City Desk

A Call To Ban (Some) Leaf Blowers

Some 200 people have signed off on a letter written by Cleveland Park email list master Bill Adler that calls on Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh to introduce legislation to ban gas-powered lawn mowers.

The problem: Gas-powered leaf blowers are noisy and polluting. The solution: Ban them.

Presumably this means gardeners would switch to the less noisy (and less powerful) electric leaf blowers for their landscaping needs. But! The New Yorker points out—in a story that is far more fascinating than it has any right to be—that municipal ordinances banning leaf blowers don't seem to do much to stop people from using them.

And here in D.C., we find it difficult to believe that authorities will do much to enforce that kind of ban if only one type of blower is on the list. On the other hand, we suspect such a bill would give Rush Limbaugh another reason to go after Cheh, which would be entertaining, if nothing else.

Full letter after the jump.

Dear Councilmember Cheh:

We were pleased to learn that you said on WAMU’s Kojo Nnamdi Show that you are considering legislation to curtail leaf blowers in the District of Columbia.

We would like to see a total ban on gas-powered leaf blowers in the District of Columbia.

Everyone is familiar with how unpleasant and disruptive leaf blower noise is. Leaf blower noise is a major problem for the increasing number of people who work at home, for parents with young children, for people who are home, sick. When a gas-powered leaf blower is nearby, it can be impossible to sleep, work, or use the phone, not to mention simply enjoy the use of one’s home. These blowers with their two-stroke engines emit a sound that’s particularly unpleasant, far worse than other common power equipment such as lawn mowers and snow blowers.

Leaf blowers subject pedestrians, including infants in strollers, to exceedingly high decibel levels. These blowers deprive people of the ability to use a sidewalk comfortably and safely.

Leaf blowers often travel in herds, too: Gardening companies frequently deploy multiple leaf blowers, and they are now using leaf blowers all year round, not just in fall, as once was the case.

Gas-powered leaf blowers create high levels of air pollutants. Edmunds recently tested leaf blowers and discovered that a two stroke gas-powered leaf blower emits over 23 times the amount of carbon monoxide and over 300 times the amount of non-methane hydrocarbons as a 2011 Ford Raptor pickup. Edmunds points out: “To equal the hydrocarbon emissions of about a half-hour of yard work with this two-stroke leaf blower, you'd have to drive a Raptor for 3,887 miles, or the distance from Northern Texas to Anchorage, Alaska.”

The full Edmunds study is here: http://www.insideline.com/features/emissions-test-car-vs-truck-vs-leaf-blower.html.

The third major problem with leaf blowers is that they disperse particulates into the air directly. Ordinarily, pesticides, fecal material, pollen and dust (once they’ve settled onto the ground) aren’t airborne pollutants. But they become airborne thanks to leaf blowers’ 180 mile per hour wind. Leaf blowers push particulate matter into the street and neighbors’ yards. In addition, lawn companies frequently use leaf blowers on the sidewalk and street, exacerbating this problem.

While a ban on gas-powered leaf blowers wouldn’t eliminate this last problem, it would lessen it: Electric leaf blowers produce a less powerful wind and disperse fewer unhealthy particles. Electric leaf blowers are also only moderately noisy, more akin to the sound of a vacuum cleaner.

Gas-powered leaf blowers are not a necessity. American lawns got along well without them for centuries. Leaf blowers are the direct descendant of a device invented in the late 1950’s to disperse agricultural chemicals. The powerful hot wind from a leaf blower can harm living grass. The problems that gas-powered leaf blowers cause –noise pollution and air pollution– far outweigh the benefits, especially because there are good substitutes for gas-powered leaf blowers, namely rakes and electric leaf blowers.

There are those who say that a ban on gas-powered leaf blowers won’t work. In response to that, we note that people said that a bag tax and dog poop laws wouldn’t work. These and other environmental laws have improved our lives and environment, and a ban on gas-powered leaf blowers would, too.

You have our complete support, should you pursue a ban on gas-powered leaf blowers.

Photo by Mr. T in DC via Flickr/Creative Commons Attribution Generic 2.0 License

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  • @SamuelMoore

    Lawn-mowers, leaf-blowers, or both?

  • Ward5Dude

    Any way you look at it, it is ridiculous.

  • NE John

    From my cold dead hands

  • James Kaufmann

    "The powerful hot wind from a leaf blower can harm living grass. The problems that gas-powered leaf blowers cause –noise pollution and air pollution– far outweigh the benefits,..."

    What person with normal hearing could disagree with this statement. The assault on the soundscape by a leaf-blower is not subtle, but brutal. And it is absolutely unnecessary. Another phenomenon you will observe is that when a person gets one of these debris-blowers in his hands, he is inflicted with the belief that a blade of grass on the sidewalk is intolerable. What's wrong with a few blades of grass on the sidewalk, for heaven's sake? Is it really worth all that acoustic violence?

  • Thomas Lagergren

    Where I live on 17th St NW there is a bad problem of unnecessary overuse of leaf blowers. They run almost every day and some days they are running all day without stopping and there is never any peace and quiet. The nearby elementary school playground gets the dangerous fallout too.

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