America’s Killer Lawns

Printed in The New York Times May 18, 2020

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Homeowners use up 10 times more pesticide per acre than farmers do. But we can change what we do in our own yards.

NASHVILLE — One day last fall, deep in the middle of a devastating drought, I was walking the dog when a van bearing the logo of a mosquito-control company blew past me and parked in front of a neighbor’s house. The whole vehicle stank of chemicals, even going 40 miles an hour.

The man who emerged from the truck donned a massive backpack carrying a tank full of insecticide and proceeded to spray every bush and plant in the yard. Then he got in his truck, drove two doors down, and sprayed that yard, too, before continuing his route all around the block.

Here’s the most heartbreaking thing about the whole episode: He was spraying for mosquitoes that didn’t even exist: Last year’s extreme drought ended mosquito-breeding season long before the first freeze. Nevertheless, the mosquito vans arrived every three weeks, right on schedule, drenching the yards with poison for no reason but the schedule itself.

And spraying for mosquitoes isn’t the half of it, as any walk through the lawn-care department of a big-box store will attest. People want the outdoors to work like an extension of their homes — fashionable, tidy, predictable. Above all, comfortable. So weedy yards filled with tiny wildflowers get bulldozed end to end and replaced with sod cared for by homeowners spraying from a bottle marked “backyard bug control” or by lawn services that leave behind tiny signs warning, “Lawn care application; keep off the grass.”

If only songbirds could read.

Most people don’t seem to know that in this context “application” and “control” are simply euphemisms for “poison.” A friend once mentioned to me that she’d love to put up a nest box for bluebirds, and I offered to help her choose a good box and a safe spot for it in her yard, explaining that she would also need to tell her yard service to stop spraying. “I had no idea those guys were spraying,” she said.

To enjoy a lush green lawn or to sit on your patio without being eaten alive by mosquitoes doesn’t seem like too much to ask unless you actually know that insecticides designed to kill mosquitoes will also kill every other kind of insect: earthworms and caterpillars, spiders and mites, honeybees and butterflies, native bees and lightning bugs. Unless you actually know that herbicides also kill insects when they ingest the poisoned plants.

The global insect die-off is so precipitous that, if the trend continues, there will be no insects left a hundred years from now. That’s a problem for more than the bugs themselves: Insects are responsible for pollinating roughly 75 percent of all flowering plants, including one-third of the human world’s food supply.

They form the basis of much of the animal world’s food supply, as well. When we poison the bugs and the weeds, we are also poisoning the turtles and tree frogs, the bats and screech owls, the songbirds and skinks.

“If insect species losses cannot be halted, this will have catastrophic consequences for both the planet’s ecosystems and for the survival of mankind,” Francisco Sánchez-Bayo of the University of Sydney, Australia, told The Guardian last year.

Lawn chemicals are not, by themselves, the cause of the insect apocalypse, of course. Heat waves can render male insects sterile; loss of habitat can cause precipitous population declines; agricultural pesticides kill land insects and, by way of runoff into the nation’s waterways, aquatic insects, as well.

As individuals, we can help to slow such trends, but we don’t have the power to reverse them. Changing the way we think about our own yards is the only thing we have complete control over. And since homeowners use up 10 times more pesticide per acre than farmers do, changing the way we think about our yards can make a huge difference to our fellow creatures.

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It can make a huge difference to our own health, too: As the Garden Club of America notes in its Great Healthy Yard Project, synthetic pesticides are endocrine disrupters linked to an array of human health problems, including autism, A.D.H.D., diabetes and cancer. So many people have invested so completely in the chemical control of the outdoors that every subdivision in this country might as well be declared a Superfund site.

Changing our relationship to our yards is simple: Just don’t spray. Let the tiny wildflowers take root within the grass. Use an oscillating fan to keep the mosquitoes away. Tug the weeds out of the flower bed with your own hands and feel the benefit of a natural antidepressant at the same time. Trust the natural world to perform its own insect control, and watch the songbirds and the tree frogs and the box turtles and the friendly garter snakes return to their homes among us.

Because butterflies and bluebirds don’t respect property lines, our best hope is to make this simple change a community effort. For 25 years, my husband and I have been trying to create a wildlife sanctuary of this half-acre lot, planting native flowers for the bees and the butterflies, leaving the garden messy as a safe place for overwintering insects.

Despite our best efforts, our yard is being visibly changed anyway. Fewer birds. Fewer insects. Fewer everything. Half an acre, it turns out, is not enough to sustain wildlife unless the other half-acre lots are nature-friendly, too.

It’s spring now, and nearly every day I get a flier in the mail advertising a yard service or a mosquito-control company. I will never poison this yard, but I save the fliers anyway, as a reminder of what we’re up against. I keep them next to an eastern swallowtail butterfly that my 91-year-old father-in-law found dead on the sidewalk. He saved it for me because he knows how many flowers I’ve planted over the years to feed the pollinators.

I keep that poor dead butterfly, even though it breaks my heart, because I know what it cost my father-in-law to bring it to me. How he had to lock the brakes on his walker, hold onto one of the handles and stoop on arthritic knees to get to the ground. How gently he had to pick up the butterfly to keep from crumbling its wings into powder. How carefully he set it in the basket of the walker to protect it.

The Worst Urban Environmental Problem Of Our Time: Leaf Blowers. Extreme Pollution. Extreme noise.

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Don’t underestimate the pollution caused by these machines.  Leaf blowers produce 300x more hydrocarbons (carcinogenic gas) than a car.  Cars have sophisticated filters like catalytic converters which greatly improve their hydrocarbon output. According to California’s Air Resources Board (CARB), there are 16 million small engines producing 50 MILLION TONS of smog-forming pollutants in just one area of California alone!

 
Ms. Baker,

Please google “leaf blower bans” to learn about the many states and cities that are ending the extreme noise and air pollution caused by leaf blowers and landscaping crews.

Gas Leaf Blowers have been banned or restricted in more than 350 municipalities across 31 states the landscaping industry has adjusted with more environmentally friendly practices using brooms, rakes, and electric blowers. Where these bans are in place, landscaping companies are still in business and prices haven’t gone up.

Don’t underestimate the pollution caused by these machines.  Leaf blowers produce 300x more hydrocarbons (carcinogenic gas) than a car.  Cars have sophisticated filters like catalytic converters which greatly improve their hydrocarbon output. According to California’s Air Resources Board (CARB), there are 16 million small engines producing 50 MILLION TONS of smog-forming pollutants and in one area of California alone.

Many people don’t realize how toxic conventional landscaping practices are for our health and the environment. Noisy, polluting leaf blowers are destroying the quality of life in our neighborhoods. When I arrive home from work to the revving and blaring of these engines, I wonder what happened to my once peaceful neighborhood. The #1 thing most homebuyers want is a quiet neighborhood. By demanding an overly manicured landscape, we’re destroying the soundscape and that’s going to lower the value of our homes.

When homeowners unrealistically demand that every leaf and twig are removed off their lawns, the result is a leaf blower battle-ground in the neighborhood. Landscapers claim this equipment is faster but they blast away at deafening levels for hours-on-end all day long. Meanwhile, the rest of us can’t work from home, we can’t open windows, we can’t relax in our garden, we can’t use our screened-in porch, and we can’t enjoy a healthy walk. You would think law-abiding, tax-paying citizens would have the right to peace on their own property. Leaf blowers are a public nuisance that substantially interferes with the enjoyment and use of one’s own private property — a basic right.

Leaf blower crews now operate year-round blowing dust on the hottest summer Code Red days and ruining the most beautiful fall days. They show up while the homeowner who hired them is at work. Those of us who work from home are left to endure it. The landscaping company wants to keep a year-round contract even though there is very little to do most months of the year. They seem to want their crews to look busy by making a ton of noise to prove they showed up. Meanwhile, they’re spewing toxic pollution into our air for no reason! There are no leaves to blow for 9 months of the year, but they blast away at 200 mph whipping up hazardous particles and contaminants at ground speeds greater than a Category 5 hurricane. (The Husqvarna company claims its Leaf Blower model 580BTS pumps out an airspeed of 206.2 MPH) Epidemiological studies have long recognized these particles cause damage to respiratory systems. What’s in this dust and particulate matter? A myriad of unpleasant things such as dried animal droppings, spores, fungi, pollen, pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, brake-lining dust, tire-residue, and heavy metals.

We’ve banned tiny cigarettes in parks and other outdoor areas because we know how toxic second-hand smoke is, but leaf blower ‘second-hand smoke’ is a thousand times worse and I see them blowing away on every park, campus and green space in town. Gas leaf blower exhaust contains many of the same carcinogens found in second-hand cigarette smoke such as Benzene, 1-3 Butadiene, Toluene, and Formaldehyde and these pollutants are discharged into our neighborhood yards and parks in concentrated form. These are known carcinogens recognized by the World Health Organization.

The rest of us pay too high a price for someone else’s perceived “convenience” and the desire for unrealistic, hyper-clean lawns by an overly-loud, overly- polluting machine..

Don’t believe the unfortunate myth that landscaping is a great job for the working man. On the contrary, the landscaping industry takes advantage of our most vulnerable workers. Immigrant laborers carry these machines on their backs for up to 12 hours a day. Given the 115-decibel noise level, their hearing will be damaged. Only the very best ear protection available would shield them and usually, they wear none. They also breathe the toxic exhaust fumes which may lead to COPD or lung cancer. (Read about one worker here: https://www.fairwarning.org/2017/09/leaf-blower/)

Another huge disadvantage is the injury done to our bird populations. Studies show birds display PTSD-like symptoms due to the constant din of overly-loud human activity. These birds are unable to successfully raise their young and are driven from their nests. With our yards sounding like industrial zones, will birds be able to successfully raise the next generation? (Study about birds and noise: http://www.iflscience.com/plants-and-animals/noise-pollution-makes-birds-so-stressed-they-experience-ptsdlike-symptoms/)

This is NOT a small problem.  Let’s fix it.

LINK to CARB information. https://www.arb.ca.gov/msprog/offroad/sore/sm_en_fs.pdf

Here’s information about leaf blower emissions testing: https://www.edmunds.com/car-reviews/features/emissions-test-car-vs-truck-vs-leaf-blower.html

Thank you,

Leslie Nelson Inman

SOURCES:

Study on leaf blower emissions.

LINK: https://www.edmunds.com/car-reviews/features/emissions-test-car-vs-truck-vs-leaf-blower.html

California information on small gardening engine pollution. LINK: https://www.arb.ca.gov/msprog/offroad/sore/sm_en_fs.pdf

Study about Atlanta and Ozone: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0013935184710218

Atlanta’s Air Quality F for Ozone — Ozone is smog that exacerbates asthma. The report broke down measurements of high ozone days by county. Metro Atlanta, Fulton earned an “F” grade. LINK: http://www.lung.org/our-initiatives/healthy-air/sota/city-rankings/states/georgia/fulton.html

Georgias’s children’s asthma information 2016: https://dph.georgia.gov/sites/dph.georgia.gov/files/2016%20CHILD%20ASTHMA%20DATA%20SUMMARY%2008.2017.pdf

Landscaping workers suffer ill health. LINK: https://ww2.kqed.org/news/2017/02/13/more-pollution-than-cars-gas-powered-gardening-equipment-poses-the-next-air-quality-threat/

 

Leslie Nelson Inman

Pollinator Friendly Yards  on Facebook

Defend Your Pollinator Garden: Here’s How I Easily Reported Pesticide Drift From My Neighbor’s Mosquito Spraying Company

Atlanta GA: I filed a complaint against my neighbor’s mosquito spraying company and the company received a formal warning letter from the Dept. Of Agriculture. Drift was detected on my property. Action will be taken against the company if more complaints are received. The more complaints we file against these mosquito spraying companies, the more power we have over our own property and pollinator gardens. My yard is an Audubon Sanctuary as well.

It was a very simple process:
1. I googled “Georgia Department of Agriculture Pesticides”.
2. I called “Pesticide Complaints and Enforcement”. I lodged a formal complaint over the phone. It took 5 minutes.
3. They sent someone out to take my testimony and samples of my plants back to their lab.
4. Drift of Talstar/Bifenthrin was detected on my plants.

5. A warning letter was sent to the company.

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Help Our Poor Beleaguered Birds: Keep Your Yard Peaceful and Quiet

Birds have so much to deal with to survive during the Anthropocene: Pesticides, habitat loss, loss of trees, roaming cats, large glass windows, exotic plants that don’t host the North American insects they need, dirty bird feeders and a changing climate. 
Then… add what’s happening in my neighborhood and many neighborhoods around the country: the dreaded landscaping ‘Mow and Blow’ Crews.  These guys are the very worst when it comes to “taking care of our earth”.  In Atlanta, Georgia they have the loudest most polluting engine blasting away 12 hours a day with no regulations stopping them.
The decibel level of our outdoor activity matters.
▪️If we want our gardens to be bird sanctuaries, we can’t have leaf blowers blasting away at 110 decibels in our yards and neighborhoods.
▪️Leaf blowers aren’t conducive to a healthy life… for human life or wildlife.
▪️Read more here: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/10/191011131905.htm #banleafblowers #quietyards #peacefulyards. #birds 
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Leaf Blowers: Extreme Polluters

  • By 2020 in California, gas-powered lawn equipment will be the biggest source of ozone/smog pollution in the state (SOURCE: California Air Resources Board)
  • Explanation here: The problem with small engines is that they generally have a primitive design and little or no emissions control technology. While cars and trucks have leaped ahead with catalytic converters, advanced combustion techniques, and computer-controlled fuel injection, small engines are still using technology that was outdated in the 1960s. Worst of all are two-stroke engines, which require oil to be mixed in with the fuel, about a third of which is forced out the exhaust instead of being burned, and so produce immense pollution as a basic function of operating.
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Find Your Native Powerhouse Plants By Zipcode! See More Butterflies!

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Find YOUR POWERHOUSE NATIVE PLANTS HERE: https://www.nwf.org/NativePlantFinder/
Native Black Willow (Salix nigra)
DISTRIBUTION USA: AL, AR , CT , DC , DE , FL , GA , IA , IL , IN , KS , KY , LA , MA , MD , ME , MI , MN , MO , MS , NC , NE , NH , NJ , NY , OH , OK , PA , RI , SC , TN , TX , VA , VT , WI , WV
Canada: MB , NB , ON , QC
Requires moist soil; found along stream-beds.
Read more here: https://www.wildflower.org/plants/result.php?id_plant=SANI

Leaf Blower Landscaping Crews Lower Property Values

Beware of a “perfectly” manicured neighborhood. It takes hours of landscaping noise and dangerous chemicals to achieve that look.

We need to get this concept across: No one wants to live near constant leaf blower and loud machine noise!

A friend recently decided against the purchase of a home because every time she visited the property there were leaf blowers blasting away in the neighborhood. People don’t want to buy in neighborhoods like these.  The noise and pollution is lowering our property values.

Home buyers will pay a premium to live in areas where these crews are not allowed and where individual use of leaf blowers is not allowed. Those will be the MOST DESIRABLE neighborhoods to invest in.

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Leaf Blower Warfare All Year Long

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I just opened my back door to let my dog out on a beautiful, crisp autumn morning and what do I hear? Birds chirping? My fountain gently gurgling?  No. I hear the menacing roar of backpack leaf blowers destroying the potential beauty of a fall morning.  In a more rational world, I could stand outside sip my cup of coffee, soak up a little vitamin D, watch my dog sniff around and listen to the birds.  These are reasonable expectations that most people have when they buy a house with a yard. These are simple everyday pleasures that research tells us are vital to our health. Encounters with a peaceful natural setting bring down your blood pressure and your cortisol level.  A brief communing with nature before heading off to the roadways and highways to work would be beneficial to anyone’s health. This is what our tiny intown yards were meant to be, a respite from the noise and chaos of the city, but now our yards are the source of the noise and chaos in the city.  It’s a leaf blower warzone.  Our neighborhoods have become uninhabitable for humans and birds alike.

The good news is gas leaf blowers have been banned or restricted in more than 350nmunicipalities in 31 states across the U.S. and the landscaping industry has adjusted with more environmentally friendly practices using brooms, rakes and electric blowers.  Where these bans are in place, landscaping companies are still in business and prices haven’t gone up.

 

 

If Leaf Blowers Are Destroying Your Quality of Life, Please Write a Letter And Get This Issue On Lawmakers’ Radar

It makes a difference when lawmakers hear from you. Whenever a new leaf blower ban is put in place, the mayor or city council person interviewed says emails flooded their offices with leaf blower complaints and that’s why changes, bans, and restrictions were made.  Your email matters.

 Along with that, we need to educate journalists and lawmakers about the extreme downside of gas leaf blowers. Many people who would be our allies in working against leaf blowers are unaware of how polluting and damaging they are to the environment.  Share your personal story of dealing with the noise and toxic exhaust from leaf blowers and then add few facts. You’re done!  Now send that one letter to every lawmaker and journalist you can find an email address for.  If you don’t, then my email is the only one they’ll receive. If they receive 100+ emails about this issue, then it becomes something they’ll pay attention to.  Here’s my letter:

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Dear Senator Lewis;

Please take a moment to read about a significant neighborhood problem affecting many of us on a daily basis: The Ever-Present Leaf Blower Landscaping Crew.

Here’s their outrageous business model: Show up regularly where people live and work with the loudest and dirtiest engines imaginable. Then pollute like mad in order to “clean up”. Many cities have recognized the huge drawbacks to gas leaf blowers and that’s why they’ve been banned or restricted in more than 170 municipalities in 31 states across the U.S. and the landscaping industry has adjusted with more environmentally friendly practices using brooms, rakes and electric blowers.  Where these bans are in place, landscaping companies are still in business and prices haven’t gone up.

Conventional landscaping practices are toxic to our health and the environment.   Noisy, polluting leaf blowers crews are destroying the quality of life in our neighborhoods.  When I arrive home from work to their revving and blaring, I wonder what happened to my peaceful neighborhood.   By demanding an unreasonable, overly-manicured, golf-course-style landscape the peace of our neighborhood is destroyed and that lowers value of our homes.  The #1 thing most homebuyers look for is a quiet neighborhood and yet our neighborhoods are becoming the center of constant noise and chaos. After 45 mins of a wall of roaring sound coming from one crew, then the next one shows up.  This is hardly sustainable.  

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When homeowners expect these ultra-manicured landscapes, that necessitates a constant leaf blower battle in the neighborhood.  Landscapers claim their equipment is faster but doesn’t explain why they blast away hours on end.  Meanwhile, the rest of us can’t work from home, we can’t open windows, we can’t relax in our garden, we can’t use our screened-in porch, and we can’t enjoy a healthy walk.  You would think law-abiding, tax-paying citizens would have the right to peace on their own property.  Leaf blowers are a public nuisance that substantially interfere with the enjoyment and use of one’s own private property.  

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Leaf blower crews now operate year-round blowing dust on the hottest summer Code Red days and ruining the most beautiful autumn days.  They show up while the homeowner who hired them is at work. Those of us who work from home are left to endure it.  The landscaping company wants to keep a year-round contract even though there is very little to do most months of the year. They seem to want their crews to look busy by making a ton of noise to prove they showed up.  Meanwhile, they’re spewing dangerous pollutants into our air for no reason!  There are no leaves to blow for 9 months of the year, but they blast away at 185 mph whipping up hazardous particles and contaminants at ground speeds greater than a Category 5 hurricane.  (The Husqvarna company claims its Leaf Blower model 580BTS pumps out an airspeed of 206.2 MPH) Epidemiological studies have long recognized stirring up tiny dust particles causes damage to respiratory systems. What’s in this dust and particulate matter? A myriad of unpleasant things such as animal droppings, spores, fungi, pollen, pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, brake-lining dust, tire-residue, and heavy metals. 

We’ve banned tiny cigarettes in parks and other outdoor areas because we know how toxic second-hand smoke is, but leaf blower ‘second-hand smoke’ is a thousand times worse and I see them blowing away on every green space in town.  Gas leaf blower exhaust contains many of the same carcinogens found in second-hand cigarette smoke such as Benzene, 1-3 Butadiene, Toluene, and Formaldehyde and these pollutants are discharged into our neighborhood yards and parks in concentrated form.   These are known carcinogens recognized by the World Health Organization.

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The rest of us pay too high a price for someone’s else’s perceived “convenience” and the desire for overly-manicured yards.

An unfortunate myth is that landscaping is a great job for the working man, but on the contrary, the landscaping industry takes advantage of our most vulnerable workers.  Immigrant laborers carry these machines on their backs for up to 12 hours a day.  Given the 115-decibel noise level right at ear level, their hearing will be severely damaged. Only the very best ear protection available would shield them and usually they wear none. They also breathe the toxic exhaust fumes that can lead to COPD or lung cancer.  (Read about one worker here: https://www.fairwarning.org/2017/09/leaf-blower/)

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Another huge disadvantage is the injury done to our bird populations. Studies show birds display PTSD-like symptoms due to the constant din of unnecessary, overly-loud human activity. These birds are unable to successfully raise their young and are driven from their nests. Our songbirds are in decline as the saying goes, “Where birds thrive, people thrive” but birds are being driven out of our yards and neighborhoods.  (Study about birds and noise: http://www.iflscience.com/plants-and-animals/noise-pollution-makes-birds-so-stressed-they-experience-ptsdlike-symptoms/)

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Don’t underestimate the pollution caused by these machines. Gas Leaf blowers produce 300X more asthma-inducing, smog-causing pollutants than a pickup truck. According to California’s Air Resources Board (CARB) there are 16 million small engines producing 50 MILLION TONS of smog-forming pollutants and in one area of California alone! This is NOT a small problem.

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LINK to California Air Resource Board (CARB)  information. https://www.arb.ca.gov/msprog/offroad/sore/sm_en_fs.pdf

Here’s information about leaf blower emissions testing: https://www.edmunds.com/car-reviews/features/emissions-test-car-vs-truck-vs-leaf-blower.html

We’ve formed a sustainable yards group and we’re working on educating others about healthier yards and neighborhoods.  Thank you for your consideration of these issues and I hope that our group could meet with you and talk about potential solutions to this problem.

Thank you,

Leslie Nelson Inman

SOURCES:

Study on leaf blower emissions.

LINK: https://www.edmunds.com/car-reviews/features/emissions-test-car-vs-truck-vs-leaf-blower.html

California information on small gardening engine pollution. LINK: https://www.arb.ca.gov/msprog/offroad/sore/sm_en_fs.pdf

Study about Atlanta and Ozone: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0013935184710218

Atlanta’s Air Quality F for Ozone — Ozone is smog that exacerbates asthma. The report broke down measurements of high ozone days by county. Metro Atlanta, Fulton County earned a score of “F” for ozone pollutions which is basically smog. LINK: http://www.lung.org/our-initiatives/healthy-air/sota/city-rankings/states/georgia/fulton.html

Georgias’s children’s asthma information 2016: https://dph.georgia.gov/sites/dph.georgia.gov/files/2016%20CHILD%20ASTHMA%20DATA%20SUMMARY%2008.2017.pdf

Landscaping workers suffer ill health.  LINK: https://ww2.kqed.org/news/2017/02/13/more-pollution-than-cars-gas-powered-gardening-equipment-poses-the-next-air-quality-threat/