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.
Hell is other people, with leaf blowers. David Dudley, The Atlantic City Lab, writes about “[t]he tragedy of the leaf blower,” a tool of doom that creates air and noise pollution with abandon yet is sadly beloved in the U.S. Dudley explains that “[t]he crude little two-stroke engines used by most commercial backpack-style blowers are pollution bombs,” with a third of the gasoline spewing out, unburned, “in an aerosol mixed with oil in the exhaust.” That aerosol mixes with the “fine-particulate crap” the blower stirs up, and blowers can exceed 100 decibels for the operator, with the sound carrying hundreds of feet away, disturbing everyone in its wake. It’s an informative piece, but the best part is in the first paragraph where Dudley shares the story of an ex-neighbor from hell who is known around his block as: “The Asshole With the Leaf Blower.” It’s a fun and informative read, so click the link to read the whole piece.
In his post, Dudley notes an article published days earlier by Adrian Higgins, the Washington Post’s Gardening columnist, titled: “We know you love your leaf blower, but it’s ruining the neighborhood.” In it Higgins focuses on noise pollution created by leaf blowers, noting the odd phenomenon that noise is less irritating to its creator than to its recipient. Higgins reaches out to Erica Walker, a doctoral student at Harvard University’s Chan School of Public Health, who explains that the reason for this is that “[r]ecipients of nuisance noise have no power over it.” Walker, we are told, “spent a year recording noise levels at 400 locations” across Boston, where she found that the leaf blower was a major contributor to the aural assault inflicted on Bostonians throughout the city.
Why focus on leaf blowers? Because the leaf blower is an effective distributor of unwanted sound. Higgins writes:
In a recent paper written with Jamie Banks, of an organization named Quiet Communities in Lincoln, Mass., Walker measured the sound from a commercial-grade gasoline blower at various distances. Even from 800 feet away, the noise was above the 55-decibel threshold at which sound is considered harmful by the World Health Organization, she said. Another problem is that the machines emit a low-frequency sound that is not measured conventionally but which travels long distances and penetrates building walls.
Higgins states that most cities don’t specifically address leaf blowers in their noise ordinances, but even if they did effective enforcement of those ordinances is lacking. Walker tells Higgins that there are two fallacies that fuel the ineffectiveness: one is the “mind-set that if you live in an urban environment, you put up with noise,” and the other is that noise is simply an annoyance. Walker disagrees:
Cities don’t have to be cacophonous, she said, and noise isn’t just an irritant; it harms one’s health. Studies have shown that tens of millions of Americans are at risk of hypertension and heart disease from the effects of noise.
HIggins asks Walker what has to be done to make the world quieter. She responds that “we need a fundamental shift in how we regard noise so that society sees it on the same plane as the environmental imperatives of recycling and reducing air pollution.”
We couldn’t agree more. Click the link to Higgins’ article to read the entire thing. It is well worth your time.
Erica Walker, a doctoral candidate at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, has been “measuring sound levels and conducting the Greater Boston (now National) Neighborhood Noise Survey within the Greater Boston Area,” for the past year. On Monday, October 24, 2016, she issued a report updating key findings from her research, releasing the first comprehensive noise assessment of the Greater Boston Community since 1971. Walker’s noise assessment is interactive, allowing the user to look at the survey results, soundscapes, spatial and interactive maps of sound levels, and a neighborhood report card. It’s an interesting approach to noise assessment, and it’s exciting to hear that she is currently conducting a National Neighborhood Noise Survey.
If you’d like to participate Erica Walker’s National Neighborhood Noise Survey 2020, click here.
Erica Walker, a student at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, is trying to figure out how all that noise might be affecting its residents. In doing so, she’s discovered that not all sounds in Boston are created equal. Nor are all neighborhoods.
In order to better determine the Boston soundscape, she “started exploring the city at large with a boom mic and a mission: to better understand the distribution of noise in Boston.” In the process, Walker also learned that “each neighborhood revealed its own unique noise structure.”
Walker will be issuing report cards detailing the soundscape of each neighborhood in September, giving Boston residents “the opportunity to find out precisely what might be keeping them up at night, or causing that perpetual migraine, or making them restless.” And that, Walker hopes, is when change may come. “I don’t think these cities will ever be [completely] quiet,” she said. “But they can be less loud.”