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Leaf Blowers of the Damned

Observations from the Edge
Robert T. Nanninga
Coast News
March 7, 2001


Recently my morning calm was shattered by a soldier of sloth. Armed with a leaf blower, this maintenance mercenary decided 8 AM was the perfect time to crank up the pollution. It was the noise that first drew my attention, talk about audio assault. To make matters worse, the offending appliance was gas powered. Insult and injury in the name of convenience, gotta love it.

Hired by a maintenance company, that was hired by a management company, which was hired by an absentee landlord, this guy was just doing his job, unaware of the environmental impact his choice of tools was creating. Figuring his English was as good as my Spanish, I chose not to educate him with a sermon on global warming. Mine was an issue best addressed to those with regulating powers.

I figure if city hall can ban skateboards in certain areas, and livestock in others, it should be simple to silence leaf blowers in Encinitas and other coastal cities. To ban or not to ban was now the question. I wondered if residents of other municipalities had been successful in protecting their right to quiet. I also wondered if I was the only person obsessing about leaf blowers. Reality checks are always good now and then.

As if the universe was lining up for my own amusement, I soon discovered that at least 20 California municipalities have put in place ordinances that make the use of leaf blowers illegal. Los Angeles, Hermosa Beach, Santa Monica, Malibu, Beverly Hills, and Santa Barbara prohibit the use of leaf blowers for one simple reason: they are hazardous to the health of residents.

A gasoline-powered leaf blower generates as much tailpipe emissions in one hour as an automobile does over 350 miles. Leaf blowers also spread dust, dirt, animal droppings, herbicides pesticides and other dangerous chemicals into the immediate living environment. Muzzle velocity of blowers reach 150 miles per hour or more—and blow away topsoil and ground cover which, when left in place, helps build soil and retain moisture.

According to a report produced by the Air Resources Board of the California Environmental Protection Agency, potential health and environmental impacts of Leaf blowers are such that those operating the devices should wear eye protection, dust masks, and ear plugs. The report also recognizes exposure to carbon monoxide as a potential problem that warrants more study. Health effects from hazards identified as being generated by leaf blowers ranging from mild to serious, but the appearance of those effects depends on exposures: the dose, or how much of the hazard is received by a person, and the exposure time.

By their very nature of garden appliances represent a myriad of weaknesses in the human spirit. Arrogance allows for them to invade neighborhoods with noise and air pollution. Ignorance prevents them from understanding that fallen leaves make for future soil. All of which feed the vanity that promotes perfectly sterile, manicured landscapes that conform with the current fashion. Weed whackers, hedgers, trimmers, and lawn mowers are designed to make unnecessary jobs easier.

It blows my mind to think George W. Bush is going to drill beneath the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, so that this man can give the next-door neighbor's lawn a blow job. It's obscene we allow petroleum products to be wasted in such a way. If there really was an energy crisis such mindless uses would be unthinkable. A rake, as crude as it may seem, accomplishes the same task, with little noise, and less pollution.

In the grand scheme of things leaf blowers are of no consequence. Considering the amount of Greenhouse gases that are pumped into the atmosphere through other sources leaf blowers should be the least of our worries. That is of course until one them is rudely let loose on the neighborhood, and you can't hear yourself think. Nature evolved without the guidance of Black And Decker and now the modern suburbanite can't exist without them. Yes ladies and gentlemen ours is a diminished world.

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