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Teen repellent sparks buzz

NEW YORK — As 15-year-old Eddie Holder sprinted from his apartment for school one recent morning, he held his hand to one ear to block out a shrill, piercing noise.

The sound was coming from a wall-mounted box, but not everyone can hear it. The device, called the Mosquito, is audible only to teens and young adults and was installed outside the building to drive away loiterers.

The gadget made its debut in the United States last year after infuriating civil liberties groups when it was first sold overseas. Already, almost 1,000 units have been sold in the United States and Canada, said Daniel Santell, the North America importer of the device under the company name Kids Be Gone.

To Eddie, it's tormenting.

"It's horrible, loud and irritating," he said.

Civil liberties groups in England, Australia and Scotland have expressed outrage over the device, and England's government-appointed Children's Commission proposed a ban. They describe it as a weapon that infringes on the basic rights of young people, and claim it could even have unknown long-term health effects.

The $1,500 device has also been challenged in some American cities and towns that have proposed installing it, with some criticizing the tactic as needlessly cruel.

Santell said the noise can be heard by animals and babies, but is bothersome only to children older than 12 and becomes unbearable after several minutes, making it a perfect teen-repellent. The same sound is also used as a cell phone ring tone meant to fall on the deaf ears of adults, and is a popular download on the Internet.

The town of Great Barrington, Mass., banned the device last year after a movie theater owner installed one.

"There was an outcry, and people didn't like the idea of torturing kids' ears like that," said Ronald Dlugosz, a town official. "People here don't tolerate that kind of stuff."

Santell, the device's marketer, said most of the company's inquiries are from major corporations and government agencies looking for a way to protect private property. Overseas, complaints arose when the device was projected into public spaces, like sidewalks.

Santell said it does not violate any noise ordinances, but added that the company will soon be selling the same product with a higher "power," or decibel output, that will only be sold to government agencies.

Carmen Ramirez, superintendent of the Queens apartment building where Eddie lives that recently installed the Mosquito, described it as "a miracle."

"We used to have young men here all of the time, bothering people in the building and doing illegal things," said Ramirez, 50. "As soon as we put it up, they were gone and they haven't been back. If they return, we'll just put up more."

Selective listeners

The high-frequency sound created by the Mosquito has been likened to fingernails dragged across a chalkboard or a pesky mosquito buzzing in your ear. It can be heard by most people in their teens and early 20s who still have sensitive hair cells in their inner ears. Whether you can hear the noise depends on how much your hearing has deteriorated — how loud you blast your iPod, for example, could potentially affect your ability to detect it.

Teen repellent sparks buzz 04/23/08 [Last modified: Thursday, April 24, 2008 1:10pm]
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