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People Hearing Hum Aren’t Alone

THE NEW YORK TIMES

No one else in Phil Ciofalo’s neighborhood in Albuquerque, N.M., by the foothills of the Sandia Mountains is bothered by the humming sound that irritates him constantly. They cannot even hear it.

In other neighborhoods around the globe, however, Ciofalo has company, other people who complain of hearing a persistent humming sound, usually when they are in their homes seeking peace and quiet from a busy world.

“These people are definitely not crazy,” said Jim Cowan, senior consultant for Acentech Inc. in Cambridge, Mass. Acentech was hired by the City of Kokomo, Ind., to study a mysterious hum that residents first complained about in 1999. “They are just picking something up that others can’t,” Cowan said.

The preliminary investigation in Kokomo has determined one possible source for the hum, but like other studies it concluded that there could be several causes and that more research was needed.

The most common description of the hum is that it sounds like the low rumble of a distant diesel truck idling. Some people also feel a vibration, or do not hear any sound but just sense the vibration. Others report various maladies they associate with the hum, including headaches, diarrhea, nosebleeds, dizziness, fatigue and memory loss.

There have been reports of hums in England, Scotland, Australia and other places in the United States for decades.

The “hummers,” as they are sometimes called, vary widely in age and in the times and locations that the sound is most pronounced.

Ciofalo has contacted the county health and environment office and written his senators and members of Congress. Rep. Heather A. Wilson, R-N.M., forwarded his request to specialists at the University of New Mexico, and Ciofalo has received technicians from Sandia National Laboratories in his home to do tests.

He has temporarily had his power, security alarms, water and phone turned off and now sleeps with headphones on. He also had his hearing tested and found it be “as good as a newborn baby.”

In the 1990s, complaints about a humming sound in Taos reached Congress and an investigation was done. But with the study inconclusive as to a source of the hum, news of it nearly vanished. The hum, however, continues for some people in that area who share their problem by writing about it in local newspapers or in online discussion forums.

Not everyone is convinced that the hum is real. In most cases there is simply no evidence that the hum people are hearing is coming from an external source. Gregory Speis, a senior electronic technician at the University of New Mexico, was sent to Ciofalo’s house to conduct tests this year after the chairman of his department received the letter forwarded from Wilson’s office. Speis said he was unable to detect a hum with his equipment or simply hear it.

“I’m the kind of guy that believes in UFOs even though I’ve never seen one, and I would say this is not as probable as a UFO,” Speis said by phone from his office at the university. Speis said he had heard rumors about the Taos hum. “I think some people want to hear things,” he said. “I wouldn’t call it mass hypnosis, but maybe it’s the power of suggestion.”