OK, But Really, About That Leaf-blower Noise

Home » OK, But Really, About That Leaf-blower Noise

Yesterday I wrote about how it’s a bad idea to dump leaves in the street. Since then, I confirmed blowing leaves into the street is not only a bad idea, it’s a violation of the Seattle Municipal Code.

(See:  SMC 15.46.030: Deposits in street or gutter. It is unlawful to wash or sweep or otherwise deposit any matter in any street or gutter.)

TodayI wanted to write about the noise of leaf blowers, which can be extremely annoying, as anyone who has walked by them knows.

 In Seattle, sound levels of up to 60-90 dBA at 50 feet from the source are permissible during regular working hours, according to Municipal Code sections 25.08.410 and SMC 25.08.425.   Sound levels that exceed 90 dBA can be subject to notices of violation, citation, and fines.
Excessive sound levels are not only objectionable to most of us, but they are a public health hazard as well.  Leaf blower operators wear hearing protection because sustained exposure to more than 85 dBA at close proximity damages hearing. (If you suspect you are hearing dangerous sound levels, you can call the police department’s non-emergency 311 number to report it. See the Seattle Police Department web site on noise.)
I have noticed downtown that many crews do try to reduce the impact to passers-by using the minimum necessary air pressure or even turning off the blower when people are walking nearby, which I certainly appreciate.
Some cities have taken a tougher regulatory stance toward noisy leaf blowers. In Claremont and West Hollywood, CA, for example, gas-powered leaf blowers are banned completely by municipal code. There’s one particularly dense neighborhood in Vancouver B.C. where they are also banned, and Palo Alto CA has banned them in residential zones.

Some communities say no.

Other cities have specified noise limits (Toronto, 70 dBA at 15 meters; Vancouver’s West End, 65 dBA) or limited the hours of leaf blower operation (Vancouver forbids their operation on Sundays).

These cities report varying success with enforcement, and there’s another unintended downside:  Vancouver documented an increased cost of $90,000 for their parks upkeep in 2004 as a result of the gas-powered leaf blower ban.

What do you think? How should Seattle be handling leaf blowers? We appreciate your help and comments.