Climate Responsibility Falling on a Generation of Deaf Ears – A Conversation with Professor Rick Reibstein

While sitting on his porch in Newton, Massachusetts, enjoying the relative tranquility retirement and autumn has to offer, Rick Reibstein couldn’t help but be inundated with an obnoxious, droning noise that we are all unfortunately too-familiar with: a local Department of  Public Works employee using a leaf blower. You would think that the immediate environmental infraction that would be noted here are the fossil fuel emissions being expelled from the gasoline powered machine. However, having recently retired from decades of work as an environmental analyst for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Reibstein was more intrigued with the effects from the much less studied but persistently present side effect of the leaf-blower: the sound.

Rick Reibstein is a retired Senior Environmental Analyst for the Massachusetts Office of Technological Assistance and Technology (OTA). The office is an agency within the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental affairs. OTA provides residents of the Commonwealth with free and confidential technological assistance regarding pollution prevention and resource conservation businesses, manufacturers, and institutions in Massachusetts. They also assist in the collection and proper disposal of potentially hazardous waste materials such as mercury thermostats and lithium-ion batteries.

Before retiring in 2016, however, he became a lecturer at Boston University specializing in environmental law. In one of his classes, EE521: Sustainability Law, of which I am a student, Reibstein enjoys sharing recent environmental news or happenings that he finds particularly interesting and he believes his students will benefit from being aware of. One such happening he shared that I found particularly interesting was his current and founding role in Quiet Communities Inc.

Throughout his years of work in the environmental law sector, Reibstein often finds himself enamored with the plights of average individuals suffering from environmental conditions brought on by the effects of climate change. One such individual, Reibstein explained to me in our conversation, was Jamie Banks, the current President of Quiet Communities Inc. Quiet Communities is a nonprofit organization that aims to reduce the health and environmental harm caused by noise pollution. When the pair met, “I was immediately blown away by not only her scope of knowledge but also how down to earth she was.” Reibstein watched and assisted Banks as Quiet Communities (QC) grew from a small local outreach program here in Massachusetts into what is now a national force. Reibstein currently serves as the chair of Quiet Empowerment Program, one of the five programs that strive to create safer, quieter communities where hearing loss and noise damage are far less common.

Beginning his work for Quiet Communities in 2016, the first initiative he became involved with was an effort to ban the leaf blowers that first shattered his daily retirement peace in Newton. “While explaining this new endeavor to a friend, he told me how much of a ‘first-world problem’ that is, ‘Actually, it’s not’ I said kindly.” 

The United States has an embarrassing history of racial discrimination within its communities, with many deplorable examples such as redlining, land-lend discrimination, and urban zoning. In a study published in the journal of Nature, Ecology and Evolution, the researchers compared redlining maps of four major US cities made by the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation in the first half of the 20th century to maps depicting areas of increased environmental damage and hearing loss due to noise pollution in those same cities. The results show strong evidence that redlined communities are inequitably more susceptible to noise pollution and the harms that come with it than other communities. Considering redlined communities are often in urban city centers where noise from machines like leaf blowers are much more prevalent, Reibstein’s work on the effort to ban leaf blowers was beneficial to people of all socioeconomic statuses.

With every ban effort comes an anti-ban coalition, Reibstein explained, so he was forced to make some concessions to the pro-leaf blower supporters. The consensus reached came out to be the first state purchasing specifications for electric leaf blowers in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Reibstein may even go so far as to crediting himself with the recent spread of battery powered garden tools.

Reibstein attended and graduated from Brooklyn Law School, where he first became involved in environmental responsibility and equity. Using his lawyer expertise and background, Reibstein joined forces once again with Quiet Communities, this time in suing the Environmental Protection Agency to reinstate the Office of Noise Abatement and Control.

With environmental protection led by the federal government being relatively successful since President Nixon established the EPA in 1970, that all changed with the election of President Ronald Reagan. The gold standard for conservatism, Reagan sought out a government-shrinking endeavor as soon as he entered office in 1981. The very next year, the Office of Noise Abatement and Control (ONAG) was officially phased out of the EPA through an effort led by the federal government to shift all responsibility of further noise policies to the state governments. Now more than ever, Reibstein believes this office needs to be refunded by Congress.

The beginning of the Industrial Revolution really began the question of noise control in the United States. According to a study published by the National Institute of Health (NIH), the top sources of noise pollution in the country are road, rail, and air traffic, as well as other occupational and industrial activities. These three methods of transportation were only available after the onset of the Industrial Revolution, with air travel only being perfected this past century. The study goes on to reveal that hearing loss is not the only health problem that plagues people that suffer from noise pollution. It was estimated in 1981, before the closure of ONAC, that an estimated 92.4 million people were at risk for noise related health problems. If we applied the same estimates used in 1981 to the current population of the United States, an estimated 145.5 million people (or well over half of the country) are at risk for noise related health issues. That estimate also does not take into consideration the progress in personal technological advancements, such as headphones and speakers, that are also causing many adverse health effects especially to younger generations.

Reibstein and Quiet Communities hired an environmental law clinic out of the University of Washington School of Law to write the formal petition to the EPA to refund ONAC. Then, this past June 7, Reibstein and Quiet Communities filed a formal complaint suing the EPA and compelling them to take actions against noise pollution as mandated in the Noise Control Act.

My conversation with Professor Reibstein gave me an insight into the life of someone who truly cares and advocates for the environment. As a member of arguably the first generation of environmental advocates, advice and lessons taken from him are invaluable to the environmentalists of my age striving to continue the work he and many others began. Multiple times throughout our talk, he emphasized how he is not obligated by any means to take on these initiatives, and that he does so because he wants and enjoys helping people. Rick Reibstein truly encapsulates the theme “If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.”


Banks, Jamie. “Team – Quiet Communities.” Quiet Communities – Working Together for a Quieter World, 4 May 2023,,faceted%20perspective%20to%20her%20work.     

“Office of Technical Assistance and Technology (OTA).” Mass.Gov,  Accessed 27 Nov. 2023.  

Hammer MS, Swinburn TK, Neitzel RL. Environmental noise pollution in the United States: developing an effective public health response. Environ Health Perspect. 2014 Feb;122(2):115-9. doi: 10.1289/ehp.1307272. Epub 2013 Dec 5. PMID: 24311120; PMCID: PMC3915267.

Nelson-Olivieri, J.R., Layden, T.J., Antunez, E. et al. Inequalities in noise will affect urban wildlife. Nat Ecol Evol (2023).

United States District Court for the District of Columbia. Quiet Communities et al. v United States Environmental Protection Agency et Al. 7 June 2023,  

United States Environmental Protection Agency. EPA History: Noise and the Noise Control Act | US EPA,  Accessed 28 Nov. 2023.  

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