This Girl’s Suspicions About Hand Dryer Dangers Were Spot On

by Wendy Wisner
Originally Published: 
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Ever had a kid who was scared of hand dryers? I sure did. Both of my kids went through phases where they wouldn’t use hand dryers at all, and would dash out of the bathroom if one of them came on.

It makes sense: those things are loud AF, the forced air that emanates out of them is intense, and if you aren’t prepared for the sound and the force, they can totally startle you.

A new study recently came out verifying what kids have been saying forever – that hand dryers are loud, scary, and actually might be harmful to kids’ ears. But here’s the other groundbreaking aspect of the study: the study was carried out by a kid herself.

Yes, really.

The study – published in the Canadian journal Paediatrics & Child Health, no less – was conducted by Nora Keegan, an amazing 13-year-old from from Calgary, Canada. She began her research at the ripe age of 9, visited over 40 different public restrooms in the process, and presented her findings at a couple different science fairs before hitting the big time and getting published in a medical journal.

Say what you want about kids these days, but they are kicking ass all over the place and never cease to amaze me.

Nora’s research was inspired by her own encounters with hand dryers as a young kid.

“I found my ears hurting and also that children were covering their ears because the hand dryers were too loud, so I wondered if maybe they actually are dangerous to human ears, and I decided to test it,” Nora explained to The New York Times.

Soon after, Nora got to work. Her research spanned 2 years – from 2015 to 2018 – and involved visiting countless public restrooms (thanks to her mom and dad for transporting her to them all!) as well as using a handy professional decibel meter to measure sound levels. Nora also measured the height of the hand dryers, and the distance you had to stand in order for them to be effective at drying your hands.

The research itself became a family affair. “It was quite a fun adventure,” Nora’s mom, a pediatrician, told the Times. “We would just get in the car and drive all over.”

So what were the results of her research? First, she found that hand dryers were generally way too loud for children’s ears – many operated at decibels that are known to be harmful to kids’ hearing. Not only that, but manufacturers often claimed that their hand dryers operated with less intense sound than they actually did.

Nora also found that the height and distance that hand dryers are placed in kids’ bathrooms often increases the risk.

“Hand dryers are actually really, really loud, and especially at children’s heights since they’re close to where the air comes out,” Nora told NPR.

Xlerator hand dryers and as well as two varieties of Dyson Airblade dryers were the biggest offenders, exceeding 100 decibels, according to Nora’s research. In her paper, Nora notes that sounds greater than 100 decibels can lead to “learning disabilities, attention difficulties, and ruptured ear drums.”

“My loudest measurement was 121 decibels from a Dyson Airblade model,” she told NPR. “And this is not good because Health Canada doesn’t allow toys for children to be sold over 100 decibels, as they know that they can damage children’s hearing.”

The budding scientist presented her findings at two science fairs. She won a bronze medal for her project in fifth grade, and then a gold medal when she presented again in sixth grade. That was when she got the advice from the fair’s judges to try to write up her findings and submit them to a medical journal.

Again, she got her parents in on it. Her dad, who is a family physician, helped her fine-tune the paper. She submitted to one journal and received a rejection, revised, and then got it published in Paediatrics & Child Health this past June.

This kid isn’t just smart as whip – she’s tenacious and doesn’t give up. Absolutely inspiring.

Nora tells NPR that she hopes her findings will cause hand dryer makers to rethink how they manufacture their products – and she hopes Canada will consider tightening their noise-level regulations for hand dryers.

But Nora isn’t necessarily going to wait for others to improve the situation: she’s taking matters into her own hands. In seventh grade, she attempted to fashion a filter to block out some of the offensive sounds. Although her work isn’t complete yet, she was able to put together a prototype based on a synthetic air filter she purchased from Home Depot.

She tells the Times that her model filter should be able to reduce the sound from hand dryers by about 11 dBa and that her next step is to possibly patent her invention.

Because of course. This kid is unstoppable and we are so here for it.

When asked what her whole experience has taught her, Nora didn’t emphasize her the end results or her impressive accomplishments. Rather, she noted what she’d learned in the process.

“I’ve learned to never give up, because if I had given up then it would never have come to this,” she told the Times. “And also, I’ve learned that if you see something that you question, you should go for it and don’t stop.”

This young woman is a total BOSS. I don’t know what’s in store for her next, but whatever it is, it’s going to be as remarkable and badass as she is.

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