Followup: What’s been done to try to muffle ‘The Hum’

Earlier this month, community sleuthing traced the source of at least one version of the pervasive noise problem that’s become known as “The Hum” to an offloading operation at CalPortland on the Duwamish River, just east of Highland Park. The sound we captured in this report – heard as far away as Gatewood – was a clear match to the sound community members were hearing (and recording, as included in an earlier report). Highland Park Action Committee co-chairs Carolyn and Billy Stauffer met with managers at the facility, who said they were committed to take action to stop the sound; Carolyn delivered the report at last month’s HPAC meeting.

Now, they have followed up on what’s happened at the plant since then. WSB covered the Stauffers’ visited to CalPortland yesterday for a progress report on what’s been done:

The oscillating sound was traced to equipment that basically vacuums dry cargo out of the holds of ships that are handled at the terminal – here’s the room that powers it:

This next photo shows the silencers, aka the mufflers, which were made at a Northwest shipyard in the ’90s:

After the trouble last month, terminal manager Steve Penswick says, they checked out the silencers, and found damaged bafflers. Penswick and CalPortland’s permitting/government affairs manager Pete Stoltz talked with the Stauffers and WSB. According to Penswick (in the top photo with Billy Stauffer), one silencer was fixable, but a replacement had to be ordered for the other one (the one that’s wrapped up in the photo above), which in the meantime has insulation intended as a temporary fix, after getting advice from a noise consultant:

The new silencer – being made in Minnesota – is expected here early next month and will take about a day to install. How well will all this work? It’ll get a test soon, as more shipments are on the way.

54 Replies to "Followup: What's been done to try to muffle 'The Hum'"

  • Leann October 17, 2012 (12:44 pm)

    Funny, I was just wondering about the status of the hum this morning :)

  • Todd October 17, 2012 (12:46 pm)

    Thanks, I was just wondering if there was anything new on this.

  • Bianca October 17, 2012 (1:17 pm)

    Great update :)

  • Hummy Mummy October 17, 2012 (2:38 pm)

    Will CalPortland be responsible for any kind of environmental impact assessment?

  • Jason October 17, 2012 (3:35 pm)

    “Will CalPortland be responsible for any kind of environmental impact assessment?”
    You are kidding, right? Seriously… please tell me you are.

  • cascadianone October 17, 2012 (3:45 pm)

    Noise so loud we can hear it clearly from miles away, but the workers are somehow surprised to discover damaged baffling? I hope they all wear hearing protection in that environment! LOL.

    Thanks WSB, good journalism brings accountability.

  • sardine October 17, 2012 (4:02 pm)

    Now let’s see if we can get baffles back on all those motorcycles driving around that have been illegally altered to make up for the small size of a certain part of the owner’s anatomy.

  • Rumbles October 17, 2012 (4:33 pm)

    I’m sorta going to miss all the mystery surrounding the hum — if this indeed fixes it…

  • carlton October 17, 2012 (5:58 pm)

    back to boring ol West Seattle when they fix the hum..

  • Bob Zickes October 17, 2012 (6:34 pm)

    Thanks West Seattle Blog and to those working on this to fix the problem.

  • Julie October 17, 2012 (7:05 pm)

    Started hearing it again this afternoon in Riverview Park – maybe it’s a little bit quieter? But still pretty loud. I hope the new silencer makes a big difference.

    Thanks to Billy, Carolyn, Kay and the WSB! And to CalPortland for trying to fix the noise.

  • Pat October 17, 2012 (7:12 pm)

    It’s Wed at 7PM and I hear it. Can’t they hold off using this equipment until it is fixed? I am sure like many folks here I can not afford to loose sleep. I know it mean loss of revenue, but I think it is a health hazard (i.e. sanity!). I hope they at least have the consideration not to use it after 10PM.

  • MrMatt October 17, 2012 (7:31 pm)

    @ Cascadianone – Really low frequencies (like, possibly, this hum) can actually sound louder farther away from the origination than standing closer to it due to the nature of the wavelength. Lower freqs have a bigger/longer wavelength than those of high/shrill sounds. It’s kind of the same reason why you can hear bass from somebody’s hoopty-ride-stereo inside your house, down, around the block from the offending vehicle. :) At at ultra low frequencies you’ll “feel” it more than hear it.

    That’s pretty nifty that some of you folks tracked down the source – I remember hearing a hum a number of times when I lived down on Alki a couple years back.

  • DonHP October 17, 2012 (7:34 pm)

    Hum is back and is nearly as loud or about the same (7pm Weds night). Two cargo ships similar to the Silver Lake, from a few weeks ago, are now at the Cal Portland dock and Lafarge dock to the north. We could be in for a loud week. Went down near Cal Portland tonight and watched the dust fly as the pump worked unloading a mid-compartment of the ship. Maybe a midnight to 8am moratorium on the noise might be acceptable. Keep working on it guys.

  • ghar72 October 17, 2012 (8:36 pm)

    We heard it too, at 17th and Thistle. Around 7 for about 1/2 hour. It was my first time hearing The Hum. My partner said it seemed quieter than when she heard it during the last round.

  • cd102 October 17, 2012 (9:22 pm)

    Great job! Maybe the next big push should be to do something about the incessant nighttime noise from the trains down by the low bridge. Some nights it’s just a constant disturbance. Horn after horn, hour after hour. The noise travels for miles.

    Let’s start the “Install Gates, Kill The Horns” campaign!

  • Amy October 17, 2012 (9:34 pm)

    I came here to see if anyone else was hearing The Hum, or I was crazy. Glad (or not) to know it’s the former. (I’m near 32nd/Myrtle.) I agree, ghar72, it does seem a little quieter than the last time.

  • Nitro October 17, 2012 (9:35 pm)

    9:30- hearing the hum at SSCC. Pretty loud.

  • LB October 17, 2012 (9:47 pm)

    It sounds like a giant generator. I can hear it over the sound of my dryer, very loud tonight.

  • Rumbles October 17, 2012 (10:00 pm)

    Rumbles likes the choo-choos!

  • Lisa Hegle (Boettger) October 17, 2012 (10:07 pm)

    Another night of no sleep and frazzled nerves….

  • Andraste October 17, 2012 (10:11 pm)

    Heard it again tonight (near Riverview Park). Didn’t seem as loud, though. I appreciate the efforts they’re making to fix things, and I’m happy to be patient while that’s happening. They have to make a living, too, just like we all do.

  • Tom Dancs October 17, 2012 (11:26 pm)

    23:20 and the hum is still loud. Another episode like last time just won’t do. If a neighborhood party is too loud the police come and shut it down. Do noise pollution laws not apply to businesses? I have complained to the city the last time, and never heard back.

    It’s nice that they are working on the problem, but in the meantime there are many folks loosing sleep, missing work and thus income. I have heard from one attorney that there is talk of a class action? So document your lost sleep and productivity that results from the hum.

    Good night.

    • WSB October 17, 2012 (11:55 pm)

      Please be sure to contact the city so that it’s documented – look for the noise abatement number – we discussed in our previous stories (linked in this one) – TR

  • Dano October 18, 2012 (12:12 am)

    Been following this story here for a while now and was glad to see an update today when I laid down in bed and heard the hum.

    I live in Kirkland (Juanita) and I’m skeptical that what I hear could be the West Seattle hum but I have nothing else to go on.

    What I hear is more subtle then the recordings I’ve listened to. Still, it’s a pretty obnoxious feeling like it is happening inside my head (Who knows, maybe it is) I do know that I only seem to hear it late at night and only inside where it is quiet enough to drown out other noises. I’ve never stayed up late enough to see when it stops.

  • Seattle dweller October 18, 2012 (5:49 am)

    No horns for trains? Then a cyclist will get hit and the same minded folks will be blogging up a storm.

    Horns are used to keep people in the area safe.

    Motorcycles, trains and kids on the lawn… Lighten up abd trybto fund the charm in the annoyances – or you’ll go crazy.

    Welcome to sharing space on earth

  • dsa October 18, 2012 (7:46 am)

    Now that there is a logical source and a cooperating “owner”, (thanks WSB) I think this will get resolved.

  • ghar72 October 18, 2012 (7:51 am)

    And a big thanks to Carolyn and Billy for following up on this. They’re a huge asset to the Highland Park community!

  • T-Rex October 18, 2012 (7:53 am)

    Has anyone ever heard of ear plugs for sleeping? I simply cannot believe some of the comments made on this sight regarding this simply annoying sound. It is amazing to me that that has been going on for years and NOW this;
    Will CalPortland be responsible for any kind of environmental impact assessment? Really????
    The Duwamish is a working river, the Port a working port. Big machines make big noise. Get over it, once they attempt to do something with this noise, you guys will find something else that “bothers” you. In fact, I would bet someone has already contacted their lawyer regarding the hum. Anyone want to fess up?

  • Bryan October 18, 2012 (8:15 am)

    Yes, it does seem quieter from my house. My wife insisted what we heard wasn’t “the hum”. It was.

    I also agree with Andraste. I think we can live with some noise, if it means keeping a healthy port business in Seattle.

    I was in a tiny town in Nebraska last week, and there I heard a very similar sound, though louder. I believe it was coming from a large grain depot on the edge of town. No ships there, but trucks and trains, that were probably loading/offloading Nebraska corn.

  • Rachel October 18, 2012 (8:47 am)

    Admit it folks, who’s bummed that it isn’t an underground UFO. ;-)

  • Megarater October 18, 2012 (8:57 am)

    Thanks commenters for a good eye roll that stretched my whole face this morning! Really, this low consistent hum is making you lose income because you can’t sleep and therefore can’t work? Here are some things in my neighborhood that are louder than “the hum”: my husbands voice. the TV. my neighbors rooster. Police sirens. cars. buses. my phone. dogs. You know, now that you mention it, I think these things are keeping me up at night and now I shouldn’t go to work either. Better yet, does anyone want to start a class action suit against these things with me?? They are causing some MAJOR life impacts….

  • JenF October 18, 2012 (9:05 am)

    Thanks, WSB! Glad this may be resolved.
    Heard the hum last night around 7 pm, and just started again this morning.

  • wetone October 18, 2012 (10:24 am)

    Heard the hum this morning also, 50th & Alaska. The PLANE noise is much worse than the hum. Thanks Seattle Gov. !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • datamuse October 18, 2012 (10:46 am)

    I used to live right next to the Olive Way exit from I-5, so the hum is fairly mild by comparison. (I also can’t hear it anyway over the husband’s snoring, so second the earplugs suggestion.)

    Megarater, are we neighbors? Somebody near me has a rooster, which is how I learned that they don’t just crow at dawn!

  • Long Time WS Res. October 18, 2012 (1:27 pm)

    Really Tom!? Class action? Would love to see you guys try! It’s people like you and your cohorts that drive business out of Seattle and we lose jobs. This is a petty excuse to miss work and blame someone else for your “Fun Day”. Get over it. If this does go class action, I would personally support Cal Portland. They are trying to fix the problem. Maybe Lafarge should sue everyone on the blog who blamed them for slander… How would you like that Tom since you were probably one of them.

    @megarater: You rock! I am so with you it hurts. There is so much other stuff to worry about versus a hum that is getting quieter with a cooperating company that pays a crap load in property, employment, L&I and other taxes as well as health care.

    Wait I have a better idea! Lets get rid of the port, the airport and all industry on the Duwamish so we can live in a perfect utopian society where we share everything.

    Get a life and bring on the lawyers!!!

  • T-Rex October 18, 2012 (3:55 pm)

    megarate and Long Time WS Res – YOU GUYS ROCK!!!

    I love Seattle but sometimes I just say “REALLY”????????

  • gerry v October 18, 2012 (9:43 pm)

    Man been hearing it for so long – i wonder if i will be able to sleep once it is gone…. :()

  • Tom Dancs October 19, 2012 (2:01 am)

    Dear Megarater and Long Time WS,

    I never wrote that I was missing work/loosing income in my post last night. I have read of other people in this forum who have such complaints, and I know folks who have jobs where a lack of sleep could pose safety hazards to themselves and/or others.

    With regard to the class action, I was simply stating what I have heard from a third party. I have no involvement.

    I am unfamiliar with the Lafarge slander suit, and this only the second time I have ever posted on this blog, so the sentiment of the somewhat personal attack from Long Time WS, is unfounded, and uncalled for.

    Please read and comprehend posts carefully before turning them into personal attacks. It’s unbecoming of a community as diverse and vibrant as ours to be unable to have open dialogue without attempting to insult or belittle the people engaged in the conversation.

    Thank you for your consideration in this matter.

    Best regards,

    Tom Dancs

    • WSB October 19, 2012 (7:00 am)

      Tom – Thanks for your note. We try to keep things civil around here but I’m afraid we failed on this count. This week in a couple threads, we’ve had an outbreak of people belittling others’ concerns, and we may have to watch that more closely in the future. Just so no one misunderstands anything further, there ARE NO LAWSUITS – just people trying to be somewhat sardonic about the whole topic. – TR

  • Long Time WS Res. October 19, 2012 (8:59 am)

    Dear Tom Dancs… The post wasn’t meant to be a personal attack on you specifically so I apologize if that is how it was construed. The Lafarge thing was just a comment and I have no idea if this is even being considered but I would highly doubt it considering they have helped the community in regards to the hum. The bad press they received from this issue was immense. It seemed like residents were blaming them without proof, video taping the operation which have appeared on this blog with threats of local society wanting to shut them down. They seem fairly reasonable and responsible from what I have read thus far. People lose sleep for a multitude of reasons and I just don’t get why people get up in arms over something so simple. Yes noise regulations apply, yes the city knows who the culprit is, the unfortunate thing here is that I’m assuming that Cal Portland needs the ship there with material moving through the system to test and troubleshoot what needs to be done to quiet the un-loader. This takes time. People need to be patient while the company works on the issue at hand. I understand the sentiments on the blog regarding the hum as I have been following since the beginning but I think there also comes a point when our litigious society rears it’s ugly head in the form of a class action suit that you confirmed a lawyer told you may occur or is a possibility, etc. This is what I find ridiculous and why I agree with Megarater. It’s the way we do things (lawsuits) here and why costs are so high for a lot of goods and services. We sue when we don’t get our way. You of course are entitled to your opinion and I do respect your opinion although I may not agree and this is what makes this country so great. We can speak freely without fear of reprisal (in most circumstances).. It will certainly be interesting to see how this plays out and whether or not a lawyer tries to file suit. In my humble opinion this type of action would open a whole can of worms for industry that we just don’t need in society. I think we need business and we need manufacturing and we need the people to operate these facilities to make a wage and provide for their families. Lawyers and bureaucratic crap are ruining this country. I think they need a civics lesson from our founding fathers. Just my thought.

    Kind regards,

    LT WS Res.

  • Amy B October 19, 2012 (3:02 pm)

    I live in the Highland Park area and I have heard the hum. I don’t find it that awful, just peculiar. I appreciate all the work people have done to track it down; it’s been quite a mystery with some interesting theories.
    I use ear plugs because my husband snores (well, not so much since he got a C-PAP machine). So I really don’t hear the hum when I’m trying to sleep. I find the crazy bass noise from some car stereos and racing motorcycles to be much more annoying.
    I live near the fire station at 16th and Holden, and although I notice the sirens, they don’t bother me. Sometimes they might wake me up if it’s really early morning (say just after midnight).
    However, with all that said, we do live near a working port. It’s very hard to put in time-based noise regulations near an industrial area. The shipping companies have to offload when they arrive or they end up being delayed in their deliveries. This would interfere with both company and port operations. So it’s something we have to live with. And I am someone very conscious of environmental issues! But sometimes we have to compromise and live with things.

  • alex October 21, 2012 (9:34 pm)

    It’s humming again. I’m calling it in.

  • Holly October 22, 2012 (4:04 am)

    Still humming. All night long I’ve been having dreams about calling in, stopping random people on the street and having them listen, and racing around in my car to find it. In my (fitful) sleep, I am quite the motivated citizen!

  • Holly October 22, 2012 (4:05 am)

    We live in Fauntleroy on the hillside overlooking the ferry terminal…

  • Jennifer Louise October 22, 2012 (5:48 am)

    It’s louder tonight than it’s ever been!! This has to be illegal – I don’t understand why it’s not being fixed!

  • alex October 22, 2012 (6:04 am)

    The noise has woken me up several times throughout the night. I wish it would rain more!

  • Koni October 22, 2012 (7:57 am)

    Hum is back….kept me awake between 1am and the time my alarm finally went off at 6! Low vibration that made my molars ache!!! Really a drag…how long will they be allowed to continue like this! Grrrrr.

    • WSB October 22, 2012 (8:01 am)

      For anybody else who returns to this thread – we received numerous notes overnight. My co-publisher went out around 6 am, after seeing them, to see if it was the same source – but the noise seemed to be coming from elsewhere. Over the course of two trips, he couldn’t trace it – and by 7 am couldn’t hear it, as the day’s own noise (traffic etc.) surged in. – TR

  • sleepless in Westy October 22, 2012 (8:14 am)

    I awoke to it early this morning (3:20ish) and I live near Huling. It does not seem any quieter, if anything it was louder today. Can’t wait to see what the “improvements” bring…

  • me2 October 22, 2012 (8:39 am)

    I was never sure I could actually hear the hum previously, but it’s really loud this morning. I’ve been hearing it since 4am. Gatewood neighborhood.

  • alex October 22, 2012 (9:02 am)

    WSB, does this mean we need to find a secondary source as well? Do you want us to keep our ears open to try to identify this other source?

    • WSB October 22, 2012 (9:38 am)

      Honestly, I don’t know. As some commenters have pointed out, it’s an industry-rich area, and industry makes noise … sound also travels in odd ways … We checked with HPAC, involved in the last successful round of sleuthing and in maintaining community contact with CalPortland, and are also checking with them directly to see i they even have an offloading operation under way.

  • alex October 22, 2012 (11:54 am)

    FYI, a neighbor of mine told me last week that she heard it for the first time and it was loudest coming from her kitchen sink. If it is upsetting the ground it would cause the pipes to resonate, probably over long distances, and, this could be the cause of the variation of some hearing it and some not.

Sorry, comment time is over.