“Apparently, my street has a leaf blower gang who tag team all day, so the sounds of the leaf blower are forever blowing from dawn to dusk.” – Bob Saget on Twitter, November 29th, 2011
It’s 8:30 a.m. on Thursday and a loud droning suddenly fills the still morning air. It sounds like a giant swarm of angry hornets has descended upon our otherwise peaceful apartment complex.
The leaf blower brigade has arrived.
Masked men with their gasoline backpacks spread out, invading every nook and crevice. We hurry to close all the windows, but a layer of debris still makes its way inside, under our front door.
My husband starts sneezing, something he’ll be doing for the rest of the day.
There is no escaping the teeth-rattling, mind-numbing revving and whining, or the dust. This goes on for hours – the gardeners will be out with their blowers until noon if the ground is dry, or until 3 or 4 p.m. if it is wet.
I’ve always assumed that, in addition to the irritating noise, there must be health risks and harmful environmental effects associated with the use of leaf blowers.
But I was shocked to learn just how damaging they really are.
So damaging that 400 cities across the country and at least 40 cities in California have banned leaf blowers, including: Los Angeles, Carmel, Los Altos, Menlo Park, Mill Valley, Tiburon/Belvedere, Berkeley, and Piedmont.
Other cities like Orinda, Alameda and Sacramento are working toward restricting or banning the use of leaf blowers.
Originating in Japan in the 1960’s as a tool for dispersing pesticides onto fields and fruit trees, leaf blowers were first used in this country as chemical sprayers, and later became lawn and garden maintenance tools.
Carmel was the first city to ban blowers in 1975 because of the noise.
The effects of the noise pollution alone are serious. It can lead to aggression, stress, hypertension, tinnitus, hearing loss, cardiovascular problems, gastrointestinal distress, depressed immunity, interrupted sleep, and psychological and emotional problems.
An acceptable decibel level in residential areas is about 60 decibels (60 dB). The decibel scale is logarithmic; each increase of 10 (e.g., from 60 to 70) represents a noise 10 times louder.
The average blower measures 70-75 dB at 50 feet.
Echo, a leaf blower manufacturer, warns in its operators manual that anyone within 50 feet of a blower in use should be wearing hearing, eye and breathing protection.
But leaf blowers are routinely used less than 50 feet from pedestrians and homes that may be occupied by home workers, retirees, day sleepers, children, the ill or disabled, and pets.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the noise level of leaf blowers actually degrades quality of life by interfering with communication and sleep, reducing accuracy of work and increasing levels of aggravation, which can linger hours after exposure.
Blowers also contribute to air pollution.
The California EPA Air Quality Resources Board reports that each leaf-blower engine, though small, produces the same amount of pollution as 80 cars, each driven for 12,500 miles every year.
Lacking emission controls on these devices, that means carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxide and volatile organic compounds are going into the air - all components of global warming chemicals.
Nationwide, leaf blowers add 30% of raw fuel to the air and use 1.5 million gallons of fuel per day, or 586 million gallons of petroleum annually.
The California Air Resources Board (ARB), in its brochure "Particulate Matter Air Pollution, advises people to avoid using leaf blowers.
What I find most alarming about leaf blowers is the fact that they stir up the mold, allergens and dust particles that otherwise have been tamped down with rain and decomposition.
This means if you are anywhere near a leaf blower you are breathing in pesticides, herbicides, fungi, molds, bacterial spores, insect parts, and animal fecal matter.
These can cause irritation, allergies, asthma and other diseases.
One study conducted by the American Lung Association examined types of materials or toxins found in street dust. Among the particulates examined, traces were found of arsenic, cadmium, chromium, nickel, and mercury.
As my husband says, “Would you lick the sidewalk?”
But this is actually worse because we are taking these substances deep into our lungs.
According to the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, particulate matter (PM) consists of very small liquid and solid particles suspended in the air. These particles can penetrate into the lungs and bloodstream and cause serious impacts on human health.
Often, operators blow dust and debris into the streets, leaving the dust to be resuspended by passing vehicles - exacerbating the problem.
Those particularly at risk include the elderly, people with cardio-pulmonary problems, those who exercise outdoors, infants and young children.
Doctors affiliated with the Mt. Sinai Children's Environmental Health Center in New York City signed a letter submitted on April 22, 2010 by the Mt. Sinai Hospital supporting restrictions on leaf blowers.
The letter stated that children are the most susceptible to the hazards of leaf blowers because “…they breathe more air per pound of body weight per day than adults and thus inhale more of any pollutants that are thrown into the air by this equipment.”
The letter also stated that children's vulnerability to the health effects of blowers “is further magnified by the fact that they are passing through the stages of early development, and thus their lungs, ears, eyes, and other organ systems are inherently more sensitive to environmental hazards than the organs of adults."
Here’s another potential hazard to consider: With all the recent work being done on Highway 680, leaf blowers can also stir up concrete and asphalt dust, which can cause adverse effects through skin contact, eye contact or inhalation.
Skin contact can cause burns, rashes and irritation.
Eye contact can cause immediate or delayed irritation of the eyes, ranging from redness to painful chemical burns.
Inhalation can cause nose and throat irritation; long-term exposure to concrete dust containing crystalline silica can lead to silicosis, a disabling lung disease.
Why not scrap the leaf blowers – and all the health and environmental hazards they create – and return to good old-fashioned rakes and brooms?
Many would argue that it would take twice as long to clean up debris with rakes and brooms than with high-powered blowers.
Gardening services in particular might argue that they would lose income because they would complete fewer jobs in a day.
Interestingly, Diane Wolfberg, an L.A. grandmother in her late 50’s, disproved this assumption in tests conducted by the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power Leaf Blower Task Force.
In three tests involving gas-powered and battery-powered leaf blowers, Wolfberg cleaned the areas using rakes or brooms faster than any of the battery-powered blowers, and almost as fast as the gas-powered blowers - and did a better job in cleaning up the areas.
What do you think? Should leaf blowers be restricted or banned in our area? Share your comments!