It’s that time of year again. The drone of leaf blowers is driving me crazy. When I checked into the problem of noise pollution emanating from these tools, I found out I had a lot more to worry about than my ears. These blowers — and all gas driven landscaping tools — are creating a mix of toxic fumes and particulate matter that are adding to local smog and greenhouse emissions.
Response to this concern is active and building. With encouragement from Bonnie Sager and the citizens’ group, Huntington CALM in Huntington, New York, Councilwoman Susan Berland has taken a leadership role in addressing the issue head on. Her public service announcement features a presentation by Jamie L. Banks, Executive Director of Quiet Communities and Dan Mabe, the founder of American Green Zone Alliance (AGZA). They are working to educate the public about the importance of transitioning the grounds-keeping sector away from the use of fossil fuel tools to a “quieter, zero-emissions electric operations.”
Banks is organizing at a community grassroots level. She wrote me by e-mail about the “localized concentrations of harmful pollutants linked to asthma, heart disease, cancer and other serious disorders” that are a result of gas and garden engines. Of particular concern to Banks is the impact on children, who are “especially vulnerable to negative health consequences from these types of noise and pollution.” She underscored, “These machines are allowed to operate regularly around schools, playgrounds, and parks. Let’s connect the dots and protect our children’s health. We have practical and healthy alternatives. The problems are entirely preventable.”
The Communications Director of AGZA, Luke Massman-Johnson, is also motivated by children’s health and the outlook for the planet. He broke down the technical side of the problem for me, with urgency and detail. “I’m obsessed,” he told me. The father of two youngsters, he related, “When they were toddlers, I had an epiphany that their future was in danger. I knew I had to do something.”
Massman-Johnson determined that in order to have an impact globally, he had to also focus on the local level. He is now applying his environmental expertise to concrete solutions, with an eye to creating a green collar economy. He sees the function of AGZA as “…giving a gift to the future. We know we have to change. I want to be a part of helping both the economy and sustainability.”
“One hour of mowing with gas creates as much smog-forming pollution as driving a car between 200 and 640 miles,” Massman-Johnson illuminated.
It’s a vivid image. Here are the rest of the stats:
- 1.2 billion gallons of gas are burned in lawn and garden equipment in the United States annually.
- The ongoing fueling and maintenance necessary with gas lawn machines results in huge amounts of extra waste in our landfills.
- Harsh chemical solvents are used to degrease and clean carburetors, spark plugs, fuel and air filters, and decks of gas-powered machines. These elements end up evaporating into the air, poured into the soil, or washed down a drain,
- Noise pollution poses critical physical and psychological health effects including tinnitus & hearing loss, stress, hypertension, headaches, and productivity loss.
- Toxic gas & oil, carcinogenic emissions, noxious exhaust, and unsafe noise levels make gas-powered lawn care a very hazardous job — particularly for unprotected lawn crews working full-time at the source of emissions and noise. Workers may have few options and little agency.
- Ground level ozone (formed by VOCs and NOx in the presence of sunlight) and fine particulate matter cause and contribute to early death, stroke, heart attack, congestive heart failure, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and cancer.
- Gas emissions degrades air, soil & water. It affects neighborhood quality of life and contributes to climate change
Changing to electric grounds maintenance equipment is an obvious solution. They are 40 to 70 percent quieter than gas machines. Electric has 90 percent efficiency. Eliminating use of fossil fuels machinery lowers the overall lawn care carbon footprint.
Electric blowers, which use rechargeable lithium batteries, are a doable and affordable solution for both individuals and companies caring for large land plots. Manufacturers have created entire suites of tools with interchangeable batteries. In California, a gas to electric swap-out of tools has been implemented. By eighteen months, electric tools clearly yield a savings.
This fall, South Pasadena was certified by AGZA as The Nation’s First AGZA Green Zone City. Forty-one municipal acres were serviced with zero-emission electric equipment, eliminating thirty-one tons of pollutants annually.
Those who have alerted the public to the dangers from gas driven leaf blowers include The American Lung Association, the Medical Society of the State of New York, former U.S Surgeon General Dr. Luther Terry, and pediatricians affiliated with the Mt. Sinai Children’s Environmental Health Center.
Let’s stop blasting allergens, toxins, pollutants and pathogens into the air at hurricane-force speeds by keeping gas leaf blowers out of our kids faces.