Time to ban this health threat: Leaf blowers By Shepherd Bliss

By Shepherd Bliss
Guest Writer
Dandelion Salad
February 9, 2010

Pretty Fall Leaves
photo by Dandelion Salad

‘‘Avoid using leaf blowers and other dust-producing equipment to cut down particulate matter,” recommends the California Air Resources Board. Why?

Simply put, leaf blowers kill. “Approximately 65,000 premature deaths from cardiopulmonary causes may be attributable to particulate air pollution each year,” according to the Natural Resources Defense Council. That’s only people. Leaf blowers also kill bees, butterflies, insects, plants and wildlife. They are hazardous to human health and to the ground itself.

Also known as debris blowers, these industrial machines explode and then fire up at more than 100 mph hour and kick up chemicals, fungi, spores, animal fecal matter, molds, diesel soot, allergens and other toxic substances. They combine to compose deadly particulate matter.

Leaves, on the other hand, are one of nature’s miracles. They tie it all together. They rise from the ground, reach to the sky and bring life to the Earth. Leaves do many good things — manufacture food for trees and other plants, use the sun’s energy to transform carbon dioxide into carbohydrates and decompose water into oxygen and hydrogen. The resulting complex compound, glucose is the universal and basic energy source for all living organisms.

Leaves fall to the ground and remain there, literally digging in. They beckon one of their partners — rain — and soften drops when they hit the ground protected by a carpet of decaying leaves, which retains the water. Even when brown and dead, their transformative work continues—first as mulch, then as compost, and eventually integrating into the topsoil.

This is why, though it is difficult to determine exact figures, around 400 U.S. and 100 California municipalities have already banned leaf blowers. Carmel banned them in l975. Other cities restricting them include Los Angeles, Sacramento, Palo Alto, Mill Valley and Tiburon. So millions of humans are already protected. But no Sonoma County city bans them, yet.

In November, Guy Wilson, now Sebastopol’s vice mayor, responded to complaints by residents and proposed a ban. Residents rose to support it at that time and at subsequent December and January meetings. A gas-powered leaf blower has a two-stroke engine, which is far more polluting than a car. Fossil fuels release carbon dioxide and emit greenhouse gases.

Last year tied 2006 as the second hottest year on record. Global climate’s long-term trend will literally burn us up. Leaf blowers contribute to global warming, whereas fallen leaves have a cooling impact.

Fortunately, if one wants to move leaves to the side, it can usually be done easily by brooms and rakes, which improve rather than worsen the users’ health.

Leaf blowers emit a loud, shrill, shrieking sound that is one of the worst noise polluters. For someone like myself, who has noise trauma from being raised in a military family and having served in the army — as well as asthma — leaf blowers are a genuine threat.

The documented harm of leaf blowers includes, but is not limited to, the following: hearing loss, greater risk of heart attacks, depressed immunity, increased adrenaline, change of heart beat, elevated blood pressure and cholesterol levels, social discord, impaired communication, heightened social conflicts and increased psychological, social and emotional problems. They also include the loss in enjoyment, concentration, creativity, relaxation and productivity by one’s neighbors. The costs of leaf blowers far outnumber any small benefits.

The evidence is in. It’s time to end, or at least minimize, the use of leaf blowers to reduce air pollution and the resulting global warming, as well as decrease noise pollution.

Shepherd Bliss teaches part-time at Sonoma State University and runs an organic farm in Sebastopol, CA. E-mail him at sb3@pon.net.

Previously published on PressDemocrat.com

From the archives:

In Praise of Fallen Leaves – Let Them Be! By Shepherd Bliss

6 thoughts on “Time to ban this health threat: Leaf blowers By Shepherd Bliss

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  3. One of my fond memories of childhood is raking leaves into big pies and jumping in them, then re-forming the piles so my dad could BURN them. Leaf burning is so much easier than either gathering up the leaves & composting them or bagging them for the municipality to compost them, and certainly easier than strapping a 115 db 2-stroke engine to one’s back, blowing the leaves into a pile, and then having to either compost the leaves or bag them for the municipality to do so.

    And yet, even though leaf burning was easier, it was eventually banned for good reason.

    And now we’re supposed to let machines that create at least as much pollution as leaf burning used to do, plus sound like a jet landing in the yard be used because they’re “less work” than rakes & brooms?


  4. Thank you for this–good info, and nicely written.

    Our town of Wilmette, IL instituted a ban on gas-powered blowers just four seasons ago, and is now considering its repeal. Vague explanations concerning ‘cost’ and difficulty with enforcement have been put forward, but so far with little or no public debate.

    Hope to do use some of your information to help raise awareness.

  5. I truly was not aware of this information. I recently was angered when my son refused to get a leaf blower and had my grandson rake them instead. I was hell bent on getting one myself by spring time. I am glad for this article, and I will be getting a little more yard work exercise, which is a good thing as oppose to adding to environmental problems.

    • Great. Enjoy.

      I love to rake leaves. Kids enjoy it, too. Make it a family affair and everyone get some exercise. Kids love to jump and play in the piles of leaves, too.

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