by Steve Horrell

The Edwardsville Intelligencer

November 20, 2006

County looks to keep things quiet

The Madison County Board has revised its noise ordinance in an effort to clear up vague wording that in past years made it difficult to crack down on noise violators. The ordinance covers only rural areas of Madison County.

Even in those relatively quiet areas, people tend to overlook how much noise pollution they are actually exposed to, says Ted Rueter, director of Noise Free America, a not-for-profit group based in Madison, Wis.

“I think people have really gotten used to it,” Rueter said in a phone interview recently from Beloit College, in Wisconsin, where he was hired this year to teach political science. “I kind of despair for the young people in the country because they’re growing up in a noisy world.”

The Environmental Protection Agency has reported that noise in major cities has increased six fold since the early 1990s. Everything from Muzak to barking dogs. “There’s hardly anywhere to go anymore where it’s quiet,” said Rueter.

The organization targets four sources of noise pollution: car alarms; vehicles with booming stereos; motorcycles, and leaf blowers.

In Madison County, the revised ordinance makes it unlawful to make “unreasonably loud, disturbing, unnecessary or excessive noise which unreasonably interferes with the comfort, health or safety of others.” One provision prohibits noise from a radio, musical instrument or similar device coming from a vehicle “that can clearly be heard at a distance of 20 feet.” Another provision covers animals which “by causing frequent or long continued noise, shall disturb the comfort or repose of any ordinary person.”

Frank Miles, Madison County’s director of planning and development, said the county prohibits people from operating leaf blowers and other garden tools between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. Fines start at $50 and top out at $1,000.

Leafblowers often top 100 decibels, far in excess of federal safety recommendations. “I can hear them from a block away,” Rueter said. “They also create a good deal of air pollution, and they kick up dirt, dust and animal droppings. I just think it’s completely unnecessary.” Rueter favors quieter battery-operated leaf blowers that pollute less than the gas-powered blowers, which, he says, have been banned in 44 California counties.

Noise Free America was created five years ago. Rueter was teaching a Political Activism and Advocacy class at UCLA when he and 14 of his students decided that something had to be done to combat the constant noise of jack hammers, power washers, back-up beepers, and leaf blowers. “It was just a cacophony of noise, all the time,” he said. Rueter lived in the tony neighborhoods of Beverly Hills and Bel-Air. UCLA, where he taught for two years, was an extremely noisy campus. “There would be times I would be teaching and I’d have to interrupt class because someone was using a jackhammer just outside the classroom,” he said.

Rueter eventually went national with NFA. Today there are 46 NFA chapters in 25 states.