January 1, 2015
Noise Free America
For immediate release
Chapel Hill: College Park, Maryland, a suburb of Washington, D.C. with a population of more than 30,000 and home to the University of Maryland, has won this month’s Noisy Dozen award from Noise Free America for tolerating unhealthy levels of noise within the city’s mostly working-class neighborhoods.
College Park is bisected by a major thoroughfare (US Route 1) and bordered by the Capital Beltway (Interstate 495) and Interstate 95. Therefore, road noise is a definite issue for residents. But, according to Karen Garvin, a 35-year resident of the city, the most egregious noise comes from within the neighborhoods themselves–in the form of leaf blowers.
“When we moved to College Park in 1981, people raked their leaves,” Garvin stated. “You could talk to your neighbors while you worked. The city did two leaf pick-ups in the fall to discourage residents from burning them. One pick-up was done after Thanksgiving and the second was around the end of the year.”
However, Garvin notes that in recent years the city has doubled the number of leaf pick-ups–and they always seem to be scheduled during holiday periods. “The vacuum truck was on my street on December 23 and it came back on Christmas Eve–despite the fact that they’d already sucked up the leaves. It wasn’t a very peaceful holiday for me.”
Leaf blower noise is a year-round problem in College Park neighborhoods, but it is worse during the fall. The city’s Smartleaf program is designed to pick up leaves and yard clippings and compost them on city property, in order to minimize the amount of organic materials being dumped in landfills. Unfortunately, most people get their leaves ready for pick-up with a leaf blower, which causes horrendous amounts of noise and air pollution.
The noise never stops. Morning, noon, night, weekends, and even holidays, people are outside blowing leaves around. And it’s no ten-minute job, either. Says Garvin, “A couple of years ago, my neighbors were outside blowing leaves for more than eight hours on Thanksgiving Day!”
Leaf blowers produce around 115 decibels of sound. The Centers for Disease Control cautions that being exposed to this level of noise for periods longer than 15 minutes can result in hearing damage. Leaf blower noise exceeds the city’s noise ordinance daytime limit of 65 decibels. Also, the high frequency sound echoes off buildings, making it even worse.
As busy homeowners increasingly turn to lawn care services, their neighbors are subjected to the excessive noise produced by industrial law equipment, with teams of workers wielding gasoline-powered backpack leaf blowers, which are often much louder and dirtier than consumer models.
Noise is not the only problem with lawn equipment. Leaf blowers and other two-stroke engines are notoriously inefficient. The United Nations Environmental Programreports that they emit a significant amount of particulate matter into the air, including hydrocarbons and carbon monoxide. Leaf blowers also spray dirt and dust into the air, along with pollen, mold spores, and other substances which can greatly damage respiratory health.
“I’d like to open the windows in my house,” says Garvin. “However, as soon as I do, someone cranks up a leaf blower. I’m sick of the constant noise and I don’t want that dirt blown inside my home.”
College Park residents have been slow to embrace composing, and their continual use of leaf blowers endangers the physical and mental health of residents.”
Ted Rueter, Noise Free America’s director, commented that “the noise situation in College Park is typical. In the name of ‘beauty,’ many homeowners blast away for hours. American residents and government agencies need to realize that peace and quiet is far more important than the ‘perfect lawn.’ Local governments should enact severe restrictions on gas-powered leaf blowers. The entire country has become leaf blower hell.”
Noise Free America is a national citizens’ organization opposed to noise pollution. Past “winners” of the Noisy Dozen award include Frostburg, Maryland; Washington, D.C.; and the D.C. Metro system.