Picture the last warm, sunny day here in Minnesota. The autumn air is fresh with the scent of earth and dried leaves. Birds are flitting and squirrels are scampering from tree to tree in my suburban back yard. I have both the time and energy to head out and spend a few hours cleaning up the yard and garden. What a lovely day!
I no sooner put shovel to soil when my neighbor’s leaf blower, its motor roaring, pierces my ears and shatters my peace. So, I think, no problem. I’ll practice some mindfulness and try to “just be OK” with the noise.
Two hours later, with every blade of grass blown free of leaves, he finishes. He then powers up his lawn mower. I do try to tune him out (for nearly three hours), but at 70-plus decibels, there is no winning.
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At times during this episode, I thought about saying something, but I did not want to impose on my neighbor’s right to be out working on his yard. I alternately gave up on my activities, then went out and tried again, but the level and duration of the noise turned out to be too much. Unfortunately, my experience is common. It is called noise pollution, and it is something we need to address.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency includes noise pollution as a real problem and states that “noise degrades quality of life by impairing communication and social interaction; reducing the accuracy of work, particularly complex tasks; and creating stressful levels of frustration and aggravation that last even when the noise has ceased.”
Recent science, however, shows us that noise pollution is even worse than we had previously thought. According to a study published in the Environmental Health Perspectives Journal, epidemiologists studying the effects of noise pollution found compelling evidence that exposure to everyday noises like lawn mowers or leaf blowers can negatively affect cardiovascular function. In addition, the researchers concluded that the one of the consequences of noise pollution is a stress response we call “fight or flight,” which when experienced long-term can lead to serious health problems.
After careful examination of the West St. Paul City Code, Section 2005.02, which states, “No person shall make any noise within the City that would be likely to annoy, disturb, injure, or endanger the comfort, repose, health, peace, or safety of a reasonable person of ordinary sensibilities,” I believe I am well within my rights to consider this Sunday afternoon session a problem due to the duration of my neighbor’s leaf-blowing. But what’s a neighbor to do?
This problem falls under the category of “just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.” A rake and broom can quietly and efficiently remove most leaves and grass clippings from an average city lot. It provides a bit of exercise and does not create pollution. A leaf blower is a great tool for removing leaves between shrubs and landscape rock or from the occasional tight spot. But it is a nuisance when used over large areas.
Let’s use our “ordinary sensibilities” and think about how our actions affect the health and well-being of those around us. It really is the neighborly thing to do.
Barb Mager lives in West St. Paul.