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.
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