez says. In fact, the stress of operating a jackhammer is so heavy that Lopez says it makes him curt with his co-workers. And the pain doesn’t end with the workday, Lopez explains, “even after you put the machine down, you can feel the vibrations shooting up your bones. Cramps. ringing in your ears, just a whole bunch of unpleasantries cause you wanna have a job."
Least favorite noises: Firetrucks and Ambulances. “They are incredibly loud for no reason. I mean yes, you are on your way to an accident, but there has to be a simpler way of saying look, I’m trying to come through. You don’t have to blare that at 3 in the am.”
In 1916 THE ORIGINAL ICE CREAM TRUCK JINGLE, release on Columbia Records was written by actor Harry C. Browne is perhaps one of the most racist songs in America.
Ice Cream Truck
If you live in NYC, chances are you’ve heard the Mister Softee Ice Cream Truck theme hundreds of times this summer, maybe more. In Brooklyn, the Kool Man truck gives Softee a run for his money. According to Kool Man driver Mauro Sanchez, music is key to the business. “It’s the only way. No music, no business.” Before you go complain to the City, remember that drivers like Sanchez have to live with the music playing for hours on end. “I’ve worked in this truck for about two years, and I don’t really get a break from it,” Sanchez explains, “when the truck is running, the music is supposed to be on.” Apparently there are about 20 different songs to choose from, so it’s not always bad. “Sometimes I like the song that plays,” says Sanchez.
LEAST FAVORITE SOUNDS: Fire Trucks, ambulances, loud music from cars. “They’re just too loud. New York City is just too loud, you know that.”
Drill Rig Operator
Let’s get real, you wouldn’t readily think of Geology as a very loud profession. What could be loud about looking at a bunch of rocks? According to CAILYN NICHOL, a geologist based in Jersey City, a lot. “No matter what area of geology, you can expect to have to don the hard hat and steel toed boots if you are behind a rig,” he says. Geologists are on the scene for groundwater well installations for drinking water or taking samples to see if groundwater is contaminated. They also take soil samples to see if it’s safe to build. All of this requires a lot of machinery, and it gets loud. “You have to take these two foot chords called spoons, and in order to drive them into the ground there is this big head hammer,” Nichol explains, “you lift it up and it falls down on it, pushing it into the ground.” This results in an intense, persistent metal clanking sound. “It doesn’t annoy me, but it’s loud as hell…they make a big deal about us wearing the ear-plugs. Once a year I have to go get my hearing checked.”
LEAST FAVORITE NOISES: Basketball sneaker squeaks and certain subway musicians. “I can’t watch a basketball game because of the squeaky sneakers. I can’t make it through a game. Also, on the subway platform, not all the music annoys me, but there is this one guy with this Japanese-style violin. It’s so loud. I don’t understand how that is pleasurable to anybody.”
Loud workplaces CAN ALSO LEAD TO HEART ISSUES. In a study published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, it was found that people who worked in loud environments for at least a year and a half were two to three times more likely to have problems including a heart attack and severe chest pain.
Teaching might fall under the radar in terms of loud jobs. However, 8th grade teacher Rochelle Brown begs to differ. “The loudest parts of my day are the student voices and announcements. Starting off, the noises were distracting however over the years I’ve learned to tune them out,” Brown says. It’s no wonder why an educator’s summertime respite would be spent in a quiet environment. “Luckily, my hearing is still intact as I’m still able to hear student’s conversations from across the room.”
Least favorite noises: Custodians or outside construction. “Usually [in NYC] there is some form of construction or going on outside, or custodians are banging and drilling. It’s not so much that it annoys me but rather that it manages to prevent my students from working.”
Since mid-1970s THE MTA HAS BEEN TRYING TO QUIET ITS NOISY SUBWAY SYSTEM, including lubricating tracks on sharp curves, using quieter train wheels, and installing composite brake shoes on all subway cars to stop wheels from screeching
Trains entering and leaving subway stations in NYC can reach over 100 decibels. As a train conductor for the MTA, Denaul Jenkins II is subjected to what many pay brush off as part of their commute for up to 8 hours at a time. “I’ve built up a tolerance since I started working for the MTA about a year ago, especially after doing construction and demolition in the past,” Jenkins IIsays. And though the agency requires an annual hearing test employees, but Mr. Jenkins is certain over time his hearing could be in jeopardy. “I haven’t noticed any major changes, but I think I might have lost some sensitivity for high pitched noises.”
Least favorite noise: Fireworks in the neighborhood. “I go to sleep very early…sometimes they start with the fireworks at like 12 or 1 am. Sometimes it startles me and you may have to differentiate the sounds; you might think it’s gunshots. It doesn’t bother me much, but it just startles me ‘cause I was sleeping at the time.”
Editor: Gabriella Garcia