Help Is On the Way In the War Against Noisy Leaf Blowers

HughPickens.com writes: Perry Stein writes in the Washington Post that the fight against noisy leaf blowers is gaining momentum, in part, because residents are framing it as a public health issue. Two-stroke engine leaf blowers mix fuel with oil and don't undergo a complete combustion, emitting a number of toxins, like carbon monoxide and nitrous oxide, which their operators inevitably inhale. Municipalities throughout the country have moved to ban them. "You find two-stroke engines in poorer countries because they're cheap," says James Fallows citing a 2004 National Institutes of Health study showing that two-stroke engines on two- and three-wheeled vehicles in Delhi, India, account for a significant amount of air pollution. "You don't find them in richer countries because they're so dirty and polluting." In Washington DC leaf blowers can't exceed 70 decibels as measured from 50 feet away. (A normal conversation is typically about 60 decibels.) Haskell Small, a composer and concert pianist who is helping to lead the leaf-blower battle in Wesley Heights, describes the sound as "piercing." "When I try to compose or write a letter, there is no way for me to listen to my inner voice, and the leaf blower blanks out all the harmonic combinations."

But help is on the way. A new generation of leaf blowers is more environmentally friendly as the emergence of battery-powered leaf blowers takes us closer to the Holy Grail of equipment that is both (1) powerful and (2) quiet. Fallows supports the notion of a kind of trade-in program, where loud, old leaf blowers are exchanged for the less offensive kind. Ted Rueter, founder of Noise Free America, facilitated one such scheme. In the heat of his front lawn dispute with his neighbor, he offered a solution. "If you agree to use them, I will buy you two new leaf blowers," Rueter told his neighbor. "The offer was accepted and the noise level in his front yard was restored to a peaceful level," says Lawrence Richards. "When it comes to the balancing act of protecting landscaping jobs while reducing noise and emissions, it helps that someone was willing to pay for progress."

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