When it comes to long-term quality of life in San Antonio, air quality is high on the list of things to consider. While there are many contributors to poor air quality—motor vehicles, for example—you may not be aware of a signifi cant local air polluter: gas-powered leaf blowers. With almost year-round lawn and landscape maintenance needed in San Antonio, buying a gas-powered leaf blower can seem like a good investment.
Every lawn service company in San Antonio seems to use gas blowers on a daily basis. Hand-held and backpack-style gas blowers produce high levels of pollutants. Most are powered by ineffi cient two-stroke, air-cooled engines that run on a gas/oil mix. These cheap, small engines produce large amounts of carbon monoxide, nitrous oxides and hydrocarbons, which are major contributors to ozone and smog.
How much pollution am I talking about? In 2011 Edmunds (www.edmunds. com, the company best known for its car reviews) compared the emissions of a two-stroke, 50.8cc backpack-style leaf blower with emissions from a 2011 411-horsepower, 6.2 liter Ford Raptor V8 pickup.
The results of the Edmunds study are stunning. Edmunds found that the leaf blower produced 23 times more carbon monoxide and almost 300 times more non-methane hydrocarbons than the Ford Raptor. An article on edmunds.com stated that to equal the hydrocarbon emissions from about 30 minutes of yard work with the two-stroke leaf blower, you’d have to drive the Raptor almost 4,000 miles, roughly the distance from Dallas to Anchorage, Alaska.
So while gas-powered vehicles certainly impact local air quality, gaspowered leaf blowers are individually much larger polluters. Not only do they impact air quality, often in neighborhoods where children and adults play, walk, run and cycle, they also negatively impact the health of operators, especially lawn service workers who breathe the pollutants from blowers for hours at a time, multiple days each week.
Leaf blowers aren’t the only lawn equipment powered by two-stroke engines. Lawnmowers, trimmers, edgers, chainsaws and other lawn and gardening tools use the polluting gas engines. A key difference with leaf blowers is the fact that easy-to-use alternatives exist, rakes and brooms, for example. Corded and cordless electric blowers are also less-polluting options.
There’s also the fact that gas leaf blowers operate at dangerously high noise levels (90-100 decibels for operators). They also create large amounts of airborne dust such as mold spores, allergens, dried animal feces and fi ne particles that can contribute to the severity of lung issues such as asthma and bronchitis. In Bexar County, more than 43,000 children suffer from pediatric asthma, and 97,000 adults also have asthma. Another 71,000 residents have COPD and can have diffi culty breathing . These are the groups impacted most when the air quality is poor.
As local leaders look at air quality issues, the use of gas-powered leaf blowers needs to be part of the conversation. There’s a reason more than 400 cities, towns and municipalities across the U.S. already have bans or restrictions on the use of leaf blowers. It’s important to learn more and examine ways to minimize harmful effects, especially to equipment operators and those more vulnerable due to existing health conditions.
Enjoy this issue of Natural Awakenings, and enjoy a healthful, happy start to the spectacular San Antonio summer,