Do noisy leaf blowers drive you mad? You are not alone. Linda Robertson, of The Miami Herald, writes about the scourge that is gas-powered leaf blowers. Robertson interviews south Miami resident Vicki Richards, a violinist and “connoisseur of sound” who is tormented by them. Richards laments,”You can’t play over it and you can’t play with it. I used to have house concerts, but nobody wants to hear ‘String Quartet with Leaf Blower.’” Indeed. Richards is not only musician airing their distress. Last year, The Atlantic featured a story about the problems these machines have caused to Washington, DC-based composer, Haskell (Hal) Small, some of whose most famous works are “studies in silence.”
In Southern Florida, the problem isn’t just the ubiquity of leaf blowers, they are a year round menace. It’s also the quality of their sound. As Robertson writes:
Maybe it’s the oscillating pitch of the snarl or the persistence of the whine. Maybe it’s the throttling of the motor up and down. Or, maybe it’s the sheer volume that puts [Richards] over the edge. Leaf blowers. Can they even be said to produce sound? Or merely an abomination of sound?
Robertson explains that leaf blowers were meant to be a labor-saving device, but now have turned into the thing that many people hate–but not the landscaping company owners who fight efforts to ban the gas-powered models. No, they claim that costs would escalate and their livelihoods would be adversely affected if gas-powered leaf blowers were banned, in whole or in part. There is no evidence that this is the case, however. In fact, we recently counted more than 100 landscape companies now offering services with electric equipment and manual tools at prices that are competitive. Just recently, BrightView, the largest landscape company in the U.S. purchased 200 commercial grade electric mowers, citing the environmental and health benefits. It may only be a matter of time before electric is the new norm for both mowers and handheld equipment.
In the end, the economic arguments against banning these loud and filthy instruments of torture are likely to lose ground. Their electric counterparts are getting better and better and more than pay for themselves over time. On the other side, there are very real concerns about air pollution, the impact they have on workers’ and residents’ health, and the damage they do to our soundscapes and eco-systems. Recently, the state medical societies in New York and Massachusetts passed resolutions about the dangers of gas leaf blowers, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention raised a warning about the noise levels and adverse health impacts of leaf blowers. As Vicki Richards asserts, “nothing compares to the dissonance of two leaf blowers going simultaneously that cuts through you like a serrated knife. That’s how you drive a person insane.”
The battle has just begun.
This article is adapted from an original article by Gina M. Briggs, Executive Editor at The Quiet Coalition. The Quiet Coalition provides a platform for communications, programs, and coordinated action to bring current medical and scientific knowledge to the process of creating a quieter, more sustainable, and livable world.