The University of Southampton
Population Health

HEFUA

HEFUA is the UK consortium (encompassing researcher, clinicians, policy-makers and the public) that addresses the fact that humans are being increasingly exposed to ultrasound in air, through  commercial devices.

Ultrasonic tones with a frequency around 20 kHz, pulsing on for around 10s, then off for about 10s are commonly used to monitor the integrity of public address systems in public places like stadia
Ultrasound devices are ubiquitous

There is insufficient understanding of how these devices affect health, even when exposures are known. Exposures are difficult to assess: indeed measurements of the device outputs could not have been traced to measurement standards because these are only just emerging. There is clearly a knowledge gap, requiring a interdisciplinary discussion.

A review published by the Royal Society on this is available for free PDF download here, and the project website is available here. A video showing how smart phones and tablet computers can detect ultrasound in air is available here (use in conjunction with Appendix A of this paper).

HEFUA is concerned that there is currently a paucity of evidence that can be scientifically used to assess the claims by members of the public that they, or their children, experience adverse effects as a consequence of exposure in air to ultrasound (frequencies in excess of 20 kHz) and very high frequency sound (15-20 kHz). The data are sparse, and the specialized techniques and equipment for measurement and calibration in this environment are not widely available.

Set against this, there is increasing objective evidence that incidental exposure to such fields is becoming more common and widespread, e.g. through the use of such high frequency sounds for pest deterrents, and in public spaces as part of the usual operation of some automated doors, fire alarm systems, etc.  This group will meet to understand the issues and challenges, and devise strategies to obtain objective and rigorous knowledge base to assist the community, manufacturers, and policymakers. Find out more...

incidental exposure to such fields is becoming more common and widespread, e.g. through the use of such high frequency sounds  for pest deterrents, and in public spaces
Can babies hear ultrasound?
Spectogram
Find out how to take a spectrogram to measure suspected ultrasound, using your mobile phone

There has been a recent proliferation in the sale and deployment of devices that expose humans to ultrasound in air in public and residential spaces. Given the difficulties in measurement checks on such fields, our ignorance on health effects should be a cause for caution and research, not a cause for increasing sales and deployment

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