Like people, aircraft, S.U.V.s, and McMansions, some longtime residents say that noise, too, has saturated the Town of East Hampton to the point that local government must move to restore the tranquility they say has been lost. The object of their ire: leaf blowers.
These gas-powered devices are part of most landscapers’ arsenals, propelling leaves and debris off lawns, roads, and sidewalks or into a pile for removal, in the way the quiet and emission-free rake and broom are employed to complete the same tasks, albeit more slowly.
Ban the Blowers, East Hampton is a local campaign spearheaded by Bob Casper of Northwest Woods, Dr. James Matthews, also of Northwest Woods, and Bill Henderson of Springs. The group’s Web site, bantheblowers.org, offers several essays on the topic, a list of asserted health hazards associated with leaf blower use, and links to Web sites devoted to the environmental impacts of leaf blowers and municipalities and citizens’ groups that have acted to restrict or ban their use.
“People deserve to be able to sit in their home and not listen to blowers all day,” said Mr. Casper. “I’ve gotten hundreds of calls from people who just don’t know what to do and can’t believe nothing has been done here. It’s like the helicopter issue: You’ve got three people riding in it, and it’s impacting thousands.”
“People have become more sensitive to environmental issues in general and noise issues in particular,” said Dr. Matthews, a professor emeritus in the departments of psychology and neural science at New York University. “That’s at least in part because they’ve gotten worse. Generally speaking, people have become aware that noise is a pollution issue that we seek to avoid by coming out here in the first place. To have it follow us in the form of a little motor is not what we were looking for.”
Mr. Henderson described East Hampton as “unlivable” in the autumn and spring. “From October through December, there’s no place in the Town of East Hampton, from the bay to the ocean, that you don’t hear the scream of leaf blowers. It ruins it, frankly. It’s even worse than the traffic, which has already ruined it. It’s part of the ongoing destruction of the East End, ecologically. I just think something’s got to be done.”
A brochure created by Ban the Blowers’ principals also cites multiple health hazards posed by use of leaf blowers. “Our citizens are unwillingly exposed to hazardous carcinogens like hydrocarbons and nitrogen oxides, whipped up in hurricane-force windstorms of pesticides, fertilizers, mold, lead, arsenic, mercury, fecal matter, and more, that once airborne can remain for hours and even days,” the brochure reads. “Allergies, asthma, and high blood pressure [are] exacerbated.”
“We all know that there are numerous sources of allergens and contaminants in soil, particularly soil heavily treated with toxins,” Dr. Matthews said. “It’s a bad idea to blow that stuff in the air.”
The group also asserts that one hour’s use of a gasoline-powered leaf blower is responsible for emissions equivalent to an automobile driven 350 miles, worsened by the fact that the emissions are concentrated in a compact area, as opposed to spread across the automobile’s path.
The average leaf blower measures 70 to 75 decibels at 50 feet, according to the nonprofit advocacy group Noise Pollution Clearinghouse, citing a manufacturer’s lobbyist. The Town of East Hampton’s existing code restricts noise above 65 decibels during the day and above 50 decibels from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m., but exceptions are made for “the intermittent or occasional use between 7:00 a.m. and 8:30 p.m. of homeowners’ light residential outdoor equipment or commercial service equipment.”
Proposed changes to the noise ordinance were heard at a June 20 hearing before the town board. The proposal set no acceptable maximum standard for noise, so as noise levels increased, the threshold for noise deemed a disturbance would also rise. The proposal, Councilwoman Sylvia Overby said, “had so many problems. It was difficult to understand and implement, so we really do have to go back to the drawing board. At that point we should, as we did try to, implement an ordinance for leaf blowers.”
Ms. Overby said she is currently receiving, on average, one e-mailed complaint about leaf blowers every week. “The level of noise in our society has gotten more and more,” she said. “I think it’s disturbing people’s quiet enjoyment of their property. I would welcome hearing from people, and seeing a petition.” The Ban the Blowers Web site includes a link to an online petition, at the Web site change.org, to ask the town to ban leaf blowers.
Allen Adamcewicz, a landscaper based in Montauk, acknowledged the noise produced by leaf blowers but defended landscapers’ use of them within the parameters permitted by code. Leaf blowers, he said, “can put out a certain amount of CFMs,” or cubic feet per minute. “You don’t really need to rev them up. If they’re on a half throttle, they put out just as much air as a full throttle. Full throttle is just wasting gas and making noise.”
But, Mr. Adamcewicz said, “I’m in commercial business — a broom doesn’t cut it. To substitute a broom for a blower is not going to happen.” And, he said, “We can’t rake a driveway of clippings.”
Furthermore, he said, the nightclubs in Montauk produce far greater noise, for much longer duration, than the 10 to 15 minutes a landscaping crew might spend using leaf blowers. “If these people get a foothold on banning a leaf blower,” he asked, “what’s next? What are we going to do? Shut down everything? We’re just trying to be in business.”
Gary Stephens, another landscaper based in Montauk, called a ban on leaf blowers “the stupidest idea.” Leaf blowers, he said, accomplish a task quickly and efficiently. Without such equipment, a landscaper working by hand “is going to rape you for everything you’ve got, because it’s going to take them forever to do it. If they don’t like the noise and people making a living,” Mr. Stephens said, “people should leave town and go somewhere where they don’t have leaves or people to bother.”
“If the contractors say, ‘What are we going to do,’ well, get a damn rake out,” said Mr. Henderson. “Stop blowing ticks and crap around on my yard.”
“Noise is a kind of assault, a crossing of borders, a violation of my ability to protect my own environment,” said Dr. Matthews. “We have to understand it as that. The main point is, this is an act of aggression of one person against another. It’s pollution of the cultural, psychological sort. We don’t put up with that when it comes to other kinds of psychological assaults. Why noise?”