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You Tell Us: Let’s do something about leaf blowers

on December 13, 2010

This is leaf season. It is also leaf blower season. These noisy and polluting gardening tools are increasing in number in our city every day. How many are in use now? I don’t know. But I have seen estimates in the hundreds of thousands. Take my neighborhood. I live in Rockridge, on Margarido Drive. Since 1986, when we moved here, the neighborhood has changed in more ways than one. For instance, in the noise level. A year ago, only one of the eight houses closest to mine used leaf blowers or employed gardeners who used them. Now six out of eight do so — five with gardeners, and one homeowner who uses them.

Progressively, cities throughout the United States have been banning leaf blowers, or at least placing restrictions on their use (Consumer Reports lists some of them here). Carmel was reportedly the first to take action, in 1975. Berkeley has banned all gasoline-powered leaf blowers. Sebastopol and Sonoma have acted recently. Orinda and several others are in the process. In several municipalities and cities, the use of a leaf blower is a misdemeanor and carries a fine, which increases for repeat offenders. (I wonder who pays — the gardener or the person on whose property the blower is being used?). Hundreds of municipalities and cities throughout California and the entire United States are taking action. Why? Because leaf blowers pose a danger to us and to future generations.

• Noise hazard: Blowers create a level of noise of 62-75 decibels at 50 feet away (some estimates say 85 dB to 105 dB or even much higher for older models of leaf blowers) which is well above the noise level considered acceptable for residential areas. Electric leaf blowers are quieter, but almost never used by gardeners. Studies have found that the noise level of most backpack and hand-held blowers is high enough to harm workers’ hearing, and create serious stress for neighbors. Take my word for it — they do. By the way, my mini-survey in our neighborhood shows that the powerful and most polluting backpack version is alive and well around here.

• Health hazard: Scientists have found that leaf blowers kick up toxic dust into the air, where it can remain for days, including mold spores, bacteria, pesticides, asbestos particles, and more. Such dust is particularly dangerous to people with allergies, respiratory problems, heart or lung disease, or compromised immune systems and to pregnant women, young children, older adults and to people who exercise outdoors. The American Lung Association notes that leaf blowers have no pollution control devices and are much more polluting than cars. It suggests they not be used.

• Environmental hazard: They are harmful to the environment. Emissions from gasoline-driven leaf blowers contain pollutants such as hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide, benzene and formaldehyde. Denver discovered that about 6 percent of organic compound pollutants in the skies above Denver metropolitan area are due to use of leaf blowers. Quoting Dr. Andrew Weil, the internationally-known health and wellness expert, regular columnist for Prevention Magazine, and author of 10 books: ” When it comes to really bad ideas, the leaf blower ranks right up there with adding lead to gasoline and using CFCs in aerosols. Leaf blowers are diabolical machines.”

We need to take action to ban, or at least to regulate leaf blowers. Action at the city level may take some time. Perhaps we could at least start with our own neighborhood. We could request our gardeners not to use these frivolous and harmful tools. Let’s buy them a rake and a broom. Yes, they may charge us an extra hour for doing our yard. But we owe it to ourselves, our neighbors — and to future generations.

Heli Perrett, PhD, has lived in Rockridge for 24 years, and is author of the newly released The Safe Food Handbook, which, among other things, links environmental hazards and safety issues in our food.


You Tell Us is Oakland North’s community Op-Ed page, featuring opinion pieces submitted by readers on Oakland-related topics. Have something to say? Send essays of 500-1,000 words to We’d love to hear from you!

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  1. Samantha on December 13, 2010 at 3:37 pm

    A very well written piece, and an important topic that doesn’t get nearly the amount of attention that it should. I was appalled when I moved into my apartment complex (near Lake Merritt) and found out that the maintenance guy uses a leaf blower to clean our walkways (it is an outdoor complex)! It’s only a 3-story building, would it really be too much to ask that he use a push broom? Maybe I’ll print this article and put in my manager’s mailbox…

  2. Michael Fox on December 13, 2010 at 11:24 pm

    On Saturday evening, I was startled to hear a loud noise outside of my Oakland residence. I was outraged, believing it to be one of these loud leafblowers of which I had heard so much and known to be regarded as a nuisance. Their evil visage immediately sprang to mind as the culprit.

    Shockingly, I realized that the loud noise I heard was not, in fact, a leafblower, but 20 shots fired from small arms and shotguns at people holding a candlelight vigil for a fallen comrade (BTW, there are only 14 living named individuals in the North Oakland gang injunction now, so it is 6.7% less racist!).

    I had never realized that that numerous gun shots (directly across from my home, by the way) made so much smoke! I am sure this is similar to the health, noise and environmental hazard that leafblowers pose.

    After this article solves the problem of leafblowers, I hope that the lesser noise problem, such as shots ringing out in the night (only a block away from the Rockridge boundary), can be addressed.

    Get over yourself. Leafblowers make similar sound levels to lawnmowers, but are used far more infrequently. They are a luxury item that cuts down on the effort required to clean the outside of your home. My suggestion is to begin a collection to help pay for one of your disadvantaged neighbors to be able to hire their gardener for the additional time to continue to push broom in relative silence.

    Meanwhile, I will put in some earplugs and continue to deal with the real world.

  3. […] focused on coming up with actions the city could undertake for little money, like prohibiting fuel-powered leaf blowers and easing restrictions on residential greywater systems. “We can have a lot of impact with […]

  4. p smith on March 14, 2011 at 11:53 pm

    I’m with you. I have used a power vac to suck UP my leaves, not blow them to someone else’s yard.

  5. Kriss on October 4, 2011 at 7:15 am

    I’ve been documenting this issue to our city council people for a couple years. Makes me so irritated. Plus due to a neurological medical issue I sleep generally from 4am-noon & right now I’m awake because a neighbor has decided to leafblow at 7 in the frickin morning. This is so far beyond the pale

  6. Bryan on August 22, 2018 at 7:48 pm

    We need to outlaw leaf blowers. Maybe they can be used in back yards at the owners approval. But in the public realm, that includes the front yard setback if any, and the sidewalk/street they should be forbidden. What is wrong with a rake or a vacuum cleaner with a bag? They are an health hazard from particulates, noise and energy. Listen up Dan Kalb. With everybody plant drought resistant front yards, with plenty of earth exposed, clouds of dust are being generated by these environmentalists.

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