"Calling noise a nuisance is like calling smog an inconvenience. Noise must be considered a hazard to the health of people everywhere."
- Former U.S. Surgeon General William H. Stewart
Frequently Asked Questions
Does Pensacola’s noise ordinance address excessive environmental noise or loud leaf blower noise?
Pensacola Municipal Ordinance 8-1-16 (Regulation of noise) does not directly address leaf blowers. 8-1-16(b) lists enumerated acts that constitute “loud and raucous noises”, but do not include leaf blowers nor any other type of landscape equipment. There is a section addressing a few specific types of construction equipment – pile drivers, pneumatic hammers, etc. – but not leaf blowers. The ordinance is based on a “reasonable person” subjective standard rather than an objective standard based upon decibel noise measurements. Pensacola’s noise ordinance was last amended in 2005.
Can loud leaf blower noise be resolved through neighborhood associations?
No. Neighborhood Associations are loosely affiliated and don’t normally have enforcement authority. The issue isn’t so much a neighbor issue as it is a neighborhood issue. More importantly, it’s a public health issue because the cacophony of leaf blowers can often be heard blaring across neighborhoods throughout the week and excessive neighborhood noise has become a norm. About 170 cities in 36 states amended their noise ordinances to address excessive environmental noise and encourage quiet neighborhoods. Those cities took action on the basis that reducing environmental noise was necessary to provide a healthy learning environment for children, improve productivity for those working from home, and to protect home values.
Is leaf blower noise any more than a nuisance?
Yes. Increasing public-health evidence shows that rising exposure to urban and suburban noise has measurable effects on physical and mental health, especially in children and older populations. View this study for more information: “Environmental Noise Pollution in the United States: Developing an Effective Public Health Response” (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3915267/).
“I can’t think of any other environmental hazard that affects so many people and yet is so ignored. … There are a lot of assumptions that noise exposure is self-inflicted, which is often not the case.… There is a clear need for policy aimed at reducing noise exposures.” said University of Michigan researchers.
Apart from the effects on workers, are any other groups of people especially vulnerable to the effects of gas-powered leaf blowers?
Yes. As with many other environmental stressors, very young and very old people are the most susceptible. Precisely because their bodies are developing so quickly children can be disproportionately affected by fumes, aerosol contaminants, dust, and even noise. The Children’s Environmental Health Network (CEHN) routinely cautions against allowing children to be exposed to excessive environmental noise, including leaf blower noise. CEHN cautions that children exposed to noise pollution while learning (1) are more likely to experience reading delays; (2) learn to tune out not only loud unpleasant noise but also a teacher’s voice, which harms reading and language skills; (3) have more difficulty with acquisition of speech, understanding spoken language and distinguishing the sounds of speech; and (4) have higher resting blood pressure and higher stress levels.
Is there any realistic alternatives to gas-powered leaf blowers?
Definitely yes, and increasingly so. The revolution in battery technology is one of the fastest-developing fields of high-tech improvement. The demand for battery-powered transportation systems, from cars to aircraft, and the ceaseless expansion of battery-powered mobile equipment is rapidly driving down the cost and weight, and driving up the power and durability, of portable batteries. Lawn-equipment manufacturers are responding with a rapid sequence of new, clean, and dramatically quieter leaf blowers. And many cities across the country, including at least 25 in California alone, have already mandated this shift.
Have other cities tried to limit leaf blower usage and switch from gas-powered to battery-powered leaf blowers?
Yes, and the list is growing. The largest and best-known example in the United States is the city of Los Angeles, with a population of more than 2 million. An increasing number of other cities are following suit. D.C. and Palm Beach are two other examples.
Isn’t there a “right” to operate a gas-powered back pack leaf blower?
No. It’s not right to create unnecessary noise that disturbs others trying to enjoy the peace and quiet of their own homes. Furthermore, there is no theory of liberty that is so inconsiderate of others. A “natural” theory of liberty still recognizes a social contract we must follow. An “individual” theory of liberty still recognizes the need to create a civil society in consideration of others. The moment a leaf blower operates outdoors, the operator impacts neighbors’ rights the millisecond sound waves exit the property and enter neighboring properties. The rest of us have a right to enjoy the quiet of our homes,
What can I do next?
Contact your City Council representative right away, discuss the issue with neighbors and neighborhood associations, and talk about the public health issues related to the excessive use of noisy and highly polluting gas-powered leaf blowers. It is time to shift the conversation. For more information on the public-health, environmental, technological and economic arguments in favor of helping your city shift to quieter and cleaner equipment, please contact us.