News Worthy  Happenings

The Kokomo Hum - Reports of Mysterious Noise and Illness in Indiana

By Oliver Libaw © 2003

— Some say it's like a diesel engine idling. Others describe it as a deep drone or fluorescent light-like buzz. And a great many people don't hear anything at all.

Complaints about the "Kokomo Hum" began in 1999, when a handful of local residents began to report a constant low-pitched rumbling noise. They say they developed a range of mysterious health problems soon after, including dizziness, diarrhea, extreme fatigue, joint and muscle pain, nosebleeds, and excruciating, unending headaches.

"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 entire life. "It went from a headache to a never-ending headache," she says. When she leaves Kokomo to visit relatives, the suffering abates, she says.

"It's been over two years now," says Maria McDaniels, who lives several miles away from Zimmerman. "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 says she, her two sons and her husband began to experience regular headaches, sleep problems, and diarrhea around the same time. She admits she doesn't know for certain how the sound she hears relates to the symptoms, but she wants the hum investigated.

Zimmerman and McDaniels are not alone; Sen. Richard Lugar's office says it has received more than 80 letters complaining about the sound.

But most people in this central Indiana town of 45,000 don't hear anything at all.

Hum Complaints Met With Skepticism

Many Kokomo residents have been skeptical about reports of mysterious illnesses caused by a mysterious vibration, and local officials have done little to investigate.

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

Attention to the problem began to increase last summer, however, when the Kokomo Tribune began an extensive investigation of the reports of the hum.

The paper talked to 40 residents who reported hearing the noise, and found that nearly all had visited a doctor more than once about related health problems, and at least 15 had undergone a series of neurological tests. Doctors typically attributed the problems to stress or aging, the Tribune found.

In an editorial last Sunday, the Tribune called for local officials to lead an investigation into the hum reports.

"The Kokomo Tribune editorial board wonders if city and state officials hope this issue won't just go away on its own," the paper said.

Hums Reported from New Mexico to Scotland

The Kokomo Hum is far from the first such complaint about strange low-frequency noise and related health problems. The so-called "Taos Hum" in northern New Mexico drew international attention in the early 1990s, as residents there complained of a persistent deep droning noise and accompanying headaches and illnesses.

Extensive investigations there failed to measure any low-frequency vibration that experts believed could cause either the noise or the infirmities reported by those who heard it. Even people who believe the Taos Hum is real admit that it has attracted a large number of outlandish theories and conspiracy buffs, which has hurt their credibility.

People in Taos continued to complain about the hum — some still do so today — but attention died down and many of those who reported serious problems moved away. A California rock band named itself "The Taos Hum," lending further infamy to the phenomenon.

Nevertheless, people in dozens — perhaps hundreds — of communities around the world have claimed they have been sickened by low-frequency noises. There is the "Larg Hum," in Scotland, the "Bristol Hum," in England, and others in Japan, Scandinavia and elsewhere. Some have been supported by scientific data; others have not.

The existence of low-frequency noises that cause nuisances is hardly controversial. Such sounds can be generated by turbines, industrial fans, compressors and other machinery.

The vibrations can travel a half-mile or more through the ground, causing dishes to rattle and a small subsection of the population to hear an annoying low drone. Adding insulation or adjusting equipment can often alleviate the problem.

Vibration Detected, But More Tests Needed

In Kokomo, reputable experts say they have detected a low-frequency noise of some kind.

In 2000, one hum-afflicted 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," Campanella says.

The vibration Campanella detected would be considered a borderline problem according to some scales, and on other scales would be below problematic levels, says another acoustic engineer, Paul Schomer, who reviewed the data.

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."

Without speculating on the hum's possible effects on Kokomo residents, Schomer notes that scientists have associated a range of symptoms, such as general fatigue and malaise, with low-frequency noises.

Caution Against Blaming Hums for Every Problem

Other acoustics experts caution against associating a range of serious health problems to a low-frequency noise, however.

"They may be hitting on something that's a real phenomenon, but it could be their imagination," says Bennett Brooks, an engineer and investigator who heads 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."

He, too, is supportive of more testing for the Kokomo Hum. It generally is not difficult to measure low-frequency noise and to determine its source or sources. But in Kokomo, there has been little investigation beyond Campanella's one-time measurements.

People complaining about the hum have approached myriad local, state, and federal agencies, but none has agreed to investigate.

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


In Indiana town, some residents haunted by hum; others can't hear a thing

by Rex Huppke, ©AP

 

KOKOMO, Ind. — It started as a low hum, barely noticeable. But within months, the endless throbbing was like a corkscrew twisting into Diane Anton's temple.

The walls of her home vibrated. Her bed shook. Bouts of nausea, short-term memory loss, and hand tremors followed.

"The noise was so penetrating and invasive," she said. "It was just not getting better." So Anton quit her job, abandoned her $180,000 house, and fled. She was the first person driven out of the city by what's come to be known as "the Kokomo hum." But she may not be the last.

As many as 90 people in this industrial, central Indiana city of about 47,000 have complained about a low-frequency hum over the past three years, City Attorney Ken Ferries said.

While most residents don't hear a thing beyond the typical sounds of the city's factories and busy roads, the City Council approved a $100,000 study of the mysterious noise, often described as the constant idle of tractor trailer's diesel engine. "We decided, rather than sit on our duffs and talk about it, let's try to do something," Ferries said. The city intends to request proposals for the study by the end of the month.

Those who suffer from the hum and have had years to educate themselves about low-frequency sound say it's about time. They point to evidence, grounded in science, that exposure to consistent, low-frequency noise can cause vibroacoustic disease. It has symptoms that mirror the ailments those in Kokomo are complaining about: nausea, headaches, and dizziness, to name a few.

Unidentified sounds that bother a handful of people have popped up in communities around the world, but because so few are affected, the issue hasn't received much attention.

In Taos, N.M., a small town in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, some residents were bothered by a mysterious noise in the early 1990s. They, too, described the sound as a diesel truck idling in the distance and said it caused sleeplessness, dizziness, and a host of other symptoms.

On the Puerto Rican island of Vieques, people have long complained of health problems caused by low-frequency sound coming from a U.S. Navy bombing range. The Navy has discounted those claims and continues bombing in the area.

Some in Kokomo claim city government knows the noise comes from an industrial source but believe officials are in cahoots with local industry and refuse to make companies fix the problem. Others view a wider conspiracy, that the federal government is well aware of low-frequency sound problems but ignores them to appease large corporations. "It's just like every other major environmental issue. It all comes down to money," Anton said.

Ferries, the city attorney, said such claims are ridiculous. Kokomo's investment in research shows officials are taking it seriously, he said.

Kathie Sickles, who lives near Kokomo, spends most of her free time trying to educate people about the hum. She packages research papers and other sound studies in bright-colored plastic folders and hands them out to city council members. She makes fliers for the public that say, "SOUND POLLUTION CAN HURT YOU!" and are filled with Internet addresses and lists of symptoms associated with exposure to low-frequency sound.

"People need to know this is going on," said Sickles, who formed a group called Our Environment. "People are getting sick and nothing's being done."

Angelo Campanella, an acoustical engineer hired by Anton, detected low frequency sound in her neighborhood but said further research would be needed to clearly determine a source. Campanella said he was not able to hear the sound Anton described, but believed "others may be more sensitive to it."

Most Kokomo residents aren't, however. Jeff Smith, owner of Jeff's Barber Shop, said aside from some coverage of the issue in the Kokomo Tribune, which urged an investigation in a front-page editorial, he doesn't hear much about the hum. "As far as I know, I don't think it exists," Smith said. "I can't say I've ever heard it."

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 Town Tormented by Mystery Noise

 By Rebecca McQuillan & Lorna Martin - January 26 2001

The mysterious throbbing or whirring sound, described as a "low frequency hum", causes sickness and nosebleeds and has baffled scientists for more than 20 years.

Now the Scottish Executive is being urged to investigate a phenomenon which experts believe is found in many parts of the UK [e.g. Bristol, England G-fs] and across the world [e.g. Taos, NM G-fs].

In Scotland, the main focus is on the Ayrshire town of Largs. Residents claim the "Largs hum", first identified in the 1980s, causes headaches and chest pains, as well as nausea and nose bleeds. Numerous potential sources have been identified and examined but there is still no conclusive outcome.

The mystery has led Kay Ullrich, the SNP MSP for the west of Scotland, to table a parliamentary question after an initial inquiry by environmental health officers failed to resolve the problem.

Mrs Ullrich said: "This noise is affecting the health and well-being of people so I am asking the executive to instruct the relevant organisations to conduct a full investigation."

The hum has tormented Georgie Hyslop, 58, every day for a year. "You are lucky if you can get an hour's sleep at night," she said. "It gives you headaches, your ears pop when you come in, you feel your nose bursting, and your chest is crushing in."

Mrs Hyslop, a former air force radar operative, keeps the radio on all day to drown it out. She keeps a log of the noise and pressure fluctuations.

She claims to have very sensitive hearing and says the hum varies at different times and in different parts of Largs. It is particularly bad in her bungalow in the middle of the town.

Jeanette Matheson, 58, from Paisley, was a frequent visitor to a friend who lives next to Mrs Hyslop. She now "dreads" going back to Largs after suffering headaches, nausea, and sleep loss.

While industrial sources and low-frequency submarine communications systems have been mooted as explanations for the noise, a more controversial possibility is that an entirely different type of energy is being detected.

Some researchers claim electro-magnetic energy, such as low-frequency radio waves, could be producing some sensation of hearing. Leslie Mair, a lecturer from the department of energy and environmental technology at Glasgow Caledonian University, said the theory would be regarded with extreme scepticism by most people.

"This is not traditional science, much more controversial and not at all understood," he said.

Mr Mair has taken measurements at Mrs Hyslop's house on two occasions and concluded there was "some noise or hum at the very low frequency of around 60Hz". He said he had not heard the sound before and initially speculated Hunterston, Clydeport Authority, or underground gas pipes may have been the source.

"I was pretty sceptical at first but there does appear to be a problem which is causing severe distress," he said. "This situation is more prevalent than might be realised and is reported all over the world in very similar terms."

Mr Mair, who is constructing an acoustic resonator to make it easier to hear and measure the sound, has ruled out over-sensitive hearing.

Attempts by North Ayrshire Council's environmental health department to get to the root of the problem have proved futile.

A spokesman said comprehensive noise monitoring using sophisticated equipment had taken place during 10 visits to Mrs Hyslop's property.

"At all times, the measured levels were so low as to be below the threshold of normal human hearing," he said. "Furthermore, there was no occasion when any officer was able to hear the alleged noise. Accordingly, no statutory noise nuisance exists."

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Sourcing the Taos Hum

By Thomas Begich ©

Three years ago Congress directed scientists and observers from some of the most prestigious research institutes in the nation to look into a strange low frequency noise heard by residents in and around the small town of Taos, New Mexico. For years those who had heard the noise, often described by them as a "hum", had been looking for answers. No one was sure when it began, but its persistence led first a few and then many of those who heard it (called "hearers" by each other) to band together. In 1993 they found their way to Congress.

The investigation Congress requested consisted of a team of a dozen investigators from a number of scientific institutions. Joe Mullins of the University of New Mexico and Horace Poteet of Sandia National Laboratories wrote the team's final report. Other New Mexico research organizations involved included Phillips Air Force Laboratory and the Los Alamos National Laboratory. Concern by hearers that the hum might have been caused by the Department of Defense ensured that the investigation was conducted in the open and that a large number of persons were contacted.

The first goal of the investigative team was to interview hearers and try to determine the nature of the hum ­ the sound it made, its frequency, timing and its effects on those who heard it. Next the team planned to survey residents of Taos and the surrounding communities to determine how wide spread the hum was. Finally, the team was to try to isolate and determine the cause of the hum. Important to their effort was the team's clear interest in deter-mining the cause of the phenomenon, rather than questioning the hum's existence. There was a generally clear understanding by the investigators that something was happening here, but just exactly what it was seemed to defy definition.

The initial investigation focused on ten hearers and determined certain key facts surrounding the hum. It was persistent. It was heard by only a small number of people. The sound was extremely low on the frequency scale ­ between 30 and 80Hz. There was variation in how different hearers perceived the sound. Some heard a sound like the low rumbling of a truck while others heard a more steady, pulsing, yet still low sound. Interestingly, the investigators learned that the sound was not limited to the area around Taos, but was, in fact, heard at places all over the country and around the globe.

Hearers described the increasing problems they were having with the hum. Consistent with the reports and complaints that had brought the issue to Congress in the first place, hearers described the hum as a cause not just of annoyance, but also of dizziness, insomnia or sleep disturbance, pressure on the ears, headaches and even nosebleeds. The hearers were also bothered by the disturbing nature of its existence: it did not seem like a natural phenomenon to them. According to the August 23, 1993 " Taos Hum Investigation: Informal Report", most hearers initially experienced the hum with an "abrupt beginning, as if some device were switched on." Many of the hearers believed there was a connection between the hum, the military installations in and around New Mexico, and the Department of Defense or that the hum was somehow caused by the U. S. Navy's ELF (Extremely Low Frequency) stations in Northern Michigan. These suspicions made a civilian presence on the investigation team necessary.

After examining ten hearers the team (now including James Kelly, a hearing research scientist with the University of New Mexico's Health Sciences Center) began a broad survey of Taos locals. Their survey of 1,440 residents led the team to extrapolate that roughly 2% of the Taos population were hearers.

Given this large number of hearers, initial exploration of a source for the hum focused on external possibilities for generation of the low frequency hum. While there were isolated instances of hearing within the low frequency range identified by hearers, these tests revealed no consistent background noise which could account for the hum. As Mullins and Kelly concluded, there were "no known acoustic signals that might account for the hum, nor are there any seismic events that might explain it."

Having ruled out external sources the team focused on testing hearers' inner ears and on researching frequency sensitivity. While these investigations are not complete, it appears highly unlikely that the hum is caused by low frequency tinnitus as some have speculated. Mullins and Kelly are more inclined to believe that hearers have developed a specific sensitivity to sounds in the 20 to 100Hz range and therefore are directing their research toward gleaning an understanding of how the ear perceives low frequency energy.

While this approach may help answer the persistent question of the hum's origin, Dr. Nick Begich and Patrick Flanagan (a Sedona-based inventor and scientist), have explored another possibility. Dr. Nick Begich has found some interesting clues in Mullins' own comments that might lead to another source for the hearers' unique ability and, perhaps in the long term, a solution to their near-debilitating problem.

To support the future direction of his research Mullins has pointed out that, as a nation, "...we're slowly building up the background of electronic noise...We're going to more and more cordless things ­ all electromagnetic transmitters. Whether that's the cause of the hum, we don't know, but we can't write it off."

Begich theorizes that the cause of the hum may be found within this electromagnetic background buildup. He believes that there is a mechanism for the transduction of sound which might explain the hum. The key may be hidden in a technology invented by Dr. Patrick Flanagan. NeurophonicTM sound technologies were developed based on an understanding of sound transfer using different "hearing" pathways to the brain. Standard sound measuring and diagnostic equipment would be ineffective in locating the "sound" source.

Patrick Flanagan's NeurophoneTM, invented when Flanagan was 14, is a low voltage, high frequency, amplitude modulated radio oscillator. In simpler terms, the NeurophoneTM acts on the skin of the listener by converting "...modulated radio waves into a neural modulated signal that bypasses the 8th cranial hearing nerve and transmits intelligence directly into the learning centers of the brain." In other words the NeurophoneTM allows the listener to "hear" without having to use the ear canal or the bones and nerves we normally associate with hearing.

Flanagan's patent was approved after a six year fight with the patent office culminating in a test of the device on a hearing impaired patent office employee. The demonstration convinced the patent examiner that the NeurophoneTM worked, even though it appeared to fly in the face of traditional concepts of how we hear. The novel concept with the NeurophoneTM is that we use the skin itself as the neural transmitter.

This concept is actually quite simple. When in the womb, a fetus's skin serves as the primary sensory organ. From it evolve the eyes, the nose and the ears. While the ears specialize in hearing, Flanagan recognized that the skin is also an organ. Consequently, if a way could be found to transmit information through the skin to the brain, then information could be directly communicated to the brain, bypassing the ears. The NeurophoneTM ran radio waves through two small electrodes placed on the skin and essentially used existing neural pathways to directly access the brain.

Flanagan's NeurophoneTM research offers a possible explanation for the Taos hum. As Mullins has pointed out, we are surrounded by a large number of low frequency devices ­ devices all operating around 60Hz. Given Flanagan's NeurophoneTM concept, it is possible that this concentration of frequency may well be resonating with the skin causing a direct neural link between the skin and the brain. As with the NeurophoneTM, some individuals are more receptive than others. Consequently, some persons' skin could be more receptive to ambient electromagnetic frequencies than others.

Flanagan and Begich speculate that the NeurophoneTM could be pulsed at the frequencies identified by those hearers interviewed by Mullins and the investigative team. If the hum was generated by ambient electromagnetic fields then the NeurophoneTM technology could be used to mitigate it. While Mullins is investigating the ear canal and our human hearing apparatus, Flanagan and Begich believe that the answer is more likely to be found through the pathways established by the NeurophoneTM, which bypass the ear entirely.

Proof of whether or not their theory is correct is reliant upon testing of hearers. If Begich and Flanagan are correct, the NeurophonicTM technology and what has been learned about hearing may well be used to alleviate the suffering of hearers as the search for the source of the hum continues. 

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The Taos Hum

(Begley, Sharon, et al; "Do You Hear What I Hear?, Newsweek, May 3, 1993. Cr. J. Covey.)

Over the years, we have reported on the British hum (SF#36) and the Sausalito hum (SF#42). The latter has been attributed to mating toadfish in the harbor; the former to an underground network of gas pipelines. We have resisted reporting other hums. However, a recently reported hum possesses some interesting features. It is called the Taos hum, and it has been bothering some sensitive individuals in the U.S. Southwest:

"More than a dozen people living in an area from Albuquerque to the Colorado border said in July 1992 interviews with the Albuquerque Journal that they had heard the lowlevel hum.

"A Denver audiologist said that she had recorded a steady vibration of 17 cycles per second with a harmonic rising to 70 cycles per second near Taos. The low range of human hearing is 20 to 30 cycles per second."

(Anonymous; "Defense Dept. Denies Link to Taos Hum," Albuquerque Journal, April 7, 1993. Cr. L. Farish.)

Some residents of Taos are plagued by this machine-like sound that grinds away 24 hours a day, with only occasional respites. Some cannot sleep; others complain of headaches. Most people, however, cannot hear the hum at all.

Nevertheless, it is there. Instruments pick it up. In fact, they have even recorded a higher-frequency component that pulses between 125 and 300 cycles per second.

The cause of the hum is a mystery. One hint comes from the observation that the hum seems concentrated along the Rio Grande Rift, a fault that also runs into Texas and Colorado. One theory blames the hum on the fault's rock surfaces grinding against each other!

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Updated 12/01/2003 10:17:30 PM