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 cause 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 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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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/)
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/)
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.
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.
Leslie Nelson Inman
Study on leaf blower emissions.
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/
Vulnerable workers desperate for jobs who can’t speak English well and most probably have little education are exploited by landscaping companies. After a period of time in a job like this, is their health intact? What are we subjecting workers to in order to achieve the wasteful and often toxic “Perfect American Lawn”?
Workers would need the very best hearing protection to save their ears from the onslaught of 90+ decibels at very close range for hours on end, but often they wear none. The ear’s tiny hair-like cilia are damaged when subjected to noise over 85 dB and once damaged they never regenerate. “Being around too much loud noise – like using a leaf blower… can cause permanent hearing loss. … And just two hours of operating a leaf blower, which hits 90 decibels, can cause damage and hearing loss.” LINK: https://www.acsh.org/news/2017/03/21/leaf-blowers-threats-hearing-signal-springs-return-11034
As for the second-hand exhaust from leaf blowers, we recognize the tiny cigarette as a second-hand smoke danger, and yet we allow leaf blower mega-polluters on every campus across the country. Gas leaf blowers are 1,000Xs worse than the tiny cigarette yet it’s the cigarette we ban because we’ve all had plenty of education about the dangers of 2nd hand cigarette smoke for years. Harvard and Yale’s campuses have switched to electric landscaping equipment, so they’re living up to their reputation for being ahead of the curve. They’ve been conscientious enough to read the ample studies easily accessible online and made adjustments to keep their students safe. Leaf blower exhaust contains many of the same carcinogens as second-hand smoke. An EPA report about the carcinogens found in the exhaust from leaf blowers and other lawn equipment: “Adverse health effects from gas lawn and garden equipment emissions are well known. Benzene, 1,3 butadiene, and formaldehyde are listed among the top-ranking cancer-causing compounds. They cause lymphomas, leukemias, and other types of cancer.” (International Agency for Research on Cancer, World Health Organization)” SOURCE LINK: https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2015-09/documents/banks.pdf
Even the newest models of 4-stroke leaf blowers produce an amazing amount of particulate matter. These pollution particles are so tiny they enter the lungs and then move into the bloodstream and the brain. Studies link these particles to the onset of dementia. A recent study published in BMJ Open, found an association between the neurodegenerative condition and exposure to nitrogen dioxide and microscopic particles known as PM2.5. (Particulate Matter)
What kind of land stewardship do you believe in?
If you own even the smallest plot of land
You own something awe-inspiring and magical
You can choose to heal our planet
You can grow food for your family
You can plant native plants
You can save birds, bees, and butterflies
There’s so much potential
You hand your incredible resource over to
The leaf blower crews
Who also routinely spray herbicides and other pesticides
As regular “gardening practices”
Which further add to our environmental degradation
We’re all hoping you’ll make the right choice for the planet.
Some of us spend money, time and effort planting to help birds and pollinators survive, and yet homeowners who live around us undermine our efforts at every turn! The unnecessary lawn chemicals and mosquito spraying decimate the pollinators we’re trying to save. Those of us who are planting for pollinators need protection.
If this is your situation too, take the frustration you feel and write one email and then send that email to every lawmaker, council person, and journalist you can find on the email address for on the internet. If you don’t, then my email is the only one they’ll get! Every time you send an email about your experiences, you’re educating someone. A journalist may take an interest and share the problem with a wider audience. To make an idea stick it needs to be repeated 5 or 6 times, so let’s keep sharing and writing.
I decided to send my email to Senator Hansen first because of the excellent work she’s doing to save wildlife and native plants in Delaware.
Feel free to take it to your local sign shop! Signs are important for educating neighbors. We have to out-compete the caution signs.