What's That Sound?

Strange, Pulsating Hum Baffles Sandia Heights Resident

Stephanie Garcia
4 min read
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Phil Ciofalo, 81, is tired of being pestered by a constant humming noise in his house—and is even more annoyed by the fact that he can’t figure out where it originates.

Ciofalo, a retired chemical engineer, has lived in his far Northeast Heights home since 1984. His doctor says he has the hearing of a newborn baby. He started hearing the noise roughly three and a half years ago.

“The sound got worse (with time) and now it’s going on day and night. You hear a vibration like a truck idling in your driveway.”

Ciofalo said at first people thought he was crazy but then they began to hear it, too. “People ask ‘how can you live with the noise?’ I have a cassette player and natural sound tapes to help me sleep.” Ciofalo said a friend of his described the hum as a steady stream of noise accompanied by an intermittent pulse. Similar complaints have been reported in Taos for years.

The sound could be a number of different things, but no one has been able to pinpoint it. Ciofalo contacted the FCC, thinking that the sound may be coming from the crest since he lives half a mile from the base of the Tram. They told him that they couldn’t help him unless he had proof that it was coming from the crest of the Sandias.

Larry Buynak, director of safety and risk management for Sandia Peak Ski and Tram Company, said that Ciofalo called last year to find out if equipment from the tram was causing a humming sound. Buynak said he went to Ciofalo's home to investigate at a time when the tram wasn’t running. The humming still persisted.

“It wasn’t coming from the Tram,” said Buynak confidently. “We eliminated everything that could originate from us.”

Buynak said that the noise was coming from inside the house and that you couldn't hear it outside. “You go into his (Ciofalo’s) house and you can feel it. You’re aware of it constantly.” Buynak suggested that Ciofalo contact Sandia National Labs.

“People from Sandia Labs came out and had recording equipment, they got a modulated trace,” Ciofalo said. “Then they said they had no funds to continue the program.”

PNM and Qwest came to figure out the problem. “They turned off the water, the electricity and the phone and they still heard the sound,” he added. A repair man from Qwest couldn’t stay in the house because the sound was too strong, Ciofalo said.

Ciofalo even contacted Comcast thinking it might have to do with the cable TV wiring. “Comcast didn't come out to check, but said they didn't think it was a wiring problem,” Ciofalo said.

Jennifer McGlothlin from the Bernalillo County Health Department also said that she was able to hear the sound. “I was one of the few (from her department) that could hear it,” she said. The health department, like every organization Ciofalo contacted, couldn't figure out where the sound was coming from. McGlothlin said her department theorized that the noise was originating from towers on the crest or possibly cell phone towers.

McGlothlin said that this constant hum probably wouldn’t cause any health problems, but more emotional problems. “To me it (the hum) wasn’t intolerable. But I can see when you’re sensitive to it and you're alone in your home, it would be very annoying.”

Ciofalo has been getting all kinds of attention from the local and national media. Articles were written about him in the New York Times and the Albuquerque Journal. He has gotten calls from people all over the United States who have experienced the same thing.

Ciofalo isn’t the only one in Albuquerque to have complained about the constant hum. Andrew Frauenglass, who lives practically on the other side of town on Girard and Coal in the university area, is bothered by an eerily similar noise. Frauenglass, a laser research engineer at the University of New Mexico, heard about Ciofalo’s situation through friends and from the news.

“This buzzing has been making me lose sleep,” Frauenglass said. He noticed the sound during the time that the construction on the Big-I was taking place. Frauenglass describes the sound as an electric motor that’s about to go bad. “Essentially it is like these acoustic resonate waves in the geology,” he added.

Frauenglass, like Ciofalo, finds it hard to sleep and is insistent on finding out where the sound is coming from.

Ciofalo wants to know why no one can find out what it is or why no one is able to hush it down. When asked why he doesn’t just move out, Ciofalo says, “I’m not a quitter. I want to find out what this is.”

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