Leaf blowers

The Soundproofist podcast looks at leaf blower noise

Photo credit: Timothy Valentine licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Two Quiet Coalition co-founders, Jamie Banks, MS, PhD, and David M. Sykes, are currently featured on the most recent Soundproofist podcast. The podcast focuses on leaf blower noise and what can be done about it. Listen here:

Meanwhile The Quiet Coalition’s Dr. Arline Bronzaft was featured recently on the Freakonomics radio show and podcast, which you can listen to here:

The Quiet Coalition is thrilled to be reaching new listeners.

Battery-powered leaf blowers: Has their time finally come?

Photo credit: Coolkasun licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

As we have written about many times, gas-powered leaf blowers are the bane of both urban and suburban residents, especially now during the autumn leaf drop season. Previous generations just raked the leaves or let them provide a natural mulch in quiet corners of the yard, but the modern lawn care standard has become “no leaf left behind.”

Rakes are natural, quiet, and provide gentle exercise to the legs, trunk, and upper body. Leaf blowers, even battery-powered ones, aerosolize pet waste, tire waste, spores, and other noxious and toxic substances. And gas-powered leaf blowers are a major source of air pollution.

Despite the hopes of many, though, I don’t think landscape workers and many homeowners will return to using rakes, but three recent observations give me hope that gas-powered leaf blowers will be replaced with battery-powered models.

First, on trips to Home Depot, Lowe’s, and ACE Hardware, there were prominent displays of battery-powered leaf blowers in the desired “end cap” location, along the main aisles of the store.

Second, last Sunday’s Parade magazine had an insert from a well-recognized landscape maintenance tool manufacturer promoting its line of battery-powered equipment, with powerful 40 volt batteries.

Third, and perhaps most importantly, I’ve recently seen a number of landscapers and gardeners using battery-powered leaf blowers.

I’ve spoken to a few professional gardeners and they all tell me the battery-powered leaf blowers are more than powerful enough for them to do their job easily, they don’t have to fuss with gasoline or trying to start the two-stroke engine, and they don’t have a headache or ringing in the ears at the end of the day.

The Atlantic covered Washington, D.C.’s gas-powered leaf blower ban. And in testimony before the District Council, Atlantic Monthly editor James Fallows discussed the technological advances in lithium batteries that make battery-powered leaf blowers feasible.

Maybe battery-powered leaf blowers’ time has finally come?

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He is the founding chair of The Quiet Coalition, an organization of science, health, and legal professionals concerned about the impacts of noise on health, environment, learning, productivity, and quality of life in America. Dr Fink also is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’ Health Advisory Council, and he served on the board of the American Tinnitus Association from 2015-2018.

Pets suffer from noise exposure, too

Photo credit: Charles from Pexels

by David M. Sykes, Vice Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This piece from the UK is a reminder that pets suffer from noise exposure, too. Susan C. Kahler, writing for the American Veterinary Medical Association, reported that ecent research from Harris Polls showed that a whopping 44% of dog owners they surveyed said their pets suffer from noise exposure.

Kahler interviewed veterinary researcher Sharon L. Campbell, DVM, MS, DACVIM, who says that “[c]anine noise aversion—also known as noise anxiety or phobia—affects 67% of dogs in the United States.” Dr. Campbell lists triggers like fireworks, thunder, construction, sirens, street noise, sporting events, lawnmowers and landscape maintenance equipment, snowplows and garbage trucks as the most frequent outdoor noises that cause problems for pets. But she also lists the following indoor noises that can also trigger noise anxiety: doorbells, vacuum cleaners, construction, electronics (cell phones, microwaves), sporting events on TV, celebrations (family, friends), and smoke detectors.

What about treatment? Dr Campbell discusses three approaches: environmental management, behavioral modification, and pharmacologic agents—all of which can be very helpful. But the best first step is to get your pet’s anxiety or phobia diagnosed by a caring professional and then consider which treatment option to try. Dr. Campbell doesn’t talk about hearing damage or whether pets can suffer from tinnitus or hyperacusis, but that too is something to consider.

David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: QCI Healthcare Acoustics Project, ANSI Committee S12-WG44, the Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Committee. He is lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0” (Springer, 2012), a contributor to the NAE’s “Technology for a Quieter America” and the GSA’s “Sound Matters,” and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics at Rensselaer Polytech. A graduate of UC-Berkeley with advanced degrees from Cornell, he is a frequent organizer of professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

How not to deal with a noisy neighbor

Photo credit: Weatherman90 licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

by Arline L. Bronzaft, Ph.D., Board of Directors, GrowNYC, and Co-founder, The Quiet Coalition

It was not surprising to read that Toto’s Steve Lukather decided to deal with his neighbor’s noisy landscaping equipment disturbing him in the early morning hours by unleashing “a loud solo before screaming ‘Good morning’ in the direction of his hedges.” As the Board member of GrowNYC who responds to noise queries, New Yorkers often call me to complain about noisy neighbors. Too often, they have told me that they want to bang upstairs with brooms to reciprocate for being awakened in the early morning with loud footsteps along uncarpeted floors. I am certain these callers would applaud Lukather’s actions as did many of his followers.

Before offering to assist New York City residents who call me, I urge them not to take the route that Lukather did. I add that one should not engage in the same bad behavior displayed by their neighbors to resolve the noise problem. I guess as the wife of an attorney, and the mother of two attorneys, I know that the law doesn’t look favorably on trying to stop inappropriate behavior by using inappropriate behavior.

While not resolving all the neighbor noise problems that are brought to my attention, I have been successful a large number of times. Sometimes it is a matter of having the complainant approach the neighbor and discussing the noise situation with literature noting the deleterious impacts of noise on health. At other times, it is asking the landlord or managing agent to handle the matter under the “warranty of habitability” clause of leases that provide tenants with the right to “reasonable quiet” in their apartments.

Let me stress that noises are hazardous to one’s mental and physical well-being and should not be dismissed. Before calling me, many of the New Yorkers with whom I have spoken told me that they have tried speaking with neighbors, calling 311, and asking local officials for assistance with the noise matter. When no relief follows, they very much want to handle the noise matter as Lukather did. And I am certain that many New Yorkers whom I have not heard from do.

Dr. Arline Bronzaft is a researcher, writer, and consultant on the adverse effects of noise on mental and physical health. She is co-author of “Why Noise Matters,” author of “Listen to the Raindrops” (children’s book illustrated by Steven Parton), and has written extensively about noise in books, encyclopedias, academic journals, and the popular press.  In addition, she is a Professor Emerita of the City University of New York and Board member of GrowNYC.

Bobcat unveils quiet, electrically powered excavator

Photo credit: Michel Curi licensed uncer CC BY 2.0

by David M. Sykes, Vice Chair, The Quiet Coalition

One of the noisiest of America’s largest industries is construction and maintenance. It turns out that industry has the lowest “reinvestment rate,” i.e., spending on innovation, research, and development, of any major industry in the country. So resistance to innovation and change is deeply entrenched. But sometimes, change happens despite industry resistance. That’s what happening at Bobcat, which has teamed up with another company to unveil an electrically-powered
excavator.

We want to congratulate our sister program, Quiet Communities, which pioneered a change-management approach specifically to accelerate the rate of change in one deeply change-resistant industry, outdoor power equipment. For six years Quiet Communities has been fighting to get outdoor power equipment manufacturers and users–the companies that build and use gas-powered equipment, including those leaf blowers we all love to hate–to adopt new, cleaner and quieter electrically-powered equipment. Now its happening.

We call this approach “technology pull,” which is how America has always gone about achieving large-scale, systemic change. Essentially, new technologies come along, sometimes whole clusters of them.  Examples include railroads, electricity, telegraph, telephone, gasoline engines, aircraft, radio, television, and the like. All of those were all part of one gigantic, historic wave called the industrial revolution.

And now we’re living through the post-industrial revolution driven led by information technology and the emergence of alternative energy sources like electric motors. Arguably, America’s “secret sauce,” the way this country built the world’s most powerful economy, has always been by encouraging engineers and technologists to invent the next big thing faster than anybody else.

And now, finally, America’s change-resistant, stubbornly resistant outdoor power equipment manufacturers are getting the message. Congratulations to them! I have no stake in this innovation partnership between Bobcat and Green Machine, other than our own goal of making America a cleaner, quieter place to live. But frankly, I’m thrilled to see this happen.

Now if only we could convince the federal government to let the aircraft industry move faster toward electrically-powered airplanes (about which we’ve written already), then maybe we can all look forward to seeing a quieter, less polluted future ahead of us.

David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: QCI Healthcare Acoustics Project, ANSI Committee S12-WG44, the Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Committee. He is lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0” (Springer, 2012), a contributor to the NAE’s “Technology for a Quieter America” and the GSA’s “Sound Matters,” and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics at Rensselaer Polytech. A graduate of UC-Berkeley with advanced degrees from Cornell, he is a frequent organizer of professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

Leaf blowers used to disperse tear gas in Portland

Photo credit: Browning031 has dedicated this photo to the public domain

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This article in Truthout reports that members of the PDX Dad Pod are using leaf blowers to disperse tear gas fired by unidentified alleged federal agents in Portland, Oregon. PDX is the three-letter airport code for Portland.

Sounds like the PDX Dad Pod found the best and highest use for leaf blowers!

I hope the Portland dads are using safe, quiet, easy to use battery-powered leaf blowers, which are now available online and in the big box, do-it-yourself stores, too. And I hope they are handing out ear plugs, too!

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He is the founding chair of The Quiet Coalition, an organization of science, health, and legal professionals concerned about the impacts of noise on health, environment, learning, productivity, and quality of life in America. Dr Fink also is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’ Health Advisory Council, and he served on the board of the American Tinnitus Association from 2015-2018.

If it makes more noise than a rake, protect your hearing

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention just published this fact sheet about protecting your hearing when doing yard care. All power tools, whether gasoline or electric, make enough noise to damage hearing. In general, electric tools are quieter than those powered by two-stroke gasoline engines, and they also don’t produce noxious and toxic gaseous emissions.

One of the big technological advances in yard care in the last year or two is the widespread availability of powerful battery-powered yard care equipment, including leaf blowers, hedge trimmers, even lawnmowers. These are now available online or in any of the big-box home improvement stores. There’s no need to worry about extension cords or shock hazards.

Other than my wife, children, and grandchildren, gardening is my first love. From 2005-2014 I served on the board of the Theodore Payne Foundation for Wild Flowers and Native Plants, Inc. When I was termed out from that service, I became a noise activist, focused on trying to make the world a quieter place. But I’d much rather be quietly working in my garden.

Raking leaves, trimming a plant, or pulling a weed, using hand tools as gardeners have done for centuries, is quiet and contemplative.

Only rarely will I use an electric pole trimmer to cut pesky branches that I can’t reach without getting on a ladder, but I’ll put in my earplugs first. Because if a yard care tool is louder than a rake or a pruning shears, it’s loud enough to cause hearing loss.

So when you are doing yard work, use earplugs or earmuff hearing protection now to avoid hearing aids later. And if you hire someone to maintain your landscape, insist that the workers are provided hearing protection. They are at special risk for hearing loss as well as other noise-related health problems.

Thanks to our friends at the CDC for helping educate the public about the dangers of noise.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He is the founding chair of The Quiet Coalition, an organization of science, health, and legal professionals concerned about the impacts of noise on health, environment, learning, productivity, and quality of life in America. Dr Fink also is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’ Health Advisory Council, and he served on the board of the American Tinnitus Association from 2015-2018.

Leaf Blowers, Pollution, and COVID-19

Photo credit: Hector Alejandro licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Jamie L. Banks, PhD, MS, Executive Director, Quiet Communities, Inc., Co-Founder, The Quiet Coalition

As many people shelter in place during the COVID-19 crisis, they have expressed concern about gas-powered leaf blowers (GLBs). Is it safe to exercise or take walks with children while workers are using these machines? The short answer is no. These machines expose the public—and workers—to unnecessary and preventable health risks since they are a major source of harmful pollutants, including ozone-forming chemicals, carbon monoxide, and fine particulate matter, referred to as PM2.5. And the adverse effects of PM2.5 and ozone are well known: cancer, heart disease, stroke, respiratory disease, and neurological and developmental/reproductive disorders.

Moreover, according to a recent Harvard study, long-term exposure to the type of pollution that GLBs produce may significantly raise the risk of death from COVID-19. These researchers found that a one microgram increase in concentration of fine particulates was associated with a 15% increase in risk of COVID-19 related death. Even short-term elevations in particulate matter, both fine and coarse, have been linked to acute respiratory infections, asthma, COPD, heart attacks, heart failure, and mortality.

The magnitude of the problem cannot be overstated. It is estimated that, in one hour, a single commercial GLB produces 34 million micrograms of particulate matter, much of which remains in the air for long periods. And keep in mind that GLBs are rarely used one at a time as recommended by industry. Rather, it is common to see 2- or 3-man crews, even on small properties. And, unlike PM2.5 from power plants, traffic, and other industrial sources, PM2.5 from leaf blowers and other handheld tools is localized, highly concentrated, and produced in close proximity to airways. Indeed, the possibility of COVID-19 spread by PM (fine and coarse) has been raised in a recent study.

Moreover, gas-powered tools, most powered by inefficient two-stroke engines, account for approximately 90% of all PM2.5 from gas lawn and garden equipment (approximately 16,000 tons nationwide in 2018). In California, it is estimated that “leaf blowers and other small gas engines will create more ozone pollution than all of the passenger cars in the state.”

For those reasons, towns like Sleepy Hollow, NY  and Huntington, NY have already imposed new restrictions. Expressing his concern for workers and residents, Sleepy Hollow Mayor Ken Wray said, “We breathe those particulates; they are getting into and irritating our lungs. Particulates hang in the air for hours after a leaf blower has been shut off.” Residents are being asked to move to less toxic alternatives, such as rakes, brooms, and electric blowers.

GLB pollution is serious. People are being exposed to high levels of pollutants known to be harmful to health and raising their risk of death from COVID-19. Our policy makers need to act now.

We need clean air to survive in this pandemic.

Special thanks to Valerie Seiling Jacobs for her assistance with editing.

Jamie L. Banks, PhD, MSc, is the Executive Director of Quiet Communities, Inc. and the Program Director of The Quiet Coalition. She is an environmentalist and health care scientist dedicated to promoting clean, healthy, quiet, and sustainable landscape maintenance, construction, and agricultural practices. Dr. Banks has an extensive background in health outcomes and economics, environmental behavior, and policy.

America’s local communities thriving despite partisan gridlock

Photo credit: Kenneth C. Zirkel licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

by Jamie L. Banks, PhD, MS, Executive Director, Quiet Communities, Inc., Co-Founder, The Quiet Coalition and David Sykes, Vice Chair, The Quiet Coalition

As Justice Louis Brandeis noted long ago, America’s “laboratories of democracy” are its individual communities, and its state and local governments. In their new book,“Our Towns,” Deborah and James Fallows describe their search for local success stories occurring in cities and towns across the U.S., despite the partisan gridlock in Washington D.C.

We hope you enjoy reading the statement below from the editors of The Atlantic, and we strongly urge you to click on the links which provide further exploration of areas where America is thriving and succeeding:

If the future of the federal government seems bleak, James Fallows offers an unlikely source of hope: the decline of the Roman empire. Rome’s fall, he writes, including the collapse of central governance, ushered in a sustained era of creativity at the local level, which in turn led to cultural advancement and prosperity. In America, it may be up to states and the private sector to function in the areas where federal governance has failed, from climate change to higher education. And if anyone knows what’s happening in America’s local communities, it’s Fallows, who for years has traveled the country to explore how smaller towns are tackling challenges that seem insurmountable from the national perspective. He writes: ‘A new world is emerging, largely beyond our notice.’”

Making change at the local level can be very, very hard if you’re faced with organized and well-funded opposition from outside the community—as the Fallows discovered when they helped lead a noise control initiative in their own hometown, Washington DC. But a carefully coordinated and locally-controlled process of community change there yielded the results that residents were looking for.

Jamie L. Banks, PhD, MSc, is the Executive Director of Quiet Communities, Inc. and the Program Director of The Quiet Coalition. She is an environmentalist and health care scientist dedicated to promoting clean, healthy, quiet, and sustainable landscape maintenance, construction, and agricultural practices. Dr. Banks has an extensive background in health outcomes and economics, environmental behavior, and policy.

David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: QCI Healthcare Acoustics Project, ANSI Committee S12-WG44, the Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Committee. He is lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0” (Springer, 2012), a contributor to the NAE’s “Technology for a Quieter America” and the GSA’s “Sound Matters,” and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics at Rensselaer Polytech. A graduate of UC-Berkeley with advanced degrees from Cornell, he is a frequent organizer of professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

Fall is leaf blower season

Photo credit: Dean Hochman licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

The Noise Curmudgeon directed me to this piece, which notes that fall is leaf blower season. The article from CityLab cites the work of our friend Erica Walker in Boston.

Aside from gas-powered leaf blowers making too much noise, all gas-powered leaf blowers emit toxic, carcinogenic exhaust and aerosolize particulate matter–animal waste, tire particles, and other harmful substances–into the air.

Rakes work just fine, and it’s entirely acceptable to have a few or even multitudes of leaves in your yard, too.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He is the founding chair of The Quiet Coalition, an organization of science, health, and legal professionals concerned about the impacts of noise on health, environment, learning, productivity, and quality of life in America. Dr Fink also is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’ Health Advisory Council, and he served on the board of the American Tinnitus Association from 2015-2018.