The April issue of this magazine always has an environmental focus, so it’s an appropriate time to raise awareness about a health issue in neighborhoods throughout our community: gaspowered leaf blowers. Encounters with these pollution and noise monsters are much too common. I recently took my son to a routine doctor visit. When we left, we were met with the deafening roars of two gas-powered blowers. The mixture of dust, pollen and noxious fumes created by the blowers forced us both to hold our breath while we ran to the car.
I couldn’t believe that was happening right outside a pediatrician’s office.
This is not a mere annoyance; it’s a significant air-quality and health issue, and it’s time for city and community leaders to take note. There are reasons more than 400 cities, towns and municipalities in the United States have banned or restricted the use of gas-powered blowers.
Here’s the main problem: Hand-held and backpack-style gas blowers produce high levels of pollutants. Most are powered by inefficient two-stroke, air-cooled engines that most often 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. These are the same types of gas engines that power scooters, motorbikes and other small motor vehicles that produce dense smog in other parts of the world.
How much pollution? In 2011 Edmunds (www.edmunds.com, the company best known for its car reviews) compared the emissions of a two-stroke, 50.8cc backpackstyle 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 nonmethane 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.
Not only do these gas-powered blowers impact air quality, often in neighborhoods where children play and adults 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. Many lawnmowers, trimmers, edgers, chainsaws and other lawn and gardening tools use the inefficient gas engines. A key difference with leaf blowers is the fact that easyto- use alternatives exist—rakes and brooms, for example. Corded and cordless electric blowers are also less-polluting options.
Add to the pollution issue 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 made up of mold spores, allergens, dried animal feces and fine particles. This irritating dust can contribute to the severity of respiratory 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 difficulty breathing. These are the groups impacted most when the air quality is poor.
As mentioned above, more than 400 cities, towns and municipalities across the country have bans or restrictions on the use of leaf blowers. If air quality and public health are important to local community leaders, this is an issue that needs their attention.
And if you own a gas-powered blower, this month consider reaching for a rake or a broom instead. You’ll burn more calories, and you (and your neighbors) will breathe cleaner air. Here’s hoping you enjoy many deep, cleansing breaths during this beautiful,flower-Natural Awakenings filled month of April.
Joel Shuler, Publisher