Characteristics of Lawn and Garden Equipment Sound: A Community Pilot Study

J Environ Toxicol Stud. 2017 Dec;1(1):10.16966/2576-6430.106. doi: 10.16966/2576-6430.106. Epub 2017 Nov 3.


More than 11 million gas powered leaf blowers (GLB) operate in the US. Most are powered by inefficient 2-stroke engines. The noise is intolerable to some and many communities have enacted ordinances restricting their use. This pilot study aimed to characterize the low, medium, and high frequency sound components from commercial grade GLBs over distance, evaluate the adequacy of the A-weighted decibel (dB [A]) to describe this sound, and discuss the impact of GLB sound in a community setting. In a field experiment with 2 leaf blowers and a hose vacuum, the time averaged A-weighted dB(A) (LAEQ) and un-weighted dB (LEQ) metrics, and low, mid, and high frequency GLB sound components were evaluated at intervals out to 800 feet from point of operation (centroid). Sound levels at 50 feet for each GLB were consistent with manufacturer ratings. The sound from the 2 GLBs and hose vacuum exceeded 100 decibels for both LEQ and LAEQ at the centroid. At all distance intervals, LEQ was 11.2-12.5 decibels higher compared with LAEQ. With the exception of the high frequency dB, all sound metrics emitted from this equipment were found to exceed WHO outdoor daytime standards (55 dB) up to 800 feet away from the centroid. The dominance of the low frequency component over distance indicates that a dB-based metric is a more appropriate descriptor of this sound compared with a dB(A)-based metric. The loudness of GLB sound at point of operation is especially concerning for the auditory and non-auditory health of workers and others regularly exposed in close proximity. The ability of this sound - in particular its lower frequency components - to travel over long distances suggests that GLB sound has a wide ranging impact on surrounding communities and raises concerns over its adverse health impacts.

Keywords: Community; Health effects; Lawn and garden equipment; Leaf blower; Low frequency; Noise; Occupational health.