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Guest blog post: The dangers of gas-powered leaf blowers

[Note: The following is a guest blog post. Let us know in the comments or via email what you think Seattle City Council ought to do about the issues Maddy raises here: mike.obrien@seattle.gov.]

Maddy B, guest bloggerHi, my name is Maddy and I have recently graduated from my senior year of high school. After reaching out to Councilmember O’Brien about the need to regulate the use of gas-powered leaf blowers, he invited me to write this guest blog post to help educate his constituents on what I have learned and what I see as the dangers of gas-powered leaf blowers.

I am really worried about the repercussions of leaf blower use. Thankfully, a study on leaf blower use and its consequences, commissioned by the Seattle City Council, is scheduled to come out in September 2014. I am pleased that the Seattle City Council is taking the risks of leaf blowers seriously and I am hopeful that this study, requested by Councilmember Tom Rasmussen, will get more than a hearing and that it will lead to actual change.

This earth is our home, our bodies are our home. While innocuous and seemingly unharmful, gasoline-powered leaf blowers cause harm to both. Whenever we use these leaf blowers, we trade health for momentary expediency. As leaf blowers push leaves from one place to another, they also spin “dust particles, including herbicides, pesticides, and other contaminants up from the ground into the air” we breathe as reported by the Santa Monica Office of Sustainability and the Environment. However, despite the unsettling idea of breathing in whatever may have been on the ground, the emission of particulate matter from leaf blowers is even more disturbing.

Particulate matter is one of the most harmful pollutants according to the California Environmental Protection Agency. It is so small that it can lodge in the deepest parts of our lungs where our bodies can’t get rid of it. Particulate matter can worsen asthma, bronchitis and other lung diseases and decreases the body’s ability to fight off infection. Recent studies even suggest that exposure to particulate matter can lead to premature death for the elderly.

The irritating noise produced by gasoline-powered leaf blowers is actually, in and of itself, a health hazard for children. Stephen A. Stansfeld and Mark P. Matheson report that adult bodies have developed strategies to cope with extensive, irritating noise but that this ability is not fully developed in children. Although extensive noise can “impair performance and increase aggression” in adults, children’s reading comprehension and long term memory can be negatively affected as well.

And it gets worse. The California EPA records that many gasoline-powered leaf blowers operate on two-stroke engines which are designed in such a way that up to 30 percent of the fuel can be lost unused, as exhaust. The main pollutants of such exhaust include hydrocarbons, which combine with nitrogen oxide to form ozone, and carbon monoxide, a toxic gas that can kill. The California EPA also reports that gasoline powered leaf-blowers emit benzene, acetaldehyde and formaldehyde, a carcinogen which can cause cancer. As the American Lung Association states, “two-stroke engines like lawnmowers and leaf or snow blowers often have no pollution control devices. They can pollute the air even more than cars” which have catalytic converters to convert exhaust into less harmful compounds. This important feature, however, is lacking in a lot of lawn equipment. A study done by the car researchers at Edmunds.com found that two-stroke leaf blowers actually pollute 23 times more carbon monoxide and almost 300 times more non-methane hydrocarbons than a 2011 Ford Raptor. The study concludes that 30 minutes of yard work with this leaf blower would pollute the same amount of hydrocarbons as the 3,900 mile drive from Texas to Alaska in the Raptor.

I am worried by all this evidence. I am worried that we are trading a healthy future for speed. I am dismayed by the damage we are doing to our own bodies, yes, but also for the damage we unknowingly do to others.

About 100 cities have placed restrictions or banned all leaf blower use. It is time for Seattle to follow—for ourselves, our children and the environment. The Seattle Municipal Code on noise control states that “It is the express intent of the City Council to control the level of noise in a manner which promotes commerce; the use, value and enjoyment of property; sleep and repose; and the quality of the environment.” It is time for the City Council to uphold the Municipal Code and ban gasoline-powered leaf blowers.

As much as I hope that the recent look into leaf blower use in Seattle will create change within the law, Councilmember Mike O’Brien told me in a recent meeting that he pays the most attention to issues which have strong community support for them. Therefore, it is time to start organizing. I really do believe that together, we could follow many other cities and ban gas-powered leaf blowers. I have a petition at http://petitions.moveon.org/sign/ban-gas-powered-leaf. The goal is 1,000 signatures by the time the study comes out in September. If you are interested in helping organize or participate in a letter campaign, contact me at banblowersseattle@gmail.com. Please help me. This is very important.

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