Leaf Blowers: Health Hazard Facts


It's Leaf Blowing Season, you hear them from sunrise to sunset. Leaf Blowers are not just LOUD, they are harmful. Read Leaf Blower Facts Below:  


Leaf Blower Noise and Its Consequences

Noise interferes with communication, sleep, and work. The U.S. EPA says noise degrades quality of life by impairing communication and social interaction; reducing the accuracy of work, particularly complex tasks; and creating stressful levels of frustration and aggravation that last even when the noise has ceased (1).

Sacramento's city code states "Every person in the city is entitled to live in an environment free from excessive, unnecessary or offensive noise levels." Our General Plan states that the normally acceptable ambient noise level in residential areas is no more than 60 dB; 60-70 is conditionally acceptable; and higher levels are normally unacceptable. The decibel scale is logarithmic--each increase of 10, say 60 to 70, represents a noise 10 times louder.

The average blower measures 70-75 dB at 50 feet according to a manufacturer's lobbyist (2), 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 (3). 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 (4).

Acoustics experts say blower noise is especially irritating because of its particular pitch, the changing amplitude, and the lack of control by the hearer (5).

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 (6).

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." (7)

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." (8) 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

Above credit NPC Quietnet


Excerpt from Noise: A Health Problem, United States Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Noise Abatement and Control, August 1978. This can be obtained from the web site of the Noise Pollution Clearinghouse at www.nonoise.org.
Sacramento Bee, November 10, 1997, "Whining leaf blowers leave ears aching for quiet".
Environmental Health Criteria 12: Noise, World Health Organization, 1980.
Consumer Reports, April 1997, page 8. The magazine reports Echo's new blower measured 69.5 dBA at 50 feet, and says "In field tests, the PB46LN didn't meet its noise claims...When measured at the operator's ear, the noise was at least 90 dBA for most backpack models in our September 1995 report. The Echo PB46LN was no better." A followup article in the August 1997 issue that begins "We have a very low tolerance for companies that make false claims to consumers about their products, and an equally low tolerance for companies that make false statements about our test procedures..." reports that Echo has publicly questioned Consumers Union's integrity, and that CU has demanded a retraction.
For the Sacramento Bee article listed at Note 2, reporter Edie Lau interviewed Michael H. L. Hecker, a Los Altos psychoacoustician; Mitchell Sutter, a UCD auditory neuroscientist; and Harvey Wichman, a Claremont psychology professor.
"Noise, Ears, and Hearing Protection", a public service brochure of the American Academy of Otolaryngology - Head and Neck Surgery. The warning about the limits of hearing protection are echoed by Dr. Alice Suter (see Note 7), who says: "hearing protectors, as they are worn in the field, provide only a fraction of the attenuation that their 'noise reduction ratings' (NRRS) imply." Dr. Suter also quotes a federally-sponsored consensus conference: "It is extremely foolhardy to regard hearing protection as a preferred way to limit noise exposures..."
"Comments on Occupational Noise to the OSHA Standards Planning Committee" by Alice Suter, Ph.D., can also be found on the NPC web site (in the NPC library).
Right to Quiet Society for Soundscape Awareness and Protection, #359, 1985 Wallace Street, Vancouver BC Canada V6R 4H4. Telephone 604 222-0207. www.islandnet.com/~skookum/quiet/

Read more Air Pollution from Leaf Blowers


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