Gas-powered Leaf Blowers ~ Time to rethink
There are many serious environmental and health consequences of using gas — and all liquid-fueled — lawn care equipment. This becomes especially compelling as most Bedford residents hire professional landscapers using high-powered equipment, often employing multiple pieces of equipment at the same time.
Shockingly, lawn care equipment accounts for 10% of the pollution in the United States. California estimates that pollution from lawn care equipment will be higher than that generated by cars by 2020.
And it is estimated that Americans spill 17 million gallons of fuel per year while filling their gas-powered lawn care equipment engines, eventually affecting ground water and waterways. That’s more than the environmentally devastating Exxon Valdez oil spill!!!
The most damaging and polluting among lawn care tools is the gas, or liquid-fueled, leaf blower. Every time a leaf blower is refueled, toxics called Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) are released into the air. When these come in contact with sunlight, ozone is produced.
Use of a leaf blower, especially one powered by gas or other liquid fuels, impacts:
- Air Quality
- Neighborhood peace and quiet
- Soil conditions
- Health of workers
- Public health
Most of us have grown up with, or grown used to, the use and sound of leaf blowers. But now that we know of their multiple negative effects, it’s time to question their use and look for alternative ways to maintain our yards.
What’s Wrong with Gas Powered Leaf Blowers* (GLBs)?
GLBs generate noise levels of 90-115 decibels at close range and exceed the EPA’s recommended maximum noise level of 80 decibels, even at 50 feet. Bedford residents in half and one-acre lots, and even those on larger properties, are exposed to the relentless sounds of neighbors’ leaf blowers, which carry long distances because of the machines’ narrow-frequency bandwidth, disturbing multiple neighbors at the same time. People who work at home, the elderly, the sick, the young, are all disturbed, sometimes for hours on end.
Noise is detrimental to hearing and to mental health. There is plenty of evidence of the harmful health impacts of leaf blower noise on children. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends ambient noise levels of 55 decibels or less. Blood pressure, adrenaline, heart rates and nervous stress are all exacerbated by leaf blower noise.
Noise degrades quality of life: it reduces the ability to enjoy being outdoors, taking walks, or working in or enjoying our own back yards.
OSHA, the Occupational and Safety Act, requires hearing protection of any workers using equipment that generates noise over 85 dB. WHO notes the predictable risk of hearing damage from noise above 75 dB. Many workers are given no protection at all and, according to the American Academy of Otolaryngology, half the wearers of hearing protection do not get the expected benefits due to ill-fitting equipment or improper use.
Breathing particulate matter stirred up by leaf blower use and the emissions from the leaf blowers is also detrimental to worker health.
Gas Fumes: The two-stroke engine of a GLB is very inefficient, often releasing 25% of its unburned gasoline in exhaust fumes, according to studies of the Air Resources Board of the CA DEPA. The exhaust contains harmful hydrocarbons and oxides of nitrogen, both pollutants that contribute to smog and health problems. A study by Edmunds.com showed a gas leaf blower to be drastically less efficient than a Ford F-150 Raptor truck! An Echo 2-stroke leaf blower generated 23 times more carbon monoxide and nearly 300 times more non-methane hydrocarbons (NMHC) than the Raptor. Another study showed that a gas leaf blower operated for one hour generates the same amount of pollution as 40 cars idling.
Additionally, the powerful force of the GLB pushes much more than leaves into the air: fine particulate matter, heavy metals, pesticides and herbicides, feces, and other particles in the soil are disturbed and can linger in the air for hours on a hot, humid summer’s day, affecting asthmatics and those with other breathing issues, the elderly, the young and pets.
Particulate Matter: Leaf blowers are huge contributors to particulate matter in the air, especially in summer. The high velocity leaf blowers, often operating at hurricane force, blow into the air many toxic elements as well as dust. Pollutants include, salt, lead, arsenic, mercury, and other heavy metals, pesticides, fertilizers, fungicides, herbicides, rodenticides, dirt, ash, mold and fungus, fecal matter. Approximately 5 pounds of particulate matter per leaf blower per hour are blown into the air and can take hours and even days to settle.
These particulates aggravate allergies and exacerbate pulmonary issues, such as bronchitis. They also contribute to cardiac conditions, such as arrhythmia, and can cause heart attacks. www.epa.gov/air/particlepollution.
DESTRUCTION OF GROWING CONDITIONS FOR PLANTS AND WILDLIFE
Commercial grade leaf blowers blow a concentrated stream of air onto plants at up to 200 mph – stronger than a hurricane!
- destroy new plant growth and developing flowers
- blow topsoil away; topsoil is what plants need to flourish and grow
- cause soil compaction, which makes growing conditions very hard
- cause dehydration, effectively burning tender leaves
- suspend photosynthesis and other natural plant functions, slowing plant growth.
- spread disease spores, which may have been lying dormant in the soil or on fallen debris, and are then blown back onto plants.
- blow seeds all over, spreading weeds.
- spread insect eggs – if they survive. Most insects in a garden are beneficial but pests are also spread through leaf blower use.
- kill beneficial insects like earthworms and pollinators
- destroy bird nests
- drive birds and other wildlife away
- blow pollen into the air exacerbating allergy issues
POLLUTION OF WATER SOURCES
Many landscapers blow debris into the street, which results in clogged drains, especially after rainfall when any leaf piles are swept down toward the drains causing flooding and erosion. But even grass clippings cause damage when they are swept into storm drains; leaves and grass clippings decompose in our streams, rivers and lakes, adding excessive amounts of nitrogen and phosphorous, which causes algae bloom and destroys aquatic habitats.
Leaf blowers also blow any residual pesticides and herbicides and other foreign material like animal feces into streets, which then go down the drains and into our water supplies. The city of Santa Monica, CA, bans the use of leaf blowers because it recognizes the connection between toxic substances like heavy metals and chemicals being blown into drains and the pollution of its rivers and bays.
WHAT’S THE ALTERNATIVE?
Stop Using Leaf Blowers!Leaf blowers are not just noisy, they’re bad for the environment AND they’re bad for our yards. A better landscaping practice to manage leaves is to MULCH MOW or MULCHING IN PLACE. This involves mowing over leaves so that they stay in place – right where they fell, where nature needs them to decompose and nourish the soil for the tree they originally came from. Mulching mowing is more efficient, cheaper and better for your landscapes than leaf blowing. Mulch-mowing improves the soil and reduces the need for fertilizer. For more information go to www.leaveleavesalone.org.
Tolerate Some Leaves
You can get the perfectly manicured lawn effect with mulch mowing but consider joining the latest gardening trend and tolerate imperfection! Leave the leaves where they fall around shrubs, let them slowly decompose around pachysandra beds. The decomposing leaves form a natural mulch that protects the plants, helps them tolerate dry spells, protects them from extreme heat and cold, and creates a favorable growing environment for plants and beneficial organisms.
Don’t Use a Leaf Blower for Grass Clippings
Leave grass clippings on the lawn to decompose and nourish the soil, reducing the need for fertilizer. This also adds organic matter to the soil (which fertilizer can never do) improving the growing conditions for lawns and making them more resistant to stress. If you have lines of lawn clippings, it means you have cut too much grass. Raise your mower for next time or mow more frequently. Mow when the grass is dry. If necessary, use a rake to disperse clippings that lie on the lawn.
Use Your Leaves in Your Yard
Excess leaves can be composted, and the resulting compost is fabulous – and free – nourishment for your plants. Mulch any excess leaves and put them in the compost pile or use them as protective mulch around your shrubs. No need to buy mulch!
Switch all your landscaping equipment to electric powered machines. There have been huge advances in electric lawn equipment in recent years and they are just as powerful and just as effective as gas-powered equipment – only they don’t pollute your neighborhood and they are much quieter to operate. Consumer Reports in its June 2017 issue marked an electric lawn mower as a Best Buy and just as efficient as a gas-powered mower.
Electric leaf blowers are certainly better than liquid-fuel-powered leaf blowers but they still cause environmental damage and are not recommended for healthy yards. Most top gardeners avoid any leaf blower use at all, even on hardscapes. Use a broom for hardscapes and a rake is a very handy tool when called for!
Be Part of the Movement!
Innovative products and approaches are being developed all the time and communities, like Bedford, are starting to take action. Join us! In Westchester, 17 municipalities already have some kind of leaf blower restriction in place.
There is tremendous business opportunity for landscapers here. Some landscaping companies are changing equipment to provide clean, quiet, healthy landscape maintenance, but we need more to satisfy demand.
** Where we use the term “gas” we mean all liquid fueled equipment – including ethanol.
For more information:
About the hazards of gas leaf blowers:
About leaf mulching:
Electric leaf blowers: