Earth Healing The Health of the Bluegrass Is The Triangle Really Golden

The Health of the Bluegrass:
Is the Triangle Really Green?

Published by Earth Healing in cooperation with
EcoPerspectives, a project of Earth Island Institute



The Prevalence of Nuisances

            The Bluegrass is plagued by several problems that can be characterized as “nuisances,” because, unlike problems such as air pollution, they do not pose obvious risks to life and health.  Noise, visual pollution, light pollution, and litter do, however, diminish the quality of life.


Kentucky law states that cities and towns can have noise ordinances, and many do.  They are usually based on decibels, a measurement of sound that the police can obtain with meters; but Covington passed an innovative noise ordinance in 2008.  Police there can now cite people in cars and in buildings based on the distance from which the noise is audible rather than on the number of decibels.  For a second offence from a vehicle, the law allows the police to impound the vehicle (1).  Much of the noise that wears down urban residents is not, however, covered by the ordinances:  the roar of trucks, cars, and motorcycles on city streets and highways, the sound of airplanes and medical and traffic helicopters overhead, the din from gasoline-powered lawn mowers and from leaf blowers. The work of a team of garden-care specialists may rival in noise a military invasion, with a large riding mower, hedge clippers, weed eaters, and leaf blowers simultaneously attacking the vegetation.  Construction equipment is another source of noise, as are chain saws.  Rural areas may experience the same types of noise as urban areas, plus the roar of all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) and, near lakes, motorboats and jet skis.

When people live near a constant source of noise, they may become oblivious to it.  If one asks people living near a highway whether the noise of traffic bothers them, they are likely to reply, “No, I never hear it.”  However, the noise may be harming their health, whether or not they are conscious of it.  The U.S. Office of Consumer Affairs and other governmental agencies have found a causal link between noise pollution and sleep disturbances, increased blood pressure, irritability, and fatigue.  Noise interferes with learning.  Scientists have found higher math and reading scores among children in schoolrooms where noise was abated than among children in rooms lacking means of abatement (2). The distraction of noise may also prevent people from performing as well as possible in their jobs; and it may slow healing in hospitals and convalescent homes.  Hospitals, in fact, illustrate the need to control noise within a building as well as exterior noise.  A location away from busy streets, insulation of walls, and heavy draperies can reduce outside noise, but this does not allow patients to gain needed rest unless such noises as TVs, chatter in the halls, buzzers, and loudspeaker announcements are curtailed inside the building. 

Noise, moreover, affects animals as well as humans.  Cows may not provide milk if they are disturbed by strange and unusual noises.  Chickens can be easily frightened and so can horses.  In fact, all livestock are sensitive to sounds that they cannot recognize.  Wildlife are just as affected by noise as domestic animals are.  Noise can adversely affect the natural cycles of wildlife from breeding to feeding and from nesting to migrating.  It can also scare animals away from areas thus restricting the habitat available to them (3).  

Airport noise poses an acknowledged problem in the Bluegrass, which has three major airports.   The number of flights a day at each of these fields gives a rough idea of the noise generated.  In 2006 Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport in Boone County served 16.2 million passengers with more than 500 departures daily; the Louisville International Airport at Standiford Field served 3.9 million passengers with 110 departures daily, and Blue Grass Airport in Lexington served 1.03 million passengers with 41 departures daily. In addition to the passenger flights, there are cargo flights, in particular at Louisville.  Standiford Field  is the third largest cargo airport in the nation, and the ninth largest in the world, according to Airports Council International (4).  The Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky Airport states that it reduces noise through having corridors to the north along the Ohio River and to the south along I-75 and that most night time flights occur over areas west of the airport with relatively few residents (5).  Such steps do not actually reduce the overall noise, which must affect wildlife, particularly in the more rural area to the west.  Standiford Field in the middle of Louisville has to bring planes in and out over urban areas.  When, in 1988, the Louisville Regional Airport Authority decided to rebuild the existing airport where it stood rather than move it outside the city, the Authority faced the noise factor squarely.  As a result, Louisville is engaged in one of the largest “aircraft-noise residential acquisition and relocation programs ever carried out in the United States” (6).  Under the Airport Improvement Program and a Voluntary Residential Relocation Program, almost 4000 families have already been relocated, and noise-impacted families are still offered the opportunity of moving and, if they wish, being reimbursed to build a new home on a 287-acre site purchased by the airport authority.  The vacated houses are destroyed, and the area redeveloped with construction of the Kentucky Exposition Center and other businesses.   

Visual pollution

Sprawl is a form of visual pollution.  Around cities in the Bluegrass, row after row of houses, each looking more or less like its neighbors, are spreading.  The houses are usually large and they are usually on lots that are small in relation to the size of the building.  Viewed as a group they are ugly, as are the big box-style commercial buildings that are going up.  Billboards are one form of visual pollution, but developments are another, particularly when they are built on what were fields and woods.     

In the hilly country that edges the Bluegrass another type of visual pollution problem is the isolated house or hotel on a hill.  People who can afford to acquire land, try to buy land with a view.  Then, the more thoughtless among them, build their house or hotel at the point from which they can best regard the view, no matter that they may thus be spoiling the view for other people. 

Light pollution

A college student who has always lived in Lexington, spent the summer of 2008 working on the island of Hilton Head, South Carolina.  The feature of the island about which he was most excited was that he “could see the stars.”  To protect loggerhead sea turtles that come up on the island to lay their eggs, Hilton Head has passed and enforces ordinances that limit lighting on or near the beach. 

In contrast, after dark the towns and cities of the Bluegrass are bathed in the glow from a myriad  individual lights, producing what has come to be known as light pollution.  Light pollution prevents people from seeing the stars, which are part of our cultural as well as our natural heritage.  Only a few of the brightest are visible.  It disorients wild creatures that move about at night, as the residents of Hilton Head realize, and it is now also believed to harm human health.  Furthermore, excessive and/or misdirected lighting also wastes electricity and by doing so contributes to global warming.

According to an article in the Kentucky Kernel, the University of Kentucky in Lexington is attempting to decrease the pollution caused by exterior lighting on campus (7). We are not aware of any municipal or county ordinances in Kentucky aimed at preventing light pollution.  If any exist, we should like to hear about them.

The International Dark-Sky Association is lobbying the US Congress to cut light pollution.  It also certifies lighting fixtures that are compatible with dark skies.  For information, go to .


The Kentucky Revised Statutes 512.070 defines littering as a class A misdemeanor and sets the penalty for perpetrators as a fine of up to $500 or up to one year in jail or both.  Some counties also have anti-littering ordinances.  Boone County in Ordinance 50 sets its own penalty, a fine of not less than $100 or more than $500 and up to three days in jail.  However, one has only to look at the roads in the state to see that the penalties are not levied.  Litter accumulates along urban and rural roadsides.  On the fringes of cities and in rural areas, illegal open dumps appear.  A variety of organizations sponsor cleanups.  However, these organizations generally cannot close illegal dumps, and the scope of the litter problem is enormous.  

To give specific examples of the scope of the cleanup work, in Madison County in 2007 a road cleanup resulted in recycling 6000 tons of litter and other items (8). The Kentucky River Authority sponsors a cleanup of the banks of the Kentucky River each year.  In 2007 thirty-three counties (about half of them in the Bluegrass Region) were involved.  The twelve that reported back to the coordinator picked up 1335 bags of litter that had been thrown or washed into the river (9).  A 2007 cleanup of Floyds Fork near Louisville, spearheaded by the Floyds Fork Environmental Association and attended by 160 people, netted 4.5 tons of waste (10).

Merely enforcing the existing state anti-litter law would keep the state government functioning well. Ten million pieces of litter at $500 each would bring in $5 billion.  People would, however, stop littering long before this goal could be reached.  An alternative to fining people would be to require people caught littering to spend five days cleaning up roads.  This also would put an end to littering.

                                                                              --Al Fritsch and Mary Byrd Davis

1. Mike Rutledge, “Covington Stiffens Noise Laws,” Enquirer, last updated May 28, 2008, on the Internet at

2. See for example, S. Cohen and N. Weinstein, “Non-Auditory Effects of Noise on Behavior and Health,” Journal of Social Issues 37, no. 1 (1981), pp. 36-63.

3. For a detailed discussion of the problem of noise, go to Al Fritsch, Sounds and Silence, Parts 1 and 2, Earth Healing, available on the Internet at and .

4.  Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development, “Kentucky Transportation: A Network with the World,” available online at , posted November 2007.

5. Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport, “Noise and Environment: Airport Commitment,” available on the Internet at, accessed June 7, 2008.

6.  Louisville International Airport, “Relocation,” available on the Internet at  

7.  Emily Coovert, “The Green Debate,” Kentucky Kernel, February 5, 2007, available on the Web through the site of the Dark-Sky Association,

8.  Kentucky Chapter, League of Women Voters, The Voter, March 2008, p. 4.

9.  Ann Elliston, Kentucky River Authority, Personal Communication, June 19, 2008. 

10.  Teena Halbig, Floyds Fork Environmental Association, Personal Communication, June 18, 2008.


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