Category Archives: lawn mower

The Briggs & Stratton Symphony

The following is the letter to the editor I submitted yesterday to the Burlington Free Press here in northern Vermont.

Having moved to the Burlington area a year ago – from a very busy and thus noisy neighborhood in northeastern Pennsylvania, I knew it would only be a matter of time and season before the noise pollution followed me north. And, after quite a few fits and starts, it did. The time of day was 0730 (the 24-hour military version of time, or TOD). The day was mid-week of June’s last seven-day stretch. And the noisemaker of choice (loads of decibels) was a chainsaw.

Actually, there were two chainsaws and the men operating them were across the street from my abode. And neither appeared to have ear protectors on (something an Air Force doctor warned me to always wear while mowing a lawn).

Having just turned 60, I dutifully traveled the three-or-so miles over to the Vermont Air National Guard base yesterday to get my new retiree identification card. That mission was completed by 1000. And while over there, I got to see some F-16s sitting on the tarmac. The Fighting Falcon was, and still is, the aircraft of the 8th Fighter Wing at Kunsan Air Base, South Korea. I know the 8th, nicknamed the Wolf Pack, very well. I was its public affairs officer from June 1985 to June 1986.

Yes, a taking-off F-16 can and does have a noise envelope. In my 26 year Air Force career I never met an aircraft that didn’t – jet or propeller-driven.

Yes, Burlington-area Vermonters have a right to be concerned about a future aircraft’s noise. But, we all ought to be just as concerned, if not more, about the noise pollution we put up with all the time, regardless of what the Air Guard fighter wing may be up to flying wise. Those chainsaws whose noise pollution wiped out the morning bird song are a sterling example of what’s out there. And this noise pollution is so constant thatmany of us simply take it for granted. Wrong choice.


More and more, the sounds of nature hidden behind human noise

This is my latest newspaper column. I always, by the way, write about a particular conservation issue, not the hook and bullet stuff often written about by other mainstream print media “outdoor” writers.

Nebraska city’s air quality worsening

And the burning of gasoline, a fossil fuel, by homeowners and motorists is to blame. This article explains what is happening in Omaha. And pay attention to the last paragraph: Use a broom, not a gas-fueled leaf blower, and grow a butterfly garden not a turf farm.

Cop tickets man for mowing his lawn

Too bad this Oklahoman chose to crank up his gas-guzzling mower at 0430 hours (oh-dark-thirty), but the whole case sums up how inane the very idea of having one’s own turf farm has become. A waste of time, gasoline, energy and a whole lot more. Read about the Oklahoma debacle here.

Lawn chemical ban would help clean up bay

As I write, there is a blanket of roughly six inches of snow on the ground outside, and freezing rain is now falling. But the sound of snow blowers in action is a reminder that the lawn mowing craziness is not far away. And with the reappearance of the riding mowers comes the reappearance of the lawn chemical fertilizer craze. Suburbanites are mostly clueless when it comes to spending gazillions to keep their turf green and free of dandelions. The tainted rainwater runoff from their spreads is a danger sign for the Chesapeake Bay. And I and many other Pennsylvanians live in the bay’s watershed. Read about chemicals, algae blooms and more in this feature article.

Lawns may contribute to global warming

I wrote about this same issue last summer. Here’s more to think about.

Some words about the all-American lawn and noise pollution

My latest newspaper outdoors column:

People concerned about big environmental issues like air and water pollution, fish and wildlife habitat loss and fragmentation, and our nation’s dependence on foreign oil (a fossil fuel) can look this summer to the lowly lawn mower for some answers.

We seemingly went from snow blowers to lawn mowers in less than a month this spring.

Both the wintertime mechanized tool and its summer twin look harmless sitting in the garage or storage shed out back. But theyre not. They have big environmental impacts, especially, given its frequency of use, the lawn mower.

Traditional gasoline-fed lawn mowers are responsible for 5 percent of the nation’s air pollution, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. In 2007, the EPA, it’s worth noting, created emission standards for small engines like those that power mowers, leaf blowers and lawn trimmers.

Remember this the next time you power up your mower: One gas mower running for an hour emits the same amount of pollutants as eight new cars motoring about at 55 mph for the same amount of time, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Add noise pollution to the list of hazards machines belch at us daily.

Here’s how the EPA defines noise:

The traditional definition of noise is unwanted or disturbing sound. Sound becomes unwanted when it either interferes with normal activities such as sleeping, conversation, or disrupts or diminishes ones quality of life.  The fact that you cant see, taste or smell it may help explain why it has not received as much attention as other types of pollution, such as air pollution, or water pollution.  The air around us is constantly filled with sounds, yet most of us would probably not say we are surrounded by noise.  Though for some, the persistent and escalating sources of sound can often be considered an annoyance.  This annoyance can have major consequences, primarily to ones overall health.

I have been around some major sources of noise, especially during my career in the U.S. Air Force. I learned quickly why the aircraft maintenance guys always wore ear protectors while working on flight lines or moving about aircraft parked in hangars. During a routine periodic physical examination one year, an Air Force physician asked if I was wearing a hearing protector while doing yard work at home. No, I answered. Well, youd better start, he said. It seems my ability to discern high-frequency sounds had dropped off a bit. Noise-dampening ear muffs have been clipped to our mower since.

The typical urban lawn is a biological desert, home to assorted non-native, invasive species like dandelions and garlic mustard. And the average carpet of turf is a big consumer of gasoline, according to the EPA. Americans burn 800 million gallons of gas each year clipping their grassy yards, the EPA notes.

But the gasoline that doesnt make it into the fuel tank is also an environmental concern. Again according to the EPA, 17 million gallons of fuel are spilled each year while refueling lawn and garden equipment more than all the oils pilled by the Exxon Valdez in Alaska’s Prince William Sound in 1989. Spilled fuel evaporates into the atmosphere, and volatile organic compounds spit out by small engines make smog-forming ozone when cooked by sunlight and summer heat.

Noise is measured in decibels, the higher the number, the greater the level of noise.

As I type, it’s relatively quiet outside the window, save for an American robin’s languid song. But a delivery truck just drove past, greatly accelerating the level of noise for half a minute.

The Census Bureau reports that noise is Americans’ top complaint about their neighborhoods, and the major reason they wish to move.  Ninety percent of calls to New York City’s quality of life hotline concern noise, reports the non-profit organization Noise Free America.
According to the group’s Web site (, Noise Free America is dedicated to fighting noise pollution, especially from boom cars, leaf blowers and motorcycles.

More from the EPA: Noise pollution adversely affects the lives of millions of people.  Studies have shown that there are direct links between noise and health.  Problems related to noise include stress-related illnesses, high blood pressure, speech interference, hearing loss, sleep disruption, and lost productivity.  Noise Induced Hearing Loss (NIHL) is the most common and often discussed health effect, but research has shown that exposure to constant or high levels of noise can cause countless adverse health effects.

To learn how to protect ones self from harmful noise, the EPA suggests visiting the Noise Pollution Clearinghouse at

Recently published was the book “One Square Inch of Silence,” by Gordon Hempton and John Grossmann. It’s subtitled,: “One Man’s Search for Natural Silence in a Noisy World.” Hempton’s “One Square Inch” is inside the boundary of Olympic National Park in Washington State.