News Stories

Another Mystery Hum

In 1999, residents of Kokomo, Indiana began hearing a constant low-pitched rumbling noise. They developed a range of mysterious health problems soon afterwards, including dizziness, diarrhea, extreme fatigue, joint and muscle pain, nosebleeds, and headaches. No one could figure out where it was coming from.

The Kokomo Hum isn?t the first complaint about strange low-frequency noise and related health problems. The Taos Hum in New Mexico drove residents crazy in the early 1990s?they complained about a persistent deep droning noise and accompanying headaches and illnesses.

Just as with the Taos hum, some people say it?s like a diesel engine idling, while others describe it as a deep drone or fluorescent light-like buzz?and many people don?t hear it at all.

?I think we all know something was starting to go drastically wrong about two years ago,? says LaQuita Zimmerman, a 55-year-old grandmother who has lived in Kokomo her whole life. ?It went from a headache to a never-ending headache.? The headaches only go away when she leaves Kokomo to visit relatives. ?It?s been over two years now,? says Maria McDaniels, who lives several miles away. ?We just noticed a low hum ? a drone in the background. It seemed to increase in intensity in the wee hours of the night.? McDaniels, her two sons and her husband began to experience regular headaches, sleep problems, and diarrhea around the time the hum began.

Senator Richard Lugar?s office has received more than 80 letters complaining about the sound. Local officials have done little to about it, but last summer, the Kokomo Tribune began an extensive investigation of the hum. Reporters talked to 40 residents who hear the noise, and found that nearly all of them had visited a doctor more than once about related health problems, and at least 15 had undergone a series of neurological tests. ?The Kokomo Tribune editorial board wonders if city and state officials hope this issue won't just go away on its own,? the paper says.

Investigations have failed to measure any low-frequency vibration that experts believe could cause either the noise or the health problems reported by those who hear it. People in Taos continue to complain about their hum, but many of those who reported serious problems have moved away.

People in communities around the world claim to have been made ill by low-frequency noises. There is the ?Larg Hum? in Scotland, the ?Bristol Hum? in England, and hums in Japan and Scandinavia.

Humming sounds can be generated by turbines, industrial fans, compressors and other machinery. Vibrations can travel a half-mile or more through the ground, causing dishes to rattle and people to hear an annoying low drone. Adding insulation or adjusting the equipment can solve the problem.

In 2000, one Kokomo resident hired an acoustic engineer to test for low-frequency noise. The engineer, Angelo Campanella, who runs his own acoustic consultancy firm and holds a doctorate in physics and electrical engineering, found a low-frequency noise in the woman?s home, but at a relatively low level. ?The level that is there is right at the threshold of perception, around 60 decibels,? he says.

Acoustic engineer Paul Schomer, who reviewed the data, says the vibration Campanella detected would be a borderline problem that would bother some people and not others. Both men stress that more testing is needed before drawing any conclusions about the hum. ?We don?t have really definitive data,? says Schomer. ?We need to have measurements at a bunch of these houses over a period of time.? Schomer says that low-frequency noises are associated with a range of symptoms, such as general fatigue and malaise.

?They may be hitting on something that?s a real phenomenon, but it could be their imagination,? says Bennett Brooks, of the American Acoustical Society?s Technical Committee on Noise. ?The levels [of low-frequency noise] that will rattle dishes on a wall ? haven?t been shown to cause health problems, other than perhaps people waking up at night worrying.? Yet worrying, and the stress that goes with it, can cause the very health problems that people are complaining about.

?We?d like to find the cause and correct the problem,? says Scott Winger, a Kokomo postal employee who hears the hum and believes he, his wife and children have suffered health problems because of it. ?It?s not something that we just thought up.?

?I know it does sound pretty bizarre,? Zimmerman says. ?It did to me before I was affected.?

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