Dear EarthTalk: When will those gasoline driven leaf blowers that gardeners use be outlawed? The noise and toxic fumes they emit can’t be good for us.
– Judy, via email
Those leaf blowers sure can be annoying, just for the noise alone. According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, using a commercial-grade gas-powered leaf blower for just two hours can cause hearing damage, and repeated use is a sure recipe for permanent hearing loss. And when you factor in the air quality nuisance from the inefficient gas motors on the models commonly used by maintenance workers and landscapers everywhere, it gets personal as it becomes a serious health issue.
California’s statewide Environmental Protection Agency (CalEPA) reports that the best-selling commercial leaf blowers emit as much smog-forming pollution after just one hour of use as driving a 2016 Toyota Camry about 1,100 miles. CalEPA adds that landscape workers running a leaf blower are exposed to 10 times more ultra-fine particles—invisible to the naked eye but easily lodged into the lining of your lungs—than someone standing next to a busy road.
And these aren’t isolated, hyper-localized problems, as experts warn that within a couple of years, smog-creating emissions from leaf blowers, lawn mowers and other small gas-powered “off-road” motors will eclipse smog emissions from cars and trucks on the American road.
But rest assured, there are some rumblings of change. Upwards of 170 American cities in 31 states (as well as five cities in three Canadian provinces) have some kind of leaf blower restrictions already in place. LeafBlowerNoise.com maintains a list of cities across North America and beyond that have some kind of restrictions on the books.
And of course, there are cleaner, quieter ways to clear yard debris and leaf litter. Getting out the rake and broom is a sure-fire way to stay on your neighbors’ good side by avoiding all that pollution and noise. And it’s a great way to get some productive exercise on a fall day. Even better, get the kids off the couch and away from the screens to lend a hand.
Another alternative is to use an electric lawn vacuum which sucks up leaf litter and other yard debris (instead of blowing it around) with a lot less noise and without causing smog. That said, an electric leaf blower—either battery-powered or corded to an outlet—can get the job done with less noise and no spewing (albeit with less oomph).
Given recent outcries about leaf blowers, manufacturers have responded with new models that address many consumer—and neighbor—concerns. For example, Echo’s PB-250 was designed from the ground up to eliminate annoying noise frequencies and operate more efficiently while maintaining the flexibility of gasoline as a fuel. Husqvarna, Stihl, Black & Decker and TORO also have newer models which comply with most of the recently adopted leaf blower ordinances around the country. Check out the city of Burlingame, California’s PDF listing all models of leaf blowers that max out at 65 decibels in volume for quieter (and in many cases less polluting) models.