East Hampton Star

Call to Ban Leaf Blowers, Restore Quiet

Forget it, landscapers say; ‘a broom doesn’t cut it’
By Christopher Walsh | July 18, 2013 – 2:18pm

Bob Casper of Ban the Blowers channels anti-Vietnam War protesters in his bid to ban the use of leaf blowers in East Hampton.

Like people, aircraft, S.U.V.s, and McMansions, some longtime residents say that noise, too, has saturated the Town of East Hampton to the point that local government must move to restore the tranquility they say has been lost. The object of their ire: leaf blowers.

These gas-powered devices are part of most landscapers’ arsenals, propelling leaves and debris off lawns, roads, and sidewalks or into a pile for removal, in the way the quiet and emission-free rake and broom are employed to complete the same tasks, albeit more slowly.

Ban the Blowers, East Hampton is a local campaign spearheaded by Bob Casper of Northwest Woods, Dr. James Matthews, also of Northwest Woods, and Bill Henderson of Springs. The group’s Web site, bantheblowers.org, offers several essays on the topic, a list of asserted health hazards associated with leaf blower use, and links to Web sites devoted to the environmental impacts of leaf blowers and municipalities and citizens’ groups that have acted to restrict or ban their use.

“People deserve to be able to sit in their home and not listen to blowers all day,” said Mr. Casper. “I’ve gotten hundreds of calls from people who just don’t know what to do and can’t believe nothing has been done here. It’s like the helicopter issue: You’ve got three people riding in it, and it’s impacting thousands.”

“People have become more sensitive to environmental issues in general and noise issues in particular,” said Dr. Matthews, a professor emeritus in the departments of psychology and neural science at New York University. “That’s at least in part because they’ve gotten worse. Generally speaking, people have become aware that noise is a pollution issue that we seek to avoid by coming out here in the first place. To have it follow us in the form of a little motor is not what we were looking for.”

Mr. Henderson described East Hampton as “unlivable” in the autumn and spring. “From October through December, there’s no place in the Town of East Hampton, from the bay to the ocean, that you don’t hear the scream of leaf blowers. It ruins it, frankly. It’s even worse than the traffic, which has already ruined it. It’s part of the ongoing destruction of the East End, ecologically. I just think something’s got to be done.”

A brochure created by Ban the Blowers’ principals also cites multiple health hazards posed by use of leaf blowers. “Our citizens are unwillingly exposed to hazardous carcinogens like hydrocarbons and nitrogen oxides, whipped up in hurricane-force windstorms of pesticides, fertilizers, mold, lead, arsenic, mercury, fecal matter, and more, that once airborne can remain for hours and even days,” the brochure reads. “Allergies, asthma, and high blood pressure [are] exacerbated.”

“We all know that there are numerous sources of allergens and contaminants in soil, particularly soil heavily treated with toxins,” Dr. Matthews said. “It’s a bad idea to blow that stuff in the air.”

The group also asserts that one hour’s use of a gasoline-powered leaf blower is responsible for emissions equivalent to an automobile driven 350 miles, worsened by the fact that the emissions are concentrated in a compact area, as opposed to spread across the automobile’s path.

The average leaf blower measures 70 to 75 decibels at 50 feet, according to the nonprofit advocacy group Noise Pollution Clearinghouse, citing a manufacturer’s lobbyist. The Town of East Hampton’s existing code restricts noise above 65 decibels during the day and above 50 decibels from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m., but exceptions are made for “the intermittent or occasional use between 7:00 a.m. and 8:30 p.m. of homeowners’ light residential outdoor equipment or commercial service equipment.”

Proposed changes to the noise ordinance were heard at a June 20 hearing before the town board. The proposal set no acceptable maximum standard for noise, so as noise levels increased, the threshold for noise deemed a disturbance would also rise. The proposal, Councilwoman Sylvia Overby said, “had so many problems. It was difficult to understand and implement, so we really do have to go back to the drawing board. At that point we should, as we did try to, implement an ordinance for leaf blowers.”

Ms. Overby said she is currently receiving, on average, one e-mailed complaint about leaf blowers every week. “The level of noise in our society has gotten more and more,” she said. “I think it’s disturbing people’s quiet enjoyment of their property. I would welcome hearing from people, and seeing a petition.” The Ban the Blowers Web site includes a link to an online petition, at the Web site change.org, to ask the town to ban leaf blowers.

Allen Adamcewicz, a landscaper based in Montauk, acknowledged the noise produced by leaf blowers but defended landscapers’ use of them within the parameters permitted by code. Leaf blowers, he said, “can put out a certain amount of CFMs,” or cubic feet per minute. “You don’t really need to rev them up. If they’re on a half throttle, they put out just as much air as a full throttle. Full throttle is just wasting gas and making noise.”

But, Mr. Adamcewicz said, “I’m in commercial business — a broom doesn’t cut it. To substitute a broom for a blower is not going to happen.” And, he said, “We can’t rake a driveway of clippings.”

Furthermore, he said, the nightclubs in Montauk produce far greater noise, for much longer duration, than the 10 to 15 minutes a landscaping crew might spend using leaf blowers. “If these people get a foothold on banning a leaf blower,” he asked, “what’s next? What are we going to do? Shut down everything? We’re just trying to be in business.”

Gary Stephens, another landscaper based in Montauk, called a ban on leaf blowers “the stupidest idea.” Leaf blowers, he said, accomplish a task quickly and efficiently. Without such equipment, a landscaper working by hand “is going to rape you for everything you’ve got, because it’s going to take them forever to do it. If they don’t like the noise and people making a living,” Mr. Stephens said, “people should leave town and go somewhere where they don’t have leaves or people to bother.”

“If the contractors say, ‘What are we going to do,’ well, get a damn rake out,” said Mr. Henderson. “Stop blowing ticks and crap around on my yard.”

“Noise is a kind of assault, a crossing of borders, a violation of my ability to protect my own environment,” said Dr. Matthews. “We have to understand it as that. The main point is, this is an act of aggression of one person against another. It’s pollution of the cultural, psychological sort. We don’t put up with that when it comes to other kinds of psychological assaults. Why noise?”



Israel and Hawaii Ban

The Los Angeles based group, ZAPLA, gave news that Israel–the entire country–has enacted a total leaf blower ban.  Meanwhile Hawaii–the entire state–has also enacted a law banning gasoline-powered leaf blowers entirely, and restricting the hours of electric leaf blowers.  If a country and a state can do it, you would think our town could too!

RAKE – A Four Letter Word?

rockwellleafWhat does the leaf blower’s nemesis, the humble rake, have to offer?

1. No fuel, no pollution.

2. Great Exercise.Raking burns about 325 calories an hour. It also builds upper-body strength and works core muscles.

3. Good relations with neighbors.

Yes, it takes a little longer, so what?

The Redistribution Effect

Few inventions in human history are as obnoxious as the leaf blower.

Blowing leaves and grass trimmings away from your property isn’t necessarily taking care of the ultimate problem: disposing of all those leaves.

You can use a leaf blower to gather all of the leaves into piles, making it easier for you to pick up and dispose of them. Or, you can use a leaf blower to simply blow leaves from your property to somewhere else.

Unless you pick up (or rake up) the leaves after you’ve blown them into a pile, then you’re simply redistributing the leaves, rather than eliminating them. Yes, they’re out of your yard, but now they’re simply in your next door neighbor’s yard or in the street!

After that, rain water and wind will magically simply move them out of sight and back into someone else’s yard or further on down the road. Leaves that are randomly blown away also tend to find their way down the storm sewer — causing water backups, flooded basements, and all sorts of grief for the Town of East Hampton.

Is this the best way to maintain a clean, friendly community?226184


I Blow

I used a leaf blower once. Not really to blow leaves, but to get dust and dirt out of a pavement in a day’s work as a hygeine operative for a temp agency in St Albans. It was the more fun bit of the day (earlier on I had been using a long pokey stick with a pointy hoe on the end to scrape moss from in between paving bricks), not least because I kept zoning out and blasting clouds of dust at passers by, exploiting that weird invisibility you get if you’re wearing hi-vis and holding a machine.

It’s an impressive sight though, huge clouds of dirt cascading around you, billowing and raging and breathing and drifting. As soon as its out of your range it goes from bluster to float, these immense swells of dirt, become slow moving universes, until the next turn blasts them back outwards.

And the whole process was utterly pointless. Not cleaning up anything, just moving chunks of dust around. In theory I was aiming them into the road and gutter, so that the cleaning van could come clean up properly. In fact, I was just watching the clouds.

Anyway. Dom Quinto, in the late 1950s, though there’s no proof of that. He did have a fairly cool name though. This guy doesn’t like him much.

He’s got a point. Leaf blowers are highly symbolic of one of the main problems of technological society. Technology often develops not to remove problems, or solve problems, but to move them. The leaves aren’t used (which if raked and mulched and composted, they can be), they are just pushed away, into the next garden, or out into the street. You dramatically blast at the problem, pushing it away with fierce bluster and noise.

But you just make a mess somewhere else.

Brooms and rakes may be hard work, but they are devices built to give you control. Simply made and used, they use your own energy to deal with a problem and keep you in control.

A leaf blower smashes a problem fiercely. It turns it into a cloud and blows it away. It raises the problem into the air and pushes it out of your territory.

It’s a noisy, messy and unfriendly solution to a simple and small scale problem. It saves time, but it does so at the expense of people other than you. It doesn’t really save the time, it just takes it from someone else.

Yes. This is representative of things that are wrong with out society. We’d rather blast a problem away than look at it and deal with it simply. We’d rather do things quickly and noisily than have to be considerate.

We don’t give a shit about the damage we do as long as it doesn’t impact us.

We don’t have to use technology like this. We don’t have to build our world around this type of efficiency.

We need to work out what kind of machine we’re cogs in.

I Can’t Hear You


The average blower measures 70-75 dB at 50 feet according to a manufacturer’s lobbyist, thus louder at any closer distance. Leaf blowers are routinely used less than 50 feet from unconsenting pedestrians and neighboring homes that may be occupied by home workers, retirees, day sleepers, children, the ill or disabled, and pets.

The World Health Organization recommends general daytime outdoor noise levels of 55 dBA* or less, but 45 dBA to meet sleep criteria. Thus, even a 65-decibel leaf blower would be 100 times too loud** to allow healthful sleep (which often takes place during daytime hours for night workers and others). Noise can impair sleep even when the sleeper is not awakened.

Don’t be fooled by comparison of 65 decibels from a leaf blower to the volume of a normal conversation. You wouldn’t want a noise in your home as loud as a normal conversation that you had not invited and could not control. In any case, no backpack blower on the market meets the 65 dB standard. Echo claims to (for one of their seven available models) but Consumer Reports says that’s not true.

Acoustics experts say blower noise is especially irritating because of its particular pitch, the changing amplitude, and the lack of control by the hearer.

Blower noise can impair gardeners’ hearing. A blower measuring 70-75 dB at 50 feet can reach 90-100 dB at the operator’s ear. OSHA requires hearing protection for noise over 85, and according to the World Health Organization, “there is an increasing predictable risk” of hearing damage from noise above 75 dBA. Use of certain antibiotics can create vulnerability at lower noise levels. Anecdotally we have examples of hearing loss in gardeners. Sacramento Bee writer Edie Lau quotes one local gardener: “Eventually it’s going to hurt everyone who uses it…I’m already a little bit deaf…” Deafness is a serious problem because it causes social isolation by impairing communication. Deafness caused by noise is irreversible. According to the American Academy of Otolaryngology, half the wearers of hearing protectors do not get the expected benefit, due to improper fit or failure to wear them continuously .

Blower noise endangers gardeners in other ways as well. According to Dr. Alice Suter, in a 1994 report to the OSHA Standards Planning Committee, there is recent evidence “that high levels of noise and the resulting hearing losses contribute to industrial accidents” and “hearing protection devices…may actually impair work safety under certain conditions…In addition, there is growing evidence that noise adversely affects general health, and the cardiovascular system in particular.”

As Kenneth Maue writes in the Autumn 1997 Right to Quiet newsletter: “When harsh noise hits, instead of reaching out to greet the world with open ears, we shrink back into shells, or try to; in truth the ears can’t shut, nor like the eyes turn away. Noise controls space like an occupying army, travels through walls, enters homes, molests bodies, violates privacy, stops thought, batters each of us into isolation.” Noise causes loss of community and is both a sign and a cause of aggression and violence.

* the A-weighting (expressed as dBA) is one way of evaluating high and low frequencies to approximate the ear’s response

** from 45 to 65 is two ten-fold increases, or 10 x 10

Excerpt from http://www.nonoise.org/quietnet/cqs/leafblow.htm#conseq


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