Eco Tip — Hazardous to Your Health: Gas-Powered Leaf Blowers

Marsha Low, Weavers Way Environment Committee

Ah, spring! I’m sitting outside, feeling the soft breeze on my skin, smelling the lilacs and irises, listening to birds twittering in the shrubs and trees... and suddenly, a leaf blower cranks up next door, and all I can smell is gas. All I can hear is that loud and annoying whine, as a landscaping crew completes a spring cleanup or tidies up after mowing the grass. 

Gas-powered leaf blowers are one of my pet peeves. They are hazardous, not only due to their emissions but also because of the damagingly loud noise they produce, which can contribute to permanent hearing loss in both operators and those nearby. Leaf blower noise at 50 feet ranges from 70 to 75 decibels. (For comparison, a washing machine is at 75 decibels.) The operator is exposed to levels as high as 95 to 115 decibels (115 decibels being in the same range as a chainsaw).

As far as emissions go, consider this: A 2011 study found that a two-stroke commercial leaf blower produces as many hydrocarbon emissions in 30 minutes as an F-150 pickup truck driving 3,887 miles! 

Thankfully, a movement is growing to ban or restrict the use of gas blowers. In March, Washington, DC announced a phase-out of these destructive and obsolete tools — obsolete because there are battery-powered alternatives that are quieter and dramatically less polluting. Other cities that have introduced bans or restrictions include Los Angeles, Houston, Tampa and Toronto. 

Sadly, as far as I could determine, not a single town or municipality in Pennsylvania has instituted a ban or restriction. In fact, Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney recently announced the Mechanical Street Sweeping Pilot Program, targeting specific high-litter neighborhoods. Along with sweeper trucks, backpack blowers will be used. The cost is estimated to be $2.3 million per year.

As Meenal Raval, Co-op member and environmental activist, said about this initiative, “Instead of sweeper trucks and leaf blowers, why not hire 50 people to sweep the neighborhoods? It’d be quieter, we wouldn’t be using fossil fuels, we wouldn’t be blowing debris back into the air we breathe, and... oh yeah, we’d employ 50 people. Let’s invest in people, not diesel- and gas-powered equipment.”

I agree with Meenal. It’s time to educate and work on restricting or banning gas-powered blowers in our state.