Letter to the Editor, 18 July 2019: Should Bedford Have a Bylaw to Regulate Gas-Powered Leaf Blowers?

By Lily Nemirovsky

When I first caught wind of the “fight” against gas-powered leaf blowers, I was intrigued, but I was not inclined to immediately declare war against these machines. After all, they are so commonplace I reasoned that if they really were such a huge problem, I’d have already come across large campaigns and protests like the ones surrounding the coal industry, plastic straws, industrialized cattle farms, etc. However, the more I looked into it, the more obvious it became that the gas-powered leaf blower poses a serious threat to both public personal health and a healthy environment, a threat that is neglected in many communities.  Jason Kavanagh, the Engineering Editor at Edmunds.com (a major automotive resource site), illustrates this threat in a 2011 study which found that “the hydrocarbon emissions from a half-hour of yard work with the two-stroke leaf blower are about the same as a 3,900-mile drive from Texas to Alaska in a [Ford] Raptor.”

The reason this comparatively tiny machine can be so much dirtier than a large truck is because car and truck engines have evolved enormously over the past few decades, becoming more and more efficient in response to the increasing public awareness/demand and the increasingly strict EPA standards. However, the two-stroke engine used in most gas-powered leaf blowers today has barely evolved since its introduction in the 1950s. Up to 30% of the gasoline/oil mixture used as fuel is emitted as an un-burned aerosol into the air, releasing carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, nitrous oxide, and more. While these pollutants contribute to smog, acid rain, and ozone pollution, they are also linked to an increased risk of heart disease, cancer, and asthma.
The loud, disruptive noise caused by gas-powered leaf blowers is a concern as well. The EPA lists high blood pressure, sleep disruption, stress-related illnesses, and of course hearing loss as some of the health effects of noise pollution.

The serious consequences of gas-powered leaf blowers for the environment, the general public, and especially for workers themselves have caused sporadic outcries across the country, and some towns have successfully implemented gas-powered leaf blower bans. Currently, more than 100 cities in the United States have passed similar restrictive laws. In Massachusetts, only Arlington, Brookline, and Cambridge have by-laws regulating the use of leaf blowers.

I urge Bedford to join these communities in passing our own regulatory laws so that we can continue to prove to be a proactive community.

I also want to recognize that some people’s jobs involve the use of leaf blowers every day, but rather than being a call for an immediate ban on all gas-powered leaf blowers, I want this letter to initiate the conversation on how we may transition to alternatives, e.g., electric leaf blowers in a way that does not jeopardize local businesses and is in the best interest of all citizens and our environment.

FACTS 

  • More than 100 cities in the United States have passed gas-powered leaf blower bans
  • Since the 1950s, fuel-burning technology has become enormously more efficient, such as car engines, which are up to 200 percent more efficient. However, one common item used by people across the world has barely evolved at all” the leaf blower. It uses a two-stroke engine which emits up to one-third of its gasoline as an un-burned aerosol. These emissions are linked to increased risks of cancer, heart disease, and asthma.
  • “In 2014 a study published in Nature Communications found that VOC emissions (a variety of carbon gases that can produce smog and harm human beings) were on average 124 times higher from an idling two-stroke scooter than from a truck or a car… the group found that each cubic meter of exhaust from an idling two-stroke scooter contained 60,000 times the safe level of exposure [of benzene]” https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2019/04/james-fallows-leaf-blower-ban/583210/
  • “In 2017, the California Air Resources Board issued a warning that may seem incredible but has not been seriously challenged: By 2020, gas-powered leaf blowers, lawnmowers, and similar equipment in the state could produce more ozone pollution than all the millions of cars in California combined.”
  • Because of the wavelengths emitted by gas-power leaf blowers, “a gas-powered blower rated at, say, 75 decibels of noisiness can affect up to 15 times as many households as a battery-powered blower with the same 75-decibel rating.”
  • According to a study by Edmunds, an automotive-information site, hydrocarbon emissions from 30 minutes of leaf blowing are comparable to those of driving a pickup truck from Texas to Alaska (https://www.wsj.com/articles/leaf-blowers-are-loud-ugly-and-dangerous-1539903772)
  •  Jason Kavanagh, Engineering Editor at edmunds.com, has stated, “The hydrocarbon emissions from a half-hour of yard work with the two-stroke leaf blower are about the same as a 3,900-mile drive from Texas to Alaska in a Raptor (https://www.quietcommunities.org/leaf-blowers-quality-life-public-health-issue/)

Massachusetts Laws Regulating Gas-Powered Leaf Blowers: https://blog.mass.gov/masslawlib/legal-topics/state-and-local-regulation-of-leaf-blowers/


Keep our journalism strong! Support The Citizen Journalism Fund today. Contact The Bedford Citizen: editor@thebedfordcitizen.org or 781-325-8606

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