By Tanli Su
People have known about the detrimental effects of gas-powered leaf blowers (and other gas-powered tools like lawn mowers) for many years now, and yet these noisy machines which simultaneously harm our health and environment continue to be popular today. Although gardeners and landscapers love the efficiency of gas-powered leaf blowers, we must stop the use of these blowers in order to both enhance our health and lower toxic air pollutants in our everyday environment.
The most noticeable consequence of gas-powered leaf blowers is the obnoxious noise, which is not only annoying for neighbors, but also harmful for our health. According to a 2017 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report, leaf blowers create a common noise that can contribute to permanent hearing loss. Additionally, noise pollution can cause stress, headaches, difficulty sleeping, productivity loss, higher heart attack rates, and more.
Even worse than the irritating noise produced by leaf blowers are the health effects created by particulate matter and exhaust gas released into the air. As leaf blowers generate wind speeds of around 180 miles per hour, they propel into the air potentially hazardous substances such as dirt, mold, pollen, animal feces, and pesticides. Exposure to these dust clouds, which take hours to settle, damages people’s respiratory systems and may cause irritation, allergies, and disease.
Lastly, gas-powered leaf blowers are detrimental for the environment. Most gas-powered leaf blowers use a two-stroke engine, which burns fuel very inefficiently and releases all of its tailgate emissions directly into the environment. The emitted air pollutants include carbon monoxide, which contributes to ground-level ozone; nitrous oxides, which contribute to smog formation; hydrocarbons, which can be carcinogenic; and nitrous oxides, which can cause acid rain. The environmental impact of gas-powered leaf blowers must not be underestimated—in fact, one study showed that under normal usage conditions, a leaf blower two-stroke engine emits nearly 300 times the hydrocarbons of a pickup truck, 93 times the hydrocarbons of a sedan, and many times as much carbon monoxide and nitrous oxides as well. If you drove the pickup truck for 3,900 miles, the amount of hydrocarbons emitted would be equivalent to using the two-stroke leaf blower for only about half an hour of yard work.
Because of the various harmful effects of gas-powered leaf blowers, many cities have actually passed ordinances to ban them or restrict their usage/noise level, but unfortunately, these laws are often ignored. For example, the Palo Alto City Council passed an ordinance in 2005 prohibiting the use of gas-powered leaf blowers in residential zones of the city. In the first few years after this ordinance was passed, Palo Alto police officers issued warnings and citations as enforcement, resulting in several hundred issued reports of leaf-blowing violations each year. However, as time passed, the city stopped enforcing the leaf blower ordinance. In 2011, zero leaf blower warnings/citations were issued by the Palo Alto Police Department, and yet gas-powered leaf blowers can still be seen (and heard) in Palo Alto today.
Although it remains difficult to enforce bans on gas-powered leaf blowers, you can make a difference by spreading the word and getting rid of your own gas-powered leaf blower if you use one! Consider switching to the old-fashioned broom and rake, or at least use an electric leaf blower. Taking this lifestyle eco-action will simultaneously improve our health, environment, and quality of life!