Redondo Beach Bans All Leaf Blowers

The Southern California city of Redondo Beach has applied a complete ban on all leaf blowers, whether gas- or battery-powered. (As a reminder: the legislation now under consideration by the Washington D.C. City Council would apply only to the hyper-polluting gas-powered models.) 

 "Leaf blower bans have been spreading across the country." From   The Beach Reporter  .

"Leaf blower bans have been spreading across the country." From The Beach Reporter.

According to an article in The Beach Reporter, by David Rosenfeld, the Redondo Beach ban covers all types of blowers, and is being received successfully:

Soon after the ban on motorized leaf blowers took effect on Aug. 11, [a local family] the Siekers made up fliers notifying their neighbors about the prohibition and went around the neighborhood passing them out and speaking with people.

“We only had one or two people who didn’t agree with the leaf blower ban and said they would violate the rule,” Douglas Sieker said. "It was a matter of not wanting government to tell them what to do.”

Redondo Beach is actually late to the leaf blower ban game. The city of Los Angeles instituted its ban in the 1990s and similar bans exist in neighboring beach cities including Hermosa Beach and Manhattan Beach. For the past 20 years, leaf blower bans have been spreading across the country.

For the Siekers, leaf blowers started to become more of a nuisance in recent years. When things really started getting bad, Elaine began keeping a notebook. That’s when the couple calculated there were 26 leaf blowers going every six-day period.... 

“My wife would have to shut all the westerly facing windows when the gardeners came one or two doors down from us,” Sieker said. “If we left the windows open we would find our blinds and drapes full of dust.”

The Siekers were told by an arborist that leaf blowers could have been destroying their 20-year-old geranium plants. The arborist told them leaf blowers can push aphids and other insects from grass and leaf clippings into plants, Siekar said.

Read the full story here.

Elkhart County, Indiana, Begins to Address Noise as a Public Health Challenge

 From the  Elkhart  Truth   this month.

From the Elkhart Truth this month.

Elkhart County, in northern Indiana, has begun a broad effort to address noise issues of all sorts. According to a new story by Jordan Fouts of the Elkhart Truth, public-health concerns about hearing loss are a principal force behind this change:

“There are health effects from noise, there’s no question about that,” said Lydia Mertz, Elkhart County health officer. 

In addition to more obvious forms of harm, like hearing loss or tinnitus, she said continuous noise above 65 decibels can have a range of other effects, including increased stress and anxiety levels, higher blood pressure and sleep disturbances. 

“It’s true that loud noises will lead to hearing loss, and anything over 70 dB will lead to a problem,” she said. “In big cities, you often reach decibels of 75. It’s really not good for your ears.”... 

It’s not something you just build up a tolerance to, either, she said. Any damage that happens is permanent.

“We do have a lot more hearing loss than we used to, and I think we will have a lot more of that,” Mertz said. “When cells (in the ear) are damaged, once they’re permanently damaged, they are not going to come back.”

Read more from the whole story. Congratulations to the leaders and people of Elkhart County, for realizing that ambient-noise issues are a serious public health concern, and one not confined to the biggest cities or the wealthiest suburbs.  (And by the way, support your local publications -- from the Elkhart Truth, to the Redlands (Ca.) Daily Facts.) 


Another City Moves Away From Gas-Powered Equipment: Ojai's Story


As the item above, from KCLU in California, explains, the city of Ojai, in Southern California, has permanently moved away from (noisy, outdated, incredibly polluting) gas-powered leaf blowers and other lawn equipment . 

As the story points out:

Ojai Mayor Johnny Johnston says like many communities, the city has wrangled with the leaf blower issue for years. They are important tools, but the noise and pollution are objectionable for many residents. The city has had a ban in place on their use in residential areas, but trying to enforcing it was an issue. Johnson says this new effort by the city to go green with the equipment sets an example for the community....

One of the biggest boosters of this new effort is an Ojai City Councilman who was once a staunch gas leaf blower defender. Randy Haney is a landscape contractor, and he says advances in technology during the last few years convinced them electric equipment is now the way to go. He says the reduction in noise pollution of 40 to 70% is a huge extra incentive.

The maintenance team has only been using the new tools for a short time, but the early reviews from the people who actually use them is good.

You can read the whole report here. Congratulations to the people and leaders of Ojai. 

Lawn & Landscape Magazine on the Coming of the Battery-Power Era

 From   Lawn and Landscape  , a crew from Sun Power Lawn Care in Florida runs a successful business with battery-powered equipment.

From Lawn and Landscape, a crew from Sun Power Lawn Care in Florida runs a successful business with battery-powered equipment.

"What’s so quiet the neighbors might not know you’re servicing a lawn – and so clean that you’ll never have to worry about an engine flooding or a mucky carburetor? Electric equipment use is on the rise as more commercial-grade hand-held and mower options enter the market. Some landscape companies are even committing fully to electric-powered fleets. Two firms shared how and why they made the switch, and what they learned during the process."

In the recent hearing before the D.C. City Council, two operators of lawn service companies that had switched from gas- to battery-powered equipment told about their successful and profitable operations with these new machines. You can read the comments of one of them, Nancy Sainburg, here, and of the other, Zack Kline, here

Now a leading trade magazine, Lawn and Landscape, has a big feature on the increasing importance of clean, battery-powered equipment across the industry. It's the source of the quote above. You can read the whole thing here. Congrats and thanks to Lawn and Landscape.


Can You Hear the Difference Between High- and Low-Frequency Sound? Find Out With This 18-Second Test

In his testimony for the Washington D.C. City Council on June 2, 2018, Chris Pollock, of the Arup consulting firm, presented the results of Arup's original acoustics research, on the sound properties of different kinds of outdoor equipment. 

The most significant part of his statement concerned the surprising difference between the official loudness rating of leaf blowers--say, 75 decibels--and how the machines actually sound.

The difference turns on the contrasting acoustic properties of gas- and battery-powered machinery. Gas-powered blowers with two-stroke engines, the most familiar (and dirtiest) models, produce dramatically more sound energy in the low-frequency spectrum.

This might seem benign, since people associate high-frequency noise with a dental-drill-style annoying whine. But low-frequency waves are in fact more intrusive and nuisance-creating. They travel much farther than high-frequency waves; they penetrate walls and barriers; and they mean that the noise-footprint of a gas blower covers a vastly larger area that a battery-powered machine with the "same" loudness rating. This explains the common-sense observation that neighbors can tell from many blocks away when a crew with gas-powered blowers begins its work.

Here's the data-based, researcher's way to convey that point, as Pollock put it in his testimony:

From the data above, we observe that clearly the group of gas leaf blowers all exhibit a much higher level of sound energy in the low-frequency bands....Based on our experience measuring sound, I witnessed that the three gas-powered leaf blowers at an 800-foot distance were audible, two being clearly audible, the RedMax EBZ8500 and the Stihl BR700X. And the third, the ECHO PB-760, being noticeable. While the battery-powered blowers at that same distance were not distinguishable above the very quiet community sound levels at that distance.... 

Low-frequency noise requires heavy construction and materials to stop sound transmitting from the outside of the building to the inside...The sound levels of gas leaf blowers are measured inside the house are significantly above those of the battery-powered leaf blowers, even when both of the leaf blowers are rated at the same decibel level at 50 feet. 

But a simpler way to grasp the difference may be to listen to the 18-second sound clip below, from the Arup experiments. It's of two blowers that officially have the "same" loudness rating, measured at the same distance.

The first eight seconds are a battery-powered machine, with a distinctive high whine -- but a sound that falls off very rapidly with distance. If this machine were running outside a building, you might not hear it inside.

The second sample is of a gas-powered machine.

See if you can notice the difference! 

One More Advisory Neighborhood Commission Endorses the Bill, Bringing the Total to 14

Over the past two years, Advisory Neighborhood Commissions across the District of Columbia have been voting in favor of Bill 22-234, to phase out noisy, polluting gas-powered leaf-blowers within the District and shift to quiet, clean battery-powered models. (ANCs are elected neighborhood bodies across the District, which have some local jurisdiction and report to the City Council.)

This month ANC6B, which represents Capitol Hill and parts of Southeast Washington, voted in favor of this bill. Its admirably to-the-point endorsement statement is below.

This makes 14 ANCs that have now endorsed the bill. They represent the overwhelming majority of the ANCs that have considered it; more than one-third of all the 40 ANCs that exist (no ANC has opposed it); and coverage from all parts of the city, seven of the eight total wards, reflecting a broad sampling of DC's population. 

For testimony from a hearing before the City Council's Committee of the Whole, on July 2, 2018, please see this full transcript, and this summary introduction.

Thanks to ANC6B and the 13 other ANCs that have weighed in.


Full Transcript of City Council Hearing on Mary Cheh's Leaf Blower Bill Now Available Online

Through the past three years, this site has reported on the progress of legislation to phase out noisy, obsolete, hyper-polluting gas-powered leaf blowers in the nation's capital city, and to phase in quiet, clean battery-powered equipment.

Council Member Mary Cheh has introduced legislation to that effect; Advisory Neighborhood Commissions across the District have endorsed it; and a majority of City Council members have indicated their support.

The crucial next stage of "how a bill becomes a law" was for hearings on the bill by the Council's "Committee of the Whole," whose membership includes the full Council (but which, for procedural reasons, must consider the bill before the whole Council does).

Those hearings, over which Council Chair Phil Mendelson presided, took place on the afternoon of July 2, 2018. As Council members themselves observed, they turned out to be an entirely lopsided contrast of perspectives. 

On the pro-bill side, witnesses produced brand-new and significant acoustic evidence, showing that the sound properties of noise from gas-powered blowers were fundamentally different from those of the battery models, and in a way that made their noise far more disturbing and damaging. (Short version: the gas-powered models produce dramatically greater spikes of low-frequency sound waves, which seems as if would be less annoying than a high-frequency whine. But in fact low-frequency waves travel much greater distances than high-frequency sound waves, and can penetrate walls and windows. The US Navy uses ultra-low-frequency waves to communicate with its submarines when they are beneath the surface, precisely because these waves can travel so far.)

Thus if a gas- and a battery-powered blower have the "same" loudness rating, say of 75 decibels, the gas-powered blower is in fact far louder. The difference is much like the role of humidity in summer weather readings: an 88F degree day in Washington DC, with sweltering humidity, feels much hotter than an 88F degree day in Denver, with bone-dry air. As one expert, Dr. Jamie Banks of Quiet Communities, testified, the noise footprint of a gas-powered leafblower can cover a vastly greater area of a neighborhood than that of a "similarly" loud battery-powered blower. Her testimony explains the significance of the graph below:

cow7 (1).png

The owners of some lawn-maintenance companies also testified for the bill, saying that they had successfully switched their businesses to battery-powered operations. A leading technology writer said that all previous clean-tech legislation, whether it was the switch away from leaded gas or the ban on DDT, had met initial industry opposition as being "impractical," "bad for business," and "intrusive." But after it took effect, people asked, Why did we wait so long?

Citizens and representatives of neighborhood groups talked about the effect that rising levels of ambient noise had on community life and personal health. A career lawn-care worker described the way exposure to gas-powered leaf blowers had deprived him of his hearing.

For their part, the two industry-lobbyist representatives made points that their counterparts have made for decades. One was that the proposed shift would be ruinously expensive for lawn-care companies--despite the testimony of real-world gardening companies that have already made the change successfully. The other was that the "solution" to the problem was "better education" of lawn crews for more "courteous" use of their equipment, a claim for which the lobbyists could offer no real-world evidence (since none exists).

The whole transcript is available now, so you can judge for yourself. Over the two weeks after the hearing, until a July 16 deadline, the Council's record stayed open for supplemental statements. A large number of those arrived, and they'll be presented, in indexed form, in the next few days on this site.

An 18-Second Lesson in the Difference Between Gas-Powered and Battery-Powered Leaf Blowers

For the D.C. City Council's July 2 hearing on a bill to phase-out noisy, dirty gas-powered leaf blowers, and phase in quiet, clean battery-powered models, a well-known research group called Arup conducted original sound-measurement experiments. 

The purpose of the tests was to see whether there was any real difference in the acoustic properties of noise from different kinds of machines. (More of about the hearing, on July 2, here; a full transcript of the proceedings is here; the testimony of Arup's witness, acoustics expert Chris Pollock, is here.)

As it turned out, indeed there is a difference. As Pollock emphasized, the main contrast is in low-frequency sound energy, which gas-powered machines produce at much more intense levels than battery-powered machines.

"Low-frequency" noise seems as if it might be more benign than a high-frequency whine, but in fact it's a much more serious public health and public nuisance problem. That is because low-frequency waves travel much further than high-frequency ones, and penetrate walls, doors, and windows. Thus two leaf blowers with the "same" loudness rating, say of 75 decibels, have vastly different noise footprints, with the gas-powered one affecting a much greater area. At the hearing, Dr. Jamie Banks, of Quiet Communities, illustrated the difference with this chart. The two blowers shown at the top are battery-powered; the two at the bottom, gas-powered. (In their response at the hearing, the two industry lobbyists said that noise and nuisance problems could be solved by training lawn crews in "considerate" use of the equipment. See for yourself.)


But here's an even simpler way to grasp the difference: just listen to the 18-second sound clip below, from the Arup experiments. It's of two blowers that officially have the "same" loudness rating, measured at the same distance.

The first ten seconds are a battery-powered machine, with a distinctive high whine -- but a sound that falls off very rapidly with distance. If this machine were running outside a building, you might not hear it inside.

The second is of a gas-powered machine.

See if you can notice the difference! 

Noise as 'the New Second-Hand Smoke'

Some of the public-health challenges of this era are familiar: diabetes, obesity, and of course the opioid epidemic.

Some are less publicized and just beginning to break into public awareness. Among them is what the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) has noted as an incipient epidemic of hearing loss, at much younger ages than had previously been observed. As the CDC said in a report this spring (emphasis added):

“Noise is damaging hearing before anyone notices or diagnoses it,” said Anne Schuchat, the CDC's acting director. “Because of that, the start of hearing loss is underrecognized.”
The study revealed that 19 percent of people between the ages of 20 and 29 had some hearing loss, a finding that Schuchat called alarming....
Hearing damage results from a combination of volume and the length of the exposure. One minute of hearing a 120-decibel siren can damage hearing, the CDC said. So can two hours of exposure to a 90-decibel leaf blower

Now the Pew Trusts have followed up with a report on the increasing toll causes by hearing loss, and the dawning awareness that this is a public-health challenge akin to the second-hand smoke phenomenon of a generation ago. The report is called "Seeking a Quiet Place in a Nation of Noise," and is worth reading in full, here. Some samples:

Noise doesn’t just affect hearing, noise activists say; it can cost your health. A study by the University of Michigan showed a link to cardiovascular disease and heart attacks, according to [Rick] Neitzel, who conducted the study.

“The consensus is that if we can keep noise below 70 decibels on average, that would eliminate hearing loss,” Neitzel said. “But the problem is that if noise is more than 50 decibels, there’s an increased risk of heart attack and hypertension,” he said. “Noise at 70 decibels is not safe.”


Leaf blowers are another noise flashpoint.

Hundreds of cities have leaf blower regulations, but they are difficult to enforce. Regulation has been prevalent in California, Arizona, Hawaii, Illinois, New York and Massachusetts, according to Quiet Communities, a nonprofit that advocates for noise control.

State lawmakers in Hawaii have considered a ban on gas blowers. And cities like Washington, D.C., have been considering a ban for several years, but not passed one.

As chronicled on this site, Washington D.C. is, at last, indeed moving toward action on this front. Stay tuned for updates. 

The Big Picture: 'America's Lawn Obsession,' via Freakonomics

The main theme of the news and analyses on this site is that the modern lawn-care practices should, can, and inevitably will shift away from today's hyper-polluting, obsolescent, dangerous and dirty gas-powered equipment. Better alternatives are at hand, and are appearing in improved versions continually.

Another perspective is to reconsider current highly mechanized landscaping practices more fundamentally. Questions of this sort lead some householders to rely on rakes rather than machinery, and lead others to wonder about the modern American assumption that houses should be surrounded with manicured lawns.

The valuable Noise and the City blog has featured a Freakonomics broadcast from 2017 that asks directly, "How Stupid is Our Obsession With Lawns?" It's fascinating and worth listening to. An embedded player is below.

WSJ: Big Battery Boost Is on the Horizon

   Wall Street Journal  headline , March 17, 2018.

The limiting factor in the usability and popularity of clean, electric-powered leaf blowers is the same as the limiting factor in the cost and range of Teslas and other electric cars, or of a new generation of battery-powered airplanes, or even of the spread of solar and wind power systems that need batteries to store power when it's sunny or wind, to use when it is dark or calm.

That factor is the performance and cost of batteries. Through the past decade, innovation (driven mainly by the mobile-phone and other consumer-electronics industry) has made batteries ever cheaper, ever lighter, and ever longer-duration. Now a Wall Street Journal story says that a significant step up is at hand.

The entire story by Christopher Mims is worth reading. Some highlights:

The batteries that power our modern world—from phones to drones to electric cars—will soon experience something not heard of in years: Their capacity to store electricity will jump by double-digit percentages, according to researchers, developers and manufacturers.

The next wave of batteries, long in the pipeline, is ready for commercialization. This will mean, among other things, phones with 10% to 30% more battery life, or phones with the same battery life but faster and lighter or with brighter screens.... As this technology becomes widespread, makers of electric vehicles [and lawn equipment] and home storage batteries will be able to knock thousands of dollars off their prices over the next five to 10 years.

The technical advance, carefully spelled out in the story, involves a move from graphite to silicon as a main component in the battery. Brief summary:

Typically, anodes in lithium-ion batteries are made of graphite, which is carbon in a crystalline form. While graphite anodes hold a substantial number of lithium ions, researchers have long known a different material, silicon, can hold 25 times as many.

For more, please see Mims's article. The big picture, once again, is that the dirty, noisy gas-powered equipment found on many lawns is a rare remnant of very old technology. What is rushing to replace it is part of a sweeping new material-science revolution in power storage. 

The 41 D.C. Neighborhoods (and Counting) That Have Supported Mary Cheh's Bill

Here is the list of neighborhoods across the District of Columbia whose elected representatives, on Advisory Neighborhood Commissions, have supported action on Council Member Mary Cheh's bill to speed the inevitable phase-out of hyper-polluting, obsolete, noisy gas-powered leaf blowers in the District. The neighborhoods are listed alphabetically, followed by their respective ANC numbers.

Congratulations and thanks to these visionary citizen representatives. 

  1. American University (3D)
  2. American University Park (3E) 
  3. Berkley (3D)
  4. Bloomingdale (5E)
  5. Brookland (5B)
  6. Capitol Hill (6B, 6C)
  7. Carrollsburg (6D)
  8. Cathedral Heights (3B)
  9. Columbia Heights (4C)
  10. Crestwood (4C)
  11. Downtown (2F)
  12. Eckington (5E)
  13. Edgewood (5E)
  14. Fort McNair (6D)
  15. Foxhall (3D)
  16. Friendship Heights (3E)
  17. Glenwood (5E)
  18. Glover Park (3B)
  19. Kalorama (2D)
  20. Kent (3D)
  21. Logan Circle (2F)
  22. Michigan Park (5B)
  23. Navy Yard (6D)
  24. Near Northeast (6C)
  25. Near Southwest-Southeast (6D)
  26. New Mexico-Cathedral (3D)
  27. NoMa (6C)
  28. North Michigan Park (5B)
  29. Palisades (3D)
  30. Petworth (4C)
  31. Queen’s Chapel (5B)
  32. Rhode Island Avenue (5B)
  33. Shaw (2F)
  34. Sheridan (2D)
  35. 16th Street Heights (4C)
  36. Spring Valley (3D)
  37. Tenleytown (3E)
  38. Truxton Circle (5E)
  39. Waterfront (6D)
  40. Wesley Heights (3D)
  41. Woodridge (5B)

We'll update this list as more results come in.

To read more about this issue, and to consider adding your support to the thousand-plus people who have already signed a petition asking the D.C. Council to act, please visit the link below.