On April 29th, the Massachusetts Medical Society (MMS) became the second in the nation to approve a resolution against gas-powered leaf blowers (GLB), following the lead of the Medical Society of the State of New York (MSSNY). Other physician groups, such as Utah Physicians for Healthy Environment and Fresno Madera Medical Society, have also issued warnings on the use of GLBs and other fuel-powered lawn and garden equipment.
The resolution brought by the society’s Committee on Environmental and Occupational Health and its chair Heather Alker, MD, MPH, recommends that the MMS:
- Recognize noise pollution as a public health hazard, with respect to hearing loss;
- Support initiatives to increase awareness of the health risks of loud noise exposure;
- Urge the maximum feasible reduction of all forms of air pollution, including particulates, gases, toxicants, irritants, smog formers, and other biologically and chemically active pollutants;
- Acknowledge the increased risk of adverse health consequences to workers and general public from gas-powered leaf blowers including hearing loss and cardiopulmonary disease.
Karen Bray, an active member of Newton Safe and Sound, brought the issue to the attention of the MMS. In February, the city of Newton passed a seasonal ban on GLBs and also prohibits the use of blowers louder than 65 decibels at 50 feet.
Importantly, the resolution articulates the well documented health hazards faced by the workers and the public from noise and pollution generated by GLBs. The close proximity use of these powerful engines exposes workers and bystanders to harmful sound levels, toxic and carcinogenic exhaust and ground sourced materials that can cause a range of problems from hearing damage to respiratory and cardiovascular disease, and cancer. In addition, it notes the negative impact of noise on quality of life, communication and social interaction, work productivity, and psychological well being,
The burgeoning use of GLBs and other fossil fuel powered equipment around our homes, schools, and other public spaces is a public health hazard. A growing number of physicians and other health professionals are becoming concerned. The moves made by MMS and MSSNY are to be lauded. Other state societies and medical groups including the American Lung Association and American Heart Association need to prioritize this issue. With the body of scientific evidence on the harms associated with noise and pollution, other state and national medical societies have a critical role to play in educating government officials and the public about the connections between environmental hazards and disease, and the actions we can take to reduce risks in our backyards and communities.
By Jamie Banks, PhD, MS with special thanks to Karen Bray, Bonnie Sager, OD, and Lucy Weinstein, MD.
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