Israel Police noise cannon used at protests can harm health – doctors

Science and Health

The Israel Medical Association (IMA) has written to Israel Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai warning against health damage caused by the use of acoustic weapons of the sound cannon type “The Scream” (Long Range Acoustic Device or LRAD) used at demonstrations. 

Copies of the letter, prepared by Prof. Hagai Levine (chairman of the Israel Public Health Physicians Association) and Prof. Daniel Kaplan (chairman of the Association of Ear, Nose and Throat Surgeons) were sent to acting Health Minister Yoav Ben-Tzur; ministry Director-General Moshe Bar Siman Tov; and National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir.

A sound cannon transmits sounds at extremely high intensity and is used for communication and crowd control, the IMA said. It operates at a power of 135 to 150 decibels and is activated at a distance of one meter from the target. At this distance, a noise with a power of 130 decibels causes pain. For every additional meter away from the target, the exposure decreases by only six decibels, so that at a distance of a few meters, it is very painful and a high risk to hearing. The frequency of the sound is 2500 to 3000 Hz, but it can be controlled and changed, just as the intensity can be controlled. 

People who are exposed to this measure at close range suffer from severe, irreversible damage to their hearing and also experience symptoms of tinnitus (chronic ringing in the ears), sensitivity to noise, headaches and nausea. 

Children, the elderly and those with previous hearing impairment are at increased risk of hearing damage from exposure to the sound cannon, the letter continued. 

IT’S JUST too loud. (credit: Ketut Subiyanto/Pexels)

The noise cannon can harm its operator and everyone around it

Protection of the sound cannon operator from noise is usually done with earplugs and headphones, and this can reduce between 15 to 40 decibels, but not in a way that prevents damage. The noise is activated forward, at a forward angle of 15 to 40 degrees, but it also endangers the operator and those next to him. 

A person standing on the edge of the range is exposed immediately and without any warning. The American Speech-Hearing Language Association and the Acoustical Society of America and the Acoustical Society of America (ASA) such as ASHA (Hearing Association) have determined irreversible damage from the sound cannon and demanded regulations limiting the use, training and education of the operators and future research on damages, the letter continued. 

“We, the heads of the Association of Ear, Nose and Throat Surgeons Head in the Neck and the Israel Public Health Physicians Association, warn of irreversible damage and harm to the health of those exposed to these measures. We oppose the use of acoustic weapons by the police until the health issues are clarified and a public and professional discussion is held on how to prevent irreversible health damage.” 

For the safety of people who are protesting, non-involved people as well as those operating the cannons, they recommended better training of the operators of the device regarding self-protection; warning before using the sound cannon through an announcement; publishing on government and police websites the details of the device, duration of use, location and intensity of use each time that there is use of a sound cannon; and research monitoring and follow-up of the victims of the sound cannon to be carried out.