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Dear Decaturish – Another Wednesday in a neighborhood buzzing with gasoline-powered leaf blowers

Avondale Estates Decatur Editor's Pick Metro ATL

Dear Decaturish – Another Wednesday in a neighborhood buzzing with gasoline-powered leaf blowers


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Dear Decaturish,

It’s Wednesday.  The fabulously expensive replacement windows are closed.  Forget that it’s a perfect open-window kind of day.  I’ve packed up the work laptop and moved to the hallway for a Zoom call with my boss and closed the doors around me.  I don’t hear the neighbors’ lawn maintenance service’s leaf blowers so much from here, but I can still feel the incessant low-frequency vibration through the floor on which I sit, low-frequency noise that I understand travels the distance of 15 average houses and lawns and penetrates concrete walls. There are four leaf blowers blowing simultaneously at two separate houses.  The noise, when registered by DeKalb County’s code-required ANSI meter registers 92 decibels, 12 decibels above which the code allows for commercial areas.  The code does not currently provide for residential areas, something I’m told the county is currently re-visiting.

These hunkered-down-in-my-own-home Wednesdays give me a lot of time to think and to question.

Does the father of the three-year-old who is currently “helping” his father blow the leaves with his pretend blower know that this level of noise is interfering with his son’s still-developing hearing?  That’s according to the World Health Organization.

Does that neighbor that got the bumper crop of tomatoes from her backyard know that they were pollinated by some members of a fragile layer of an ecosystem?  It’s an ecosystem that, thanks to blowers and pesticides, has already been irreversibly depleted by 40%.

Do my three neighbors currently being treated for cancer, all of whom employ the gasoline-powered leaf blowing lawn maintenance companies, know that, according to the WHO, the fine particle matter created by the blowers “cause or contribute to early death, heart attack, stroke, congestive heart failure, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and cancer?”  And that, “Growing evidence suggests these pollutants also contribute to developmental and neurological disorders, including autism.”  That particle matter stays in the air for days, long enough for the next blower to come along and kick it up again, and our bodies are defenseless against it. As a cancer survivor myself and a walker and a cyclist, that angers me.  If you are an expectant parent, consider this from the EPA, “Extensive evidence exists on the adverse health effects of exhaust emissions and other fine particulates which include . . .  effects on prenatal development.”

Okay.  So, forget about the environment.  Forget about our health even and that of our children.  What about that plain ‘ol ridiculous, maddening noise?  What is that about – my neighbors (who I like a lot by the way) – what about them not giving a second thought to lobbing that noise into my home week after incessant week?

When I was 10, I had a minibike.  Every day after school I’d ride it for hours between mine and my neighbors’ houses imagining that I’d be the first female Evil Knievel, jumping this bank and that, trying to get my front tire to at least appear to touch the tip of some cloud. How maddening that must have been for my neighbors.  Fifty years later, I’d still like to apologize to Mr. and Mrs. Dorsey.  But I was 10.  I just didn’t think.

Is that why we suffer the blowers?  Is it because our neighbors just don’t think – they don’t pause to consider how the noise alone may be affecting some of the rest of us?  I’m not prepared to accept that they just don’t care.

I don’t have the answers.  I’m trusting our policy makers are looking for them.  They say they are. DeKalb’s Commissioner Loraine Cochran-Johnson is especially responsive and objective about the issue.  Conversely, when I informed an Avondale Estates Code Enforcer that my measurements of the noise indicated that the code was being violated and often, she volunteered that the City of Avondale does not have the very equipment to measure the noise that its code calls for.  While I tried to process that, she went on to explain that approximately 50 percent of Avondale’s residences use lawn maintenance services and that they couldn’t possibly service that many lawns with less powerful equipment.

Thankfully, I later learned in a conversation with the owner of Plants Creative Landscapes, Pam Dooley, that not only can the lawns be efficiently serviced with electric vs gasoline-powered blowers, they are being already.  She tells me Plants will be fully electric by 2024.  I was also encouraged to learn from Pam Dooley that not only does the elimination of the gasoline-powered blowers not eliminate jobs, it adds opportunities for a more diverse workforce when the gasoline-powered blower is replaced with electric because the electric equipment is lighter in weight.

While our policymakers navigate that fine line between trying to do right by the lawn maintenance industry and trying to do right by their many constituents who have made it known that they are suffering, I think I will stay right here, at least on Wednesdays. Maybe I’ll paint windows on these hallway walls, get a pillow to sit on and listen to recorded bird sounds.

– Nancy Luana

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