The End Of Leaf Blowers?

Have you ever had to change the route of a pleasant walk because the path ahead was enveloped in a cacophonous cloud of sand, salt, fungal spores, and dried animal feces? Have you ever had to wait in your car, windows up, for a crew to stop blowing a homeowner’s yard debris into the street?  Wouldn’t it be nice to enjoy the balmy days of spring and the crisp, clear days of autumn, without the constant high-pitched shriek of a leaf blower armada? And also . . . climate change.

Why have we allowed our most anal retentive neighbors, for whom a single twig in the driveway seems to produce unbearable anxiety, to destroy the peace, quiet, and breathable air we all have a right to enjoy? Well maybe Rhode Islanders have finally had enough.

Here comes State Senator Sam Zurier (D-Prov) with a bill that would eventually make it illegal to use gas-powered leaf blowers in Rhode Island. From the ProJo:

Zurier said that one of his constituents suggested that Rhode Island should follow the lead of California, which last year passed a law that requires gas-powered blowers to be phased out by 2024.

He’s proposing a similar timeline: Senate Bill 2168 would ban all sales of gas-powered leaf blowers after July 2023, and prohibit the use of existing equipment after July 2024. Violations would carry a fine of up to $500.

So far the debate seems to be whether electric models could offer a practical alternative for landscapers. I don’t want to put these people out of business, but often a rake and broom would be the more efficient approach to the job. (Watching these workers the day after a rain, blasting away at an unmovable pile of sodden leaves is crazy-making.)

For more let’s check in with the tree-huggers at the Wall Street Journal, “Leaf blowers are loud, ugly, and dangerous.”

Most leaf blowers use two-stroke engines—lightweight, compact, cheap sources of power for lawn mowers, tree trimmers and snowblowers. The problem with these crude motors is that their intake and exhaust functions occur at the same time, meaning the fuel mixes with oil. A large share of the gasoline is then spewed out unburned, as an aerosol in the exhaust. Such fumes have been found to increase the risk of cancer, heart disease and asthma.

The increase in childhood asthma seems to track the exploding sales of these devices. The leaf blower came into use in the 1970s and according to the PRB: “The total number of children suffering from this chronic disease increased by 75 percent between 1980 and 1994.” Not proof of causation, of course, but more research is needed. But only after we get rid of the horrible machines.

This piece for the New York Times last October gives a nod to Shakespeare who did not coin the term, “First Thing We Do: Let’s Kill all the Leaf Blowers.”

This particular environmental catastrophe is not news. A 2011 study by Edmunds found that a two-stroke gasoline-powered leaf blower spewed out more pollution than a 6,200-pound Ford F-150 SVT Raptor pickup truck. Jason Kavanagh, the engineering editor at Edmunds at the time, noted that “hydrocarbon emissions from a half-hour of yard work with the two-stroke leaf blower are about the same as a 3,900-mile drive from Texas to Alaska in a Raptor.”

The Washington Post has covered the California story (although shame on them for not acknowledging the godmother of the anti-leaf blower movement, Julie Newmar, the Batwoman). And this may affect the future of the Rhode Island legislation.

The California ban may still hit snags. The new legislation, for instance, allows the California Air Resources Board to delay implementation depending on feasibility. Under the federal Clean Air Act, California must also apply to the Environmental Protection Agency for authorization to “enforce its own standards for new nonroad engines and vehicles.” Only after that is granted can other states take similar steps. “California has to get over that hump,” said Richard Reibstein, a lecturer of environmental law and policy at Boston University, as well as an advocate for lower-impact equipment. “Then other states can follow them.”

Let’s stop making ourselves sick and crazy.



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