How to Move Away from Gas-Powered Leaf Blowers in Your Neighborhood

September 2022

By Stephanie Schaich Bricken, member of the Environmental Commission of Spring Lake, NJ, and CEO and Founder of Julia and Josephine, LLC

 

The warm weather months are often spent enjoying porches, patios, and yard games. Bees and birds pollinate and insects nest in the vegetation. Sadly, all are often disturbed by the toxic smell, hurricane-force winds, and deafening sound of gas-powered leaf blowers. As the world moves toward renewable energy, why have these offenders slipped through the cracks?

“One study found that a two-stroke, gas-powered leaf blower emitted 23 times the amount of carbon monoxide, and nearly 300 times the amount of non-methane hydrocarbons as a pickup truck.”1 CBS News 2 reported that just 1 hour of use of a gas-powered leaf blower emits pollution equal to that of 17 cars. “The World Health Organization recommends an outdoor noise level less than 55 decibels. Gas leaf blowers produce noise levels of 70-75 decibels at 50 feet.”2 How are they impacting the workers at close contact? The Journal of Environmental and Toxicology Studies report stated that “Regular exposure to loud and/or persistent noise contributes to hearing impairment, hypertension, ischemic heart disease, annoyance, sleep disturbance, cognitive impairment, and diminished school performance [15-17]. Noise over 60 decibels increases the risk of cardiovascular disease [15]. Low-frequency noise is a special health concern because it may “increase adverse effects considerably”.3 Reports presented by Citizens for a Quieter Sacramento have identified the carcinogenic, asthma-inducing, and other disease-causing elements in the engine emissions and the clouds of fine particulates the blowers produce.4

The gas-leaf blower uses an antiquated two-stroke engine, which mixes gasoline and oil, emitting about one-third of that mixture unburned. Cars use four-stroke engines with emissions about 98% lower than that of the two-stroke engine.5

Some worry banning these machines would devastate the lawn maintenance industry. However, some companies prefer not to use them. Eliminating the blower step can save the landscaper time and money, with no fuel costs or machine maintenance.

There are solutions to eliminating the hazards of these machines. Local governments can create ordinances to ban their use completely, year-round, as seen in Maplewood, New Jersey, effective January 1, 2023; or enforce a ban during certain months when clean-up is lighter. The effort in Maplewood was spearheaded by Councilwoman Nancy Adams, who is an advocate and educator willing to work with any town in the state of New Jersey that is interested in working toward regulation of these machines.

Alternatively, homeowners can ask their landscaper to refrain from using these machines during the summer months when only grass clippings and lighter clean-up exists, or to switch to battery or electric-power leaf blowers. Discontinuing the use of gas-powered blowers is one of the more doable ways of making a big impact toward preserving our environment and health.

If passing an ordinance to ban the use of gas-powered leaf blowers is not currently feasible in your town, take note of how the Environmental Commission, working with the Mayor and Borough Council of Spring Lake, New Jersey promoted efforts to reduce their use. The Commission and Council believe that education is essential to keeping homeowners informed and encouraging individual action.

In the summer of 2021, the Spring Lake Environmental Commission recommended an initiative, “Quiet July and August”, to reduce the use of gas-powered leaf blowers in an effort to decrease the harmful effects on human health and the environment. The Borough mailed a letter to each homeowner through their water bill, outlining the harmful effects backed by cited articles. The Borough then sent out a follow-up survey in December of 2021 to each homeowner, exploring participation and interest in the initiative. The survey included two questions, the first asking if the homeowner participated in the initiative and the second asking which the homeowner preferred…” a voluntary initiative, a mandatory suspension during the summer months by ordinance, or no need for an initiative.”

About twenty percent of the surveys were either mailed back to the Borough office or answered electronically via the Borough website, a high rate of return. The results showed each option represented one-third of the vote. Based on the results, the Council and Environmental Commission felt that there existed considerable support in the Borough to continue efforts to reduce the use of gas-powered leaf blowers.

This information prompted the Environmental Commission and Council to send out an E-newsletter to residents in May of 2022, asking for participation in a longer initiative for the Summer of 2022, encouraging residents to participate in “A Quiet June, July, and August”. Included in the newsletter was a general educational flyer outlining safety tips for use of these machines, neighborly actions, and alternatives to gas-powered leaf blowers. With every educational initiative, more residents became informed, and participation increased, taking another step toward a cleaner environment and better health for residents. No form of action is too small or ineffective.

Want to see how this approach might work in your town? Please reach out and contact me for more information on the process of educating, reducing the use, or creating new regulation around gas-powered leaf blowers. Your neighborhood deserves a quiet summer too!

  1. Johnson, J.G., et.al (2018, July 20). Full Transcript of July 2, 2018 Hearing, Committee of the Whole, on Leaf Blower Legislation, Bill 22-234. Quiet Clean D.C. Retrieved from: http://www.quietcleandc.com/testimony
  2. Alker, H. and O’Callaghan, K., (2016). MMS Resolution. Massachusetts Medical Society House of Delegates. Retrieved from:
    https://quietcommunities.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/MMS-Resolution_CEOH-report.pdf
  3. Pollock, C., Sparks, G., Banks, J.L., (2018, December 4). Lawn and Garden Equipment Sound: A Comparison of Gas and Battery Powered Leaf Blowers. Journal of Environmental and Toxicological Studies. Vol. 3(1). Retrieved from:
    https://www.sciforschenonline.org/journals/environmental-toxicological-studies/article-data/JETS-2-118/JETS-2-118.pdf
  4. n.a. Leaf Blower Facts. Citizens for a Quieter Sacramento. Retrieved from: https://www.nonoise.org/quietnet/cqs/leafblow.htm
  5. Star Ledger Editorial Board, (2021, May 19). Grab a rake. Gas-powered leaf blowers are a public menace. NJ.com. Retrieved from: https://www.nj.com/opinion/2021/05/grab-a-rake-leaf-blowers-are-a-public-health-menace-editorial.html

 


 

Stephanie Schaich Bricken is CEO and Founder of Julia and Josephine, LLC and Seraphim Beverages, LLC. Combining her creative skills as a former New York Fashion Designer and a Master’s Degree in Integrative Health, she brings to life wellness products under these two brands. Stephanie is a member of the Environmental Commission of Spring Lake, NJ, active in organizing town forums to help educate residents on environmental concerns and practices. For more information on the process of educating, reducing the use, or creating new regulation around gas-powered leaf blowers, feel free to contact Stephanie Bricken at ssbricken@gmail.com.