resources and supporters

Why We Should Restrict Gas Leaf Blowers
by Bonnie Sager • Huntington, NY



man with leaf blowerMost of us can hear them a mile away. They are relentless and go from morning till night, seven days a week. As annoying as the noise can be, there are much bigger issues involved.

Gas leaf blowers are a threat to our health and our environment. See the clouds of dust being blown from one neighbor’s yard to another, into the middle of the street and under bushes? Well that blower is operating at 200mph (only a hurricane operates at these speeds) and is kicking up all sorts of unsavory particulate matter like mold, fungal spores, insect eggs, weed seeds, fertilizer products, heavy metals and animal feces. 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. This particulate matter precipitates asthma attacks, exacerbates allergies and can cause lung cancer. It also contributes to cardiac conditions such as arrhythmia.

Gas leaf blowers use two-stoke engines which are highly polluting. 25% of the gasoline used in a blower goes directly into the atmosphere. In the summer, when the hydrocarbons from the raw gasoline combine with sunlight, you get ground level ozone harmful to all life. Kids and pets are the most susceptible since they are lower to the ground, have higher respiratory rates and children’s organs are developing.

The hydrocarbon cocktail produced by the leaf blower includes cancer agents, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, formaldehyde, benzene and other air pollutants. A Grand Jury in San Luis Obispo County, CA, concluded that: Considering the evidence … the health hazards citizens are exposed to from two-cycle leaf blowers outweigh the possible benefit they provide.

  • You might be astonished to learn that a gas leaf blower operating for 30 minutes puts out more emissions than an auto traveling 2,000 miles. http://westchestergov.com/ pdfs/CONLeafBlowerLaw2009.pdf
  • One hour of gas leaf blower operation is the equivalent of 40 cars idling for one hour. These blowers usually travel in packs so multiply that number by 2 or 3 times.
  • Leaf blowers cause destruction of gardens and landscapes through compaction, desiccation and loss of topsoil. New plant growth is damaged and precious topsoil and mulch is blown away. Winds stress plants causing dehydration.
  • The noise, toxic fumes and hot air takes its toll on animals and birds in the landscape. Beneficial insects like earthworms and bees are damaged by the assault of hurricane force winds. Nests and habitats are disturbed.
  • Non-point water pollution is another problem. It’s common practice for landscapers to blow debris into the streets or onto neighboring property. When pushed into the street the debris clogs storm drains which increases flooding and erosion. The nitrogen-laden grass clippings enter the storm drainage and end up in waterways contributing to the already bad nitrogen water problem in many areas.
  • It is estimated that every time a gas leaf blower is filled by the mow, blow and go landscapers, 2 ounces of gasoline is spilled. A University study showed that Americans spill 17 million gallons of gasoline per year refilling gas garden equipment. That’s more then the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill.
  • Noise degrades our quality of life. Where is the peaceful use and enjoyment of our homes and property, which is our right? The narrow frequency bandwidth of the gas leaf blower is a particularly disturbing sound. People who work from home or have to sleep during the day, and napping children are continuously disturbed by their incessant whine. It becomes hard to enjoy time outdoors, taking a walk or riding a bike. Want to push your baby in a stroller, and get some fresh air? Think again.
  • The workers also need to be considered. Many lawn services are not compliant with OSHA regulations and the worker is subjected to deafening noise, cancer causing agents, and possible eye injury.

You may ask, “won’t the landscaping business suffer financially? The answer is a resounding NO! When Rye, NY established a trial summertime ban on leaf blowers in 2008 it was against substantial objections from the landscaping businesses operating there. One year later, at a hearing to review the ban and its supposed deleterious effects on business, only one landscaper showed up. They actually saved money. A gas leaf blower uses 2 gallons of gas per hour. At $4/gallon,10hrs/day 7 day/week – you do the math. Then add in maintenance, time spent for filling gas cans and equipment.

A broom and rake may be low tech and inexpensive but that doesn’t mean they are inefficient or take more time. In fighting the ban on gas powered leaf blowers, gardeners have argued that it would take them twice as long to do jobs if they had to use rakes and brooms. But Diane Wolfberg, a grandmother proved them wrong in tests conducted by the Department of Water & Power Leafblower Task Force. In three tests involving gas powered leaf blowers and battery powered leaf blowers, Diane cleaned the areas using rakes or brooms faster than any of the battery powered blowers and almost as fast as the gas powered leaf blowers – and she did a better job!

16 towns in Westchester, NY have restricted blower use from 4-6 months. The Nation of Israel and the State of Hawaii have totally banned gas blowers. Over 400 municipalities in the US have banned or restricted their use. In Toronto, you get a $5,000 fine for using a gas leaf blower. On Long Island, Huntington Hospital has recently restricted gas leaf blowers and is planning to eliminate them due to health concerns for patients, staff and visitors. They all get it.

We would encourage you to talk to your government officials about restricting GLBs in your town. Ask your landscapers not to use a gas leaf blower on your property. Ask your friends and neighbors to do the same. We will all be able to breathe easier and protect the health of our kids.

In my town of Huntington, NY, we have asked the Town Council to restrict gas leaf blowers from June 1 to August 31. If you are a Huntington resident, please support our efforts by signing our on-line petition at tinyurl.com/Restrictglbs

If you are a Huntington resident you can call or e-mail Huntington, NY town council members and tell them you support Huntington CALM (Citizens Appeal for Leaf Blower Moderation) and would like to know why they don’t.

Frank Petrone, Supervisor
631 351 3030

Mark Cuthbertson
631 351 3172

Tracy Edwards
631 351 3175

Eugene Cook
631 351 3174

Huntington CALM has endorsements from:

The American Academy of Pediatrics LI

The LI Asthma Coalition

The American Lung Association

Grassroots Environmental

LI Sierra Club

Huntington-Oyster Bay Audubon Society

Mt. Sinai Pediatric Environmental

Health Specialty Unit

Huntington Conservation Board

Bonnie Sager is co-founder of Huntington CALM. Huntingtoncalm@gmail.com.