Adrian Higgins, gardening columnist for the Washington Post, has a column on the tragedy-of-the-commons represented by modern lawn care practices, and the surprisingly potent effect of ambient noise. Sample:
There is a weird human phenomenon at work here: Sound is far less irritating to its creator than to its recipient. Erica Walker, a doctoral student at Harvard University’s Chan School of Public Health, seems to have hit on one reason for this: Recipients of nuisance noise have no power over it....
The aural irritants go far beyond the leaf blower: Airplanes, buses, trains, loud-talkers, barking dogs, blaring music — all form ingredients in the sour stew. But the leaf blower is a major culprit. The most powerful models can create a stream of air exceeding 200 mph and with noise levels as high as an ear-piercing 112 decibels....
One facet of this problem is that as residents have turned over care of their yards to landscapers, what was once a weekend phenomenon from a gadget-minded homeowner is now a weekday, day-long assault on neighborhoods. Another gripe: A tool thought of as an instrument of the fall has become a three-season mainstay for crews who equate a speck-free lawn, patio and flower bed with a job well done.
The two-stroke blowers are also highly polluting, said Ruth Caplan, a civic activist in Cleveland Park and a member of a group lobbying against them, Quiet Clean D.C.
“We are concerned not only about the impact on neighbors but also on workers and feel this hasn’t been given the attention that it needs,” she said.
In a recent paper written with Jamie Banks, of an organization named Quiet Communities in Lincoln, Mass., Walker measured the sound from a commercial-grade gasoline blower at various distances. Even from 800 feet away, the noise was above the 55-decibel threshold at which sound is considered harmful by the World Health Organization, she said. Another problem is that the machines emit a low-frequency sound that is not measured conventionally but which travels long distances and penetrates building walls.