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.
City Lab link via Antonella Radicchi.