Tag Archive: leaf blowers

Don’t be that guy

Photo credit: Ed Dunens licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Andy Simmons, The Reader’s Digest (yes, it still exists!), writes a biting but justified rant about the scourge of suburbia titled, “Why You’re the Worst Person In the World If You Use a Leaf Blower.”

I agree.

There’s sound information among the snippets of bitter humor.

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.

Low Frequency Noise May Account for the Intolerability of Gas Leaf Blowers

Photo credit: Dean Hochman licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Jamie Banks, PhD, and Erica Walker, PhD

Boston, MA —Complaints by many residents over commercial gas leaf blower use may be explained by a strong low frequency component, according to a pilot study conducted by researchers. The study found low frequency noise from commercial gas leaf blowers persisted at high levels for 800 feet from the source. Low frequency sound travels over long distances and penetrates walls and windows. “Our finding helps explain why so many people are complaining about the effects this noise is having on their health and quality of life,” said Jamie Banks of Quiet Communities and co-author of the study. “At these levels, operating even one gas leaf blower can affect an entire neighborhood.”

Loud noise is known to harm hearing and non-hearing health, causing cardiovascular disturbances, psychological distress, and disruptions to learning and concentration. Vulnerable populations include landscape workers, children, senior, and people with hearing and neurological disorders, such as autism. More than 100 million people in the US are estimated to be exposed to harmful levels of environmental noise.

The study appears online Nov 3, 2017 in the Journal of Environmental and Toxicological Studies. It is the first in the U.S. to explore the characteristics of sound from gas-powered lawn and garden equipment.

Sound from leaf blowers and a hose vacuum—equipment commonly used in landscape maintenance—was over 100 dbA at the source and decreased over distance. However, the low frequency component persisted at high levels. “From a community perspective, the sound ratings supplied by manufacturers do not take frequency into consideration,” said co-author Erica Walker, a recent graduate of the doctoral program at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “Our findings suggest that reporting more information on a sound’s character may be a step in the right direction,” she adds.

A Finnish study presented in 2004 also found strong tonal and low frequency components among various brands of commercial gas leaf blowers. These are the types of sound poorly tolerated by humans and which become amplified in indoor settings.

The dB(A) is the standard used by manufacturers to rate the sound of their equipment and is the metric communities use to set regulatory policy. “We now know that this metric breaks down in instances where there is a significant low frequency noise component,” said Walker. In fact, in the International Institute for Noise Control Engineering and the National Academy of Engineering have both indicated that the dB(A) is not sufficient for describing the impact of sound that contains a strong low frequency component.

Gas leaf blowers are identified as sources of harmful noise by the US Centers for Disease Control, US EPA as well as the national landscape industry association. “People need to recognize that this type of noise is not just an annoyance, it is a public health problem. We need think about prevention,” said Banks.

For more information:

Jamie Banks: jlbanks@quietcommunities.org

Erica Walker: erica@noiseandthecity.org

Originally posted at Quiet Communities.

Why do people hate leaf blowers?

 

Leaf blower overkill  |  Photo credit: Hector Alejandro licensed under CC BY 2.0

Because everything about them is so awful!

Well, that’s just our opinion. , howstuffworks.com, gives a more detailed answer. Dove starts by noting that “unlike lawn mowers, leaf blowers are probably the most villainized devices in the lawn care universe,” because they are now used year-round and for many–most?–the noise level they create is unacceptable. As a result, when leaf blowers first became common in the U.S., Dove says two California communities, Carmel-by-the-Sea and Beverly Hills, banned leaf blowers back in the 1970s.  And they have been followed since then by hundreds of communities nationwide that have banned or limited their use.

Why are leaf blowers so hateful? Dove asks and answers:

What is it about leaf blowers that people hate? Is it the decibels? The constancy? Do leaf blowers pose real dangers to the health of users or others who happen to be within earshot? Increasingly, the answer appears to be “yes” —to all of the above.

In the end, leaf blowers create a whirlwind of dust that includes, among other things, dried animal feces, molds, and fungi. Gasoline-powered leaf blowers emit a litany of horribles, including benzene, a known carcinogen. And then there is the noise, which is not merely a nuisance but also a serious health threat.

As for those who would ask how we could possibly deal with fallen leaves without leaf blowers, may we suggest the following:

Photo credit: Carol VanHook licensed under CC BY 2.0

 

Rakes are a healthier, cheaper, and quieter alternative to the loud, filthy, and dangerous leaf blowers we’ve put up with for entirely too long.

 

Landscapers fail to blow away leaf blower bans

Photo credit: Dean Hochman licensed under CC BY 2.0

Recently, the city of Newton, Massachusetts, and town of Maplewood, New Jersey, passed restrictions on the use of gas-powered leaf blowers because of public health, safety and environmental concerns. Gas-powered leaf blowers are a source of substantial pollution as well as deafening noise levels. In both cases, the courts refused to grant emergency relief to the landscapers thereby allowing the ordinances to take effect. Here are the stories of what happened and what they mean. Jamie L. Banks, PhD, MSc, Executive Director, Quiet Communities

By Jeanne Kempthorne, J.D., Co-Chair, Quiet Communities Legal Advisory Council

Landscapers came out swinging to prevent municipalities in New Jersey and Massachusetts from enforcing gas-powered leaf blower ordinances limiting their use. So far, they’ve struck out.

Quiet Communities’ legal advisors have been following the litigation with interest, and have provided legal and technical assistance to municipalities forced to respond to last-minute efforts to stymie enforcement of local ordinances.

Newton, MA

In January 2017, the City of Newton, Massachusetts, a suburb west of Boston, amended its noise ordinance to, among other things, limit the use of leaf blowers between Memorial and Labor Days to the use of a single electric- or battery-powered machine emitting no more than 65 decibels per property. (The previous ordinance had already limited the permissible decibel level to 65, but was rarely enforced). The amendment followed two years of study and hearings by the City Council.

Shortly before Memorial Day when the summer limitations would take effect, a group of landscapers filed a lawsuit seeking to enjoin the enforcement of the amended ordinance. They argued that the ordinance was preempted by state environmental laws concerning air quality and claimed they would suffer irreparable economic injury if the ordinance were enforced. The plaintiffs also raised constitutional due process and equal protection claims, the latter on the basis of the ordinance’s distinction between gas- and non-gas-powered equipment operated at the same decibel level .

The Middlesex Superior Court denied the landscapers’ motion for a preliminary injunction, emphasizing, first, that the landscapers had not proved that they would suffer irreparable harm in the absence of an injunction. The plaintiffs had sworn in affidavits that they would suffer the loss of some business as a result of raising prices in order to comply with the ordinance, which, even if true, falls far short of the necessary proof of irreparable injury.

Turning to the merits, the court concluded that the plaintiffs were unlikely to prevail on their legal claims at trial. Addressing preemption, which the court characterized as the “principal challenge to the Ordinance,” the court stated that the landscapers’ argument lacks merit because “[t]he [state] Air Act . . .  nowhere mentions noise pollution let alone suggests field preemption with respect to noise control.” The court emphasized that state law expressly authorizes municipal noise ordinances–-a fact the landscapers had ignored. Finally, the court summarily rejected the due process and equal protection challenges as unlikely to succeed. The City need merely show that the ordinance is a rational exercise of its police power, and that the distinction drawn between types of equipment is rationally related to a legitimate purpose.

Maplewood, NJ

In early April, the town of Maplewood, New Jersey, adopted an ordinance that prohibits the commercial use of gas-powered leaf blowers from May 15 through September 30. This replaced a previous ordinance that banned the use of equipment louder than 65 dB, an ordinance the Town found nearly impossible to enforce. On May 10, five days before the ordinance was scheduled to take effect, the New Jersey Landscape Contractors Association, “a nonprofit professional organization dedicated to advancing the integrity, proficiency, profitability and personal growth of the landscape professional,” sued the town, its mayor, and the township committee in federal district court in New Jersey seeking to invalidate the ordinance and to enjoin its enforcement.

The NJLCA complained that the ordinance was arbitrary and irrational in distinguishing between commercial and non-commercial users, and therefore ran afoul of the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and the state constitution. It also argued that the ordinance was preempted by the federal Clean Air and Occupational Safety and Health Acts. According to the complaint, the Clean Air Act empowered the State of California, and only the State of California, to regulate emissions from two-stroke, “in-use, non-road” engines. California having not done so, no other state or political subdivision of a state may do so. Nor may the town impose other or different requirements to protect workers, NJLCA complains, because OSHA already regulates worker safety.

In opposing the landscaper association’s motion for an injunction, the Town argued that it rationally distinguished between commercial and non-commercial users in terms of intensity and frequency of use. Moreover, the Town rationally concluded that commercial users were unlikely to engage in problem-solving discussions with the neighbors concerning noise and pollution. The Town disputed the premise of the Clean Air Act preemption argument, noting that the ordinance does not purport to regulate emissions. Finally, the Town noted that the landscapers did not merit equitable relief since it was apparent that they had ignored the previous ordinance which banned equipment operating at more than 65 decibels, which most commercial gas-powered leaf blowers do.

After a hearing on the association’s motion for a preliminary injunction, the district court dismissed the landscape association’s complaint without deciding whether the constitutional and preemption arguments had merit. Instead, it ruled that the association lacked legal “standing” to bring the complaint. If an individual landscaper is willing to be named as plaintiff, the complaint may be refiled. So far, that has not happened. Stay tuned . . .

Our take

What these cases illustrate is a burgeoning threat to local initiatives to protect the health and safety of community residents: the misuse of the little-understood preemption doctrine, which is being deployed more and more by business interests to quash democratic action at the municipal level. Instead of acknowledging and addressing the legitimate concerns of the public and industry workers, some in the landscaping industry have chosen to fight local efforts to protect public health and safety in court, forcing municipalities to spend scarce resources defending their right to enact and enforce local ordinances. Happily, the courts are calling them out.

We do not mean to sweep in a pile all players in the landscaping industry. Many responsible landscapers are conscious of the social, health, and environmental impacts of their work and are more than willing to pick up a rake or to use quieter, cleaner, and safer equipment. Ask them! Let’s reward those who are willing to work towards a more healthy, clean, and serene environment with our business.

Originally posted at Quiet Communities.

Noise isn’t just a city problem

On Banning Leaf Blowers.” Kaysen writes that “New Yorkers who leave the city for the suburbs often do so for three reasons: schools, space and silence.” But she adds that “silence, it turns out, can be a problem.” Why? Because while “suburban streets are certainly free of blaring horns, wailing sirens and, sometimes, even people…come springtime, they vibrate with the hum of lawn mowers, edgers, trimmers and leaf blowers; the accompanying noise continues until the last leaves fall from the trees in early December.”

So what can suburbanites do to quell the din?  Kaysen tells us that the Township of Maplewood, New Jersey is considering a ban on the noisiest and most noxious of a landscaper’s tools: leaf blowers. The township’s proposed ordinance prohibits commercial use of blowers from May 15 through September 30, and imposes strict limits as to use for the rest of the year. The ordinance also imposes fines, starting at $500 for the first offense.

The problem with leaf blowers is twofold. As Jamie Banks, the founder of Quiet Communities, a group that advocates quieter lawn maintenance equipment, states: “[I]t’s not just the noise. It’s the pollution.”  Kaysen adds that:

Most landscapers use leaf blowers with two-stroke engines, which are light enough to carry but produce significant exhaust and noise. The gas and oil mix together, and about a third of it does not combust. As a result, pollutants that have been linked to cancers, heart disease, asthma and other serious ailments escape into the air.

Despite there being alternatives–say, a rake?–there is pushback, of course. Residents who hate noise are facing off with residents who feel the ordinance will “hamstrung their gardeners, leaving their yards looking unkempt, with grass suffocating beneath piles of clippings.”  And landscapers insist that leaf blowers are essential, claiming that “when used properly, is not a nuisance.”  Used properly means at half speed, “which is significantly lower in noise volume, they’re much more efficient,” said Paul Mendelsohn, vice president of government relations for the National Association of Landscape Professionals.  Which makes us wonder why full speed is even an option.

Click the first link to read the entire piece.  It is well worth your time, particularly the bit about local hero Fred Chichester, 79, of Montclair, who, when he hears a leaf blower nearby, “gets into his 1998 Ford Escort wagon, one of his seven cars, and looks for the culprits, suing them in municipal court for violating the ban.” Fred then takes the landscapers to court, “about 20 times over the years.” And he usually wins.

 

Queen’s guitarist, Brian May, complains to council

over noisy leaf-blowers.  Yes, it not just a U.S. problem, leaf blowers are fraying nerves in London, too.  The Telegraph writes that May, “[f]amed for his loud rock anthems, [] has used his blog to criticise Kensington And Chelsea Borough Council for dismissing his road sweeper and replacing him with six people armed with noisy leaf-blowers.”  We understand May’s frustration at dealing with ear-splitting noise, especially when he found, in the end, that “the state of the road was worse after the men had attempted to clear it.”  May laments “the awful noise of the blowers, dust and leaves being blown into my garden, and petrol fumes,” adding that |they are creating a horrible intrusion into our lives.”

The Telegraph notes that May isn’t the only celebrity who hates leaf blowers, writing:

In May, actor Tom Conti appeared on a television show to moan about the racket from the machines, insisting they were ruining his peace and quiet.

He said: “It’s very, very loud and unnecessary. If these people can’t stand the sight of a leaf then it’s not a leaf-blower they need, it’s a psychiatrist.”

Point, Conti.

The war against leaf blowers inches forward:

As another California city mulls ban on blowers of all types.  No doubt some people may wonder why others dedicate time and energy fighting something that seems fairly innocuous, at best, and merely annoying, at worst.  But leaf blowers are not just an annoyance.  Quiet Communities, a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting our health, environment, and quality of life from the excessive use of industrial outdoor maintenance equipment, has documented the substantial health hazard leaf blowers pose to the health of the operator, those in the vicinity of the activity, and even our pets, too.

So hearing that Ojai, California is considering banning all blowers, both gas-powered and battery-powered, is encouraging.  And yes, there will be push back, but in the end the only reason not to ban leaf blowers is that the alternatives are more expensive.  A fact that is only true if you only consider the additional labor cost and ignore the savings to health and wellbeing.

Would it kill people to use a rake instead?

My Turn: The leaf blower, a perfect American invention. 

Why is the leaf blower a perfect American invention? Well, according to Jim Miller:

They are the quintessential American invention, combining all three of our requirements for a modern labor-saving device. They burn fossil fuel — the most important requirement. They make noise  — because nothing says “work” like a hundred or so decibels of petroleum-sourced flatulence.

And finally, they take your problem and make it someone else’s — usually in the form of a fine patina of dust on a freshly washed vehicle, or an imminent asthma attack.

Sounds about right.