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New York Times On Mysterious Hums

From: Kenny Young <ufo@fuse.net>
Date: Tue, 02 Dec 2003 19:37:44 -0500
Fwd Date: Wed, 03 Dec 2003 03:32:36 -0500
Subject: New York Times On Mysterious Hums

People Hearing Persistent, Mysterious Hum Aren't Alone
The New York Times
By Mindy Sink

Published: December 2, 2003

No one else in Phil Ciofalo's neighborhood in northeast
Albuquerque by the foothills of the Sandia Mountains is bothered
by the humming sound that irritates him constantly. They can't
even hear it.

In other neighborhoods around the globe, however, Mr. Ciofalo
has company, other people who complain of hearing a persistent
humming sound, usually when they are in their homes seeking
peace and quiet from a busy world.

"These people are definitely not crazy," said Jim Cowan, senior
consultant for Acentech Inc. in Cambridge, Mass. Acentech was
hired by the City of Kokomo, Ind., to study a mysterious hum
that residents first complained about in 1999. "They are just
picking something up that others can't," Mr. Cowan said.

The preliminary investigation in Kokomo has determined one
possible source for the hum, but like other studies it concluded
that there could be several causes and that more research was

The people who hear a hum do not appear to be suffering from
tinnitus, a persistent ringing in the ear that is not produced
by an external source.

Dr. James Kelly, an ear specialist and director of surgical
sciences at the University of New Mexico who examined complaints
of a hum in Taos, said that "tinnitus hearers report hearing
higher frequency sound" than the people he studied.

"The Taos hum is a low-frequency phenomenon," he said.

Dr. Kelly added that most hearing disorders affect perception at
higher frequencies.

The most common description of the hum is that it sounds like
the low rumble of a distant diesel truck idling. Some people
also feel a vibration, or don't hear any sound but just sense
the vibration. Others report various maladies they associate
with the hum, including headaches, diarrhea, nosebleeds,
dizziness, fatigue and memory loss.

There have been reports of hums in England, Scotland, Australia
and other places in the United States for decades.

The "hummers," as they are sometimes called, vary widely in age
and in the times and locations that the sound is most

Billy Kellems, a 37-year old truck driver in Kokomo, has been
hearing a hum since 1999.

"It's like a train yard or a jet on the tarmac in the distance,"
he said, to describe the humming sound that he thinks causes his
headaches and diarrhea.

Mr. Ciofalo, 81, says the hum he hears in his New Mexico home
has made him irritable and gives him frequent headaches.

"It started about four years ago," he said. "It was a low hum
sound that would come and go, but now I hear it all the time."

His housemate, Martin Schweighardt, who has numerous health
problems, including difficulty hearing, does not hear the sound.
They have lived in the house since 1984.

Mr. Ciofalo has contacted the county health and environment
office and written his senators and members of Congress.
Representative Heather A. Wilson, a Republican, forwarded his
request to specialists at the University of New Mexico, and Mr.
Ciofalo has received technicians from Sandia National
Laboratories in his home to do tests.

He has temporarily had his power, security alarms, water and
phone turned off and now sleeps with headphones on. He also had
his hearing tested and found it to be "as good as a newborn

In the 1990's, complaints about a humming sound in Taos reached
Congress and an investigation was done.

But with the study inconclusive as to a source of the hum, news
of it nearly vanished.

The hum, however, continues for some people in that area who
share their problem by writing about it in local newspapers or
in online discussion forums.

Dr. Kelly said that a lack of financing was the reason no
further study had been done, but both he and Mr. Cowan
recommended more research on low-frequency hearing to learn how
it might affect human health.

Not everyone is convinced that the hum is real. In most cases
there is simply no evidence that the hum people are hearing is
coming from an external source.

Gregory Speis, a senior electronic technician at the University
of New Mexico, was sent to Mr. Ciofalo's house to conduct tests
this year after the chairman of his department received the
letter forwarded from Representative Wilson's office.

Mr. Speis said he was unable to hear the hum or detect it with
his equipment.

"I'm the kind of guy that believes in U.F.O.'s even though I've
never seen one, and I would say this is not as probable as a
U.F.O.," Mr. Speis said by phone from his office at the

Mr. Speis said he had heard rumors about the Taos hum. "I think
some people want to hear things," he said. "I wouldn't call it
mass hypnosis, but maybe it's the power of suggestion."

Kokomo has invested $80,000 to find the source of the hum 126
residents (in a town of about 47,000) there say they are
enduring. That preliminary investigation determined that large
ventilator fans at two industrial facilities could be causing
the noise. The next step will be to measure the sound at those
sites as the companies decrease or muffle the fans, then re-
interview the affected residents.

"Although it's going to make a difference for most people, it's
not going to make a difference for everybody," Mr. Cowan said.

The problem with some studies, including the less formal one
going on at Mr. Ciofalo's home, is that even the most sensitive
sound-monitoring equipment is often unable to detect the sound
people say they hear.

Typically, people hear sound between 20 to 20,000 hertz. Sounds
above 20,000 hertz are called ultrasound and below 20 hertz are
called infrasound.

Internal organs can resonate, or sense a vibration, at certain
infrasonic frequencies. The industrial fans in Kokomo were found
to be emitting sound at 10 and 36 Hertz.

"Higher frequency sounds tend to be absorbed in the atmosphere;
lower frequencies don't fade out as quickly and in fact can
travel hundreds of miles with little attenuation," authors of
the Taos study noted in 1993.

Perhaps the obvious solution is simply to move, and many people
have after being unable to bear the chronic humming. But Mr.
Ciofalo won't consider it.

"I'm not a quitter," he said. "I would like to see who or what
is doing it. Why should I have to pick up and go?"

End of article