The Problems with GLBs

Most of us can hear them from a mile away. They are relentless and go from morning until night, seven days a week. As annoying as the noise itself can be, there are much bigger issues involved.

“Few risks have a greater impact on global health today than air pollution; the evidence signals the need for concerted action to clean up the air we all breathe.”

Gas leaf blowers (GLBs) are a threat to our health and our environment. See the clouds of dust being blown onto the street, into the air, from one neighbor’s yard to another? Well that blower is operating at 200mph (only a hurricane operates at these speeds) and is kicking up all sorts of unsavory particulate matter like mold, fungal spores, insect eggs, weed seeds, fertilizer products, heavy metals, and animal feces.

Many developing nations are eliminating the use of two-stroke engines due to the copious amounts of air pollution they produce. Air pollution is the number one environmental cause of death as stated by the World Health Organization. Think we have clean air in Suffolk County? Think again. The American Lung Association has given us a grade of “F” for over 15 years.

PUBLIC HEALTH

Approximately 5 pounds of particulate matter per leaf blower per hour are blown into the air and can take hours and even days to settle. This particulate matter precipitates asthma attacks, exacerbates allergies, and can cause lung cancer. It also contributes to cardiac conditions such as arrhythmia. The pollutants emitted by the leaf blower’s two-stroke engine include hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide, and other carcinogens. Children and pets are the most susceptible to the pollution since they have higher respiratory rates and children’s organs are still developing. According to the authors of one study, two-stroke engines used in gardening equipment are a significant contributor to the air quality deterioration in many residential areas.

The Medical Society of the State of New York recently passed a landmark resolution recommending the use of alternatives to gas leaf blowers. Huntington Hospital has recently restricted the use of gas leaf blowers on its grounds and has considered eliminating them due to health concerns for patients, staff, and visitors.

MENTAL HEALTH

“Noise degrades quality of life by impairing communication and social interaction; reducing the accuracy of work, particularly complex tasks; and creating stressful levels of frustration and aggravation that last even when the noise has ceased.”

U. S. Environmental Protection Agency

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), continual noise exposure increases the risks for high blood pressure, anxiety, and depression. Numerous studies have linked the effects of noise exposure on children to decreased motivation, impaired cognition and school performance, and overall reduced well-being. Although children are in school during the day, they are often playing outdoors in the afternoons and in the summers, which is peak landscaping season.

The narrow frequency bandwidth of the gas leaf blower is a particularly disturbing sound and degrades our quality of life. It becomes hard to enjoy the outdoors, gardening in our yards, taking a walk, or riding a bike in the neighborhood — all activities that improve our mental and physical health. Because of the assault from leaf blowers, many vulnerable people, including the elderly and children, are forced to remain inside. People who work from home, are convalescing, or work irregular shifts suffer from stress, sleep disruption, and lost productivity.

WORKER SAFETY

We cannot ignore that the use of gas leaf blowers also poses serious health risks for the lawn care company employees. Employees of these crews, who often work all day, all week, moving from one property to another, are constantly exposed to formaldehyde, benzene, and other fumes, as well as dangerous levels of machine noise and vibration. Noise from gas leaf blowers commonly exceeds the threshold of 85 decibels at which permanent hearing damage occurs from extended exposure. Many lawn care services are not compliant with OSHA regulations and the workers are subjected to risks from cancer causing agents and permanent hearing loss.

CLIMATE CHANGE

Gas leaf blowers use two-stroke engines which are highly polluting. Up to 30% of the gasoline used in these highly fuel inefficient equipment is released into the atmosphere. You might be astonished to learn that a gas leaf blower operating for just 30 minutes puts out as much emissions as a pickup truck traveling 3,900 miles.

If you believe that climate change is a serious concern, then you are in good company. According to a 2018 survey, 70% of New Yorkers are worried about climate change, and 76% believe that warming will harm future generations. A significant number of Americans have already committed to lifestyle changes, including using less water, driving their cars less, and reducing meat consumption. In comparison, asking your landscapers to give up the highly polluting gas-powered leaf blower would be a relatively easy adjustment with wide-ranging, positive impacts.

WILDLIFE

With every passing year, it seems that the chorus of birds singing in the morning grows dimmer while the cacophony of leaf blowers grows louder. Many animals have sensitive hearing and exposure to the barrage of noise from leaf blowers can result in hearing loss, disrupted behavioral patterns, and increased vulnerability to predation. The noise and toxic fumes from leaf blowers take a toll on the animals in your yards, including your pets and your neighbors’ pets. Beneficial insects like bees and butterflies are harmed by the assault of hurricane force winds. Delicate nests and habitats are destroyed.

Recent studies indicate a decline of 40% to 75% in insect populations during the past several years. In addition, 40% of the world’s bird populations are in decline, and over 30% of North American bird species are in danger of extinction.

ENVIRONMENT

Experts say that by next year, gas-powered lawn equipment in California will be a greater contributor to ozone pollution than all of the cars in the state.

It is estimated that every time a gas leaf blower is filled by the mow, blow and go landscapers, 2 ounces of gasoline is spilled, polluting the air and our groundwater. The EPA reports that Americans spill more than 17 million gallons of fuel per year refilling their gas garden equipment. That’s more than the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill, and the equivalent of 87 million tons of smog produced per day!

Commercial grade electric leaf blowers are now on the market, are readily available, and are comparable to gas in power and work production. The use of gas-powered leaf blowers is no longer defensible as it comes with too high a cost to the community.