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1:20 pm
Thu May 10, 2012

Hear That? Annoying Hum Has Canada Making Noise

Originally published on Thu May 10, 2012 8:50 pm

Thousands of people in Windsor, Ontario, say they are being invaded by an obnoxious noise emanating from outside Detroit. They call it the "Windsor Hum," and it's really two sounds — a deep, very low-frequency hum, like a diesel truck idling in your driveway, and a deep, vibrating pulse that you feel more than you hear.

Roy Norton, Detroit's Canadian consul general, says the noise is coming from the man-made Zug Island, which sits in the Detroit River. The noise apparently began when U.S. Steel reopened a mill on the island two years ago and, over time, Norton says, "It seems to have gotten worse."

U.S. officials say Americans can't hear it. Still, staff with Canada's Foreign Ministry have met with staff from the U.S. State Department to discuss it.

"We would like folks on [the American] side to cooperate with us and show equal seriousness," Norton says, but cooperation is the last thing Canada is getting. Both the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Michigan's Department of Environmental Quality say they have no jurisdiction over noise complaints, and U.S. Steel has no comment.

The seemingly endless game of pass-the-buck is maddening for people like Windsor resident Gary Grosse.

"The kids are being affected," Gross says. "They're cranky all the time. You know, my 4-year-old son walked outside one day, held his ears and said, 'It's too loud, Dad, it's too loud. I don't want to go outside.' "

Grosse is the administrator for the Windsor/Essex County Hum Facebook group. He's been mocked by some elected officials on the American side who say their constituents can't hear it, but that turns out not to be true. Darryl Patterson, who lives in River Rouge, Mich., where the island is located, says the hum shakes his house and wakes his new baby.

"Fourteen months old, barely sleeps through the night and he gets woken up by that sound," Patterson says. "Yeah, that's noise pollution — 'cause it's messing my sleep up."

A Canadian seismographic study already has identified the island as the likely source of the hum. Everyone agrees an acoustic study is the next step, but it appears that finding the money for a study is up to the Canadians. Until then, it's likely there will be more sleepless nights ahead for the people of Windsor.

Copyright 2013 Michigan Radio. To see more, visit http://michiganradio.org/.

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

It's been a long time since the United States invaded Canada. But thousands of people in Windsor, Ontario, say they are being invaded by an obnoxious noise emanating from Detroit. U.S. officials claim Americans can't hear it.

Michigan Radio's Tracy Samilton has this story of this international incident over a sound known as the Windsor Hum.

TRACY SAMILTON, BYLINE: The Windsor Hum is really two sounds, a deep, very low-frequency hum, like a diesel truck idling in your driveway, and a deep, vibrating pulse or whomp. You feel it more than you hear it.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE WINDSOR HUM)

SAMILTON: Listen long enough and your eardrums and the bones in your skull and your chest start to hurt a little. Because it's such a low frequency, it doesn't translate well to broadcast, so the sound you're hearing was sped up a little so it can be heard through your radio. The hum is sporadic. It can happen day or night and last for hours. It wakes people up. And almost everyone thinks the source is here.

ROY NORTON: We're standing nearby, overlooking Zug Island, which is a manmade island in the Detroit River of some hundreds of acres.

SAMILTON: Roy Norton is consul general of Canada to Michigan. He's too polite to say it, but Detroit's Zug Island is an awful place. Huge belches of steam, smoke and flame rise from the stacks, and the air is thick with stench and grit. But it's the noise that bothers Windsor. It seems to have begun when U.S. Steel reopened the mill about two years ago, and over time...

NORTON: It seems to have gotten worse.

SAMILTON: Twenty-two thousand people called in to a recent town hall teleconference about the hum. Staff with Canada's Foreign Ministry have met with staff of the U.S. State Department. Norton says Canada is serious about this.

NORTON: We would like folks on this side to cooperate with us and show equal seriousness.

SAMILTON: But cooperation is the last thing Canada is getting. Both the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality say they have no jurisdiction over the matter. U.S. Steel has no comment. The city of River Rouge, where the island is located, does have a local noise ordinance. David Bower is the city's attorney.

DAVID BOWER: I mean, if it affected people in River Rouge, then we would have standing to take enforcement action. It's apparently affecting people that are not only outside of River Rouge, they're outside of United States of America.

SAMILTON: At any rate, Bower says the city is broke. He says the best Americans can do is help Canadians gain access to the island. The seemingly endless game of pass the buck is maddening for people like Windsor resident Gary Grosse.

GARY GROSSE: You know, the kids are being affected. They're cranky all the time. My 4-year-old son walked outside one day and held his ears and said: It's too loud, Dad. It's too loud. I don't want to go outside. Well, that's my 4-year-old kid.

SAMILTON: Grosse is the administrator for the Windsor-Essex Hum Facebook group. He and other members have recorded hours of the noise to prove it really is that bad. Some elected officials on the American side have mocked them, claiming their constituents can't hear the hum. That turns out not to be true. New father Darryl Patterson lives in River Rouge. He says the hum shakes his house and wakes the baby.

DARRYL PATTERSON: Fourteen months old, barely sleeps through the night, and he gets woken up by that sound. Yeah, that's noise pollution because it's messing my sleep up.

SAMILTON: If Zug Island were a person, we'd have to say innocent until proven guilty. But a Canadian seismographic study identifies the island as the likely source of the hum. Everyone agrees an acoustic study is the next step. It appears that finding the money for that study is up to Windsor, Ontario and Canada. In the meantime, it's likely there will be more sleepless nights ahead for the people of Windsor. For NPR News, I'm Tracy Samilton. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.