Home Time to ban this health threat: Leaf blowers

Time to ban this health threat: Leaf blowers


Column by Shepherd Bliss
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‘‘Avoid using leaf blowers and other dust-producing equipment to cut down particulate matter,” recommends the California Air Resources Board. Why?

Simply put, leaf blowers kill. “Approximately 65,000 premature deaths from cardiopulmonary causes may be attributable to particulate air pollution each year,” according to the Natural Resources Defense Council. That’s only people. Leaf blowers also kill bees, butterflies, insects, plants and wildlife. They are hazardous to human health and to the ground itself.

Also known as debris blowers, these industrial machines explode and then fire up at more than 100 mph hour and kick up chemicals, fungi, spores, animal fecal matter, molds, diesel soot, allergens and other toxic substances. They combine to compose deadly particulate matter.

Leaves, on the other hand, are one of nature’s miracles. They tie it all together. They rise from the ground, reach to the sky and bring life to the Earth. Leaves do many good things — manufacture food for trees and other plants, use the sun’s energy to transform carbon dioxide into carbohydrates and decompose water into oxygen and hydrogen. The resulting complex compound, glucose is the universal and basic energy source for all living organisms.

Leaves fall to the ground and remain there, literally digging in. They beckon one of their partners — rain — and soften drops when they hit the ground protected by a carpet of decaying leaves, which retains the water. Even when brown and dead, their transformative work continues—first as mulch, then as compost, and eventually integrating into the topsoil.

This is why, though it is difficult to determine exact figures, around 400 U.S. and 100 California municipalities have already banned leaf blowers. Carmel banned them in l975. Other cities restricting them include Los Angeles, Sacramento, Palo Alto, Mill Valley and Tiburon. So millions of humans are already protected. But no Sonoma County city bans them, yet.

In November, Guy Wilson, now Sebastopol’s vice mayor, responded to complaints by residents and proposed a ban. Residents rose to support it at that time and at subsequent December and January meetings. A gas-powered leaf blower has a two-stroke engine, which is far more polluting than a car. Fossil fuels release carbon dioxide and emit greenhouse gases.

Last year tied 2006 as the second hottest year on record. Global climate’s long-term trend will literally burn us up. Leaf blowers contribute to global warming, whereas fallen leaves have a cooling impact.

Fortunately, if one wants to move leaves to the side, it can usually be done easily by brooms and rakes, which improve rather than worsen the users’ health.

Leaf blowers emit a loud, shrill, shrieking sound that is one of the worst noise polluters. For someone like myself, who has noise trauma from being raised in a military family and having served in the army — as well as asthma — leaf blowers are a genuine threat.

The documented harm of leaf blowers includes, but is not limited to, the following: hearing loss, greater risk of heart attacks, depressed immunity, increased adrenaline, change of heart beat, elevated blood pressure and cholesterol levels, social discord, impaired communication, heightened social conflicts and increased psychological, social and emotional problems. They also include the loss in enjoyment, concentration, creativity, relaxation and productivity by one’s neighbors. The costs of leaf blowers far outnumber any small benefits.

The evidence is in. It’s time to end, or at least minimize, the use of leaf blowers to reduce air pollution and the resulting global warming, as well as decrease noise pollution.


Shepherd Bliss teaches part-time at Sonoma State University and runs an organic farm in Sebastopol, Calif. E-mail him at [email protected].



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