Leaf blowers

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.

Quieter equipment aids landscape sustainability

Photo credit: Peter Dutton licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This article in the Westerly Sun discusses a presentation The Quiet Coalition’s Jamie Banks, PhD, MSc, made to a group in Weekapaug, Rhode Island, on the environmental impact of gas-powered equipment, its effects on human health, and what can be done about it. Banks also serves as executive director of Quiet Communities, Inc.

In her presentation, Banks explained that commercial gas-powered lawn and garden equipment, like mowers and leaf blowers, not only produce “stressful noise pollution,” but also spew a rich mix of toxic chemicals and project particulate matter into the air.

So what can be done?

Banks suggests that quieter battery-powered landscape care equipment can aid landscape sustainability and prevents auditory damage and disruption of human activities. Says Banks, “battery-powered lawn and garden equipment, including equipment for use by professional landscapers, offers a solution to many of the hazardous side effects of gas-powered machines.”

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.

Lawyer writes about leaf blower hazards

Photo credit: Josh Larios licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition, and Jamie Banks, PhD, MS, Program Director, The Quiet Coalition

It is well known that leading commercial leaf blowers produce deafening noise levels of 100 dB or more at the ear of the operator and that the low frequency sound and vibration affect overall health. These, coupled with toxic and carcinogenic exhaust, put workers at risk for problems ranging from hearing damage, to irreversible neurological damage, heart disease, and cancer. Nevertheless, many workers do not wear protective gear and may not be aware of the risks they face.

Workers compensation law, a subset of tort law, allows injured workers to sue for medical care and compensation.

In this post at Lawyers.com, attorney Brian Allan Wall from McCann and Wall, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, reviews the hazards of gas leaf blower use.  His piece shows that the legal community is aware that leaf blower noise can damage hearing and non-hearing health. If state and federal regulators won’t regulate leaf blower noise, maybe a series of workers comp lawsuits will force land care companies to either use battery electric blowers, reduce the use of gas blowers, or force manufacturers to make quieter machines.

Jamie Banks is the Executive Director of Quiet Communities, Inc. She is an environmentalist and health care scientist dedicated to promoting clean, healthy, quiet, and sustainable landscape maintenance, construction, and agricultural practices.

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.

 

San Jose tackled two noise problems in one meeting

Photo credit: Tim Wilson licensed under CC BY 2.0

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

In San Jose, California, the City Council recently considered two separate community noise issues in the same meeting: leaf blowers and train noise. Either the Council members are brave, because they’re willing to take on two typically nasty and intractable battles at once, or they were in for a nightmare meeting they didn’t anticipate!

Read the San Jose Spotlight article above closely and you’ll see that California actually has some tools available to regulate noise that many other regions of the U.S. do not, such as the California Air Resources Board and a statewide cap-and-trade program. Either of those programs could fund a “buy-back/Buy-Quiet” program that would remove polluting gas-powered leaf blowers and other gas-powered outdoor maintenance equipment and substitute electrical alternatives. That could accelerate the state-wide regulation of small gas-powered devices. In fact, California is far ahead of the rest of the country in regulating this equipment, with about 70 cities in the state having already addressed this problem

According to the San Jose Spotlight, Sunnyvale, Los Gatos, Los Altos, Palo Alto, and Mountain View have already banned gas leaf blowers and roughly “70 cities across California have some restrictions on gas leaf blowers, including Los Angeles, South Pasadena, Santa Barbara, Malibu, Beverly Hills and West Hollywood.”

What about train noise? The train-noise issue is entirely separate. But it turns out that the regulatory agency did NOT consult with local neighborhoods before they increased night-time train schedules. So San Jose caught the agency on a technicality.

Either way, this must have been an interesting City Council meeting in San Jose, and we wish the city’s citizens good fortune!

In addition to serving as vice chair of the The Quiet Coalition, David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: The Acoustics Research Council, American National Standards Institute Committee S12, Workgroup 44, The Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Working Group—a partner of the American Hospital Association. He is the lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0 (2012, Springer-Verlag), a contributor to the National Academy of Engineering report “Technology for a Quieter America,” and to the US-GSA guidance “Sound Matters”, and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics (LARA) at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. He recently retired from the board of directors of the American Tinnitus Association. A graduate of the University of California/Berkeley with graduate degrees from Cornell University, he is a frequent organizer of and speaker at professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia, and the Middle East.