Tightening the Screws (Ever so Slightly) on Gas Leaf Blowers
By Don Payne
[This is a longer version of an article printed in the L.I. Sierra Club News newsletter, Fall 2022 edition.]
Imagine a Midsummer’s Daydream
Kids playing outside. Napping outside! Enjoying the smell of flowers. Being able to open the windows, save on electricity for A/C, and hear the birds and the wind. Being able to think.
Now, stick your head outside on any summer day and wake to the nightmare.
What do you hear? Most likely, outdoor power tools: chain saws, chippers, lawn mowers, edgers, hedge trimmers, weed whackers, and especially … gas leaf blowers (GLBs), which emit a high-pitched whine that can be heard from blocks away. “Noise does a body bad. Excessive noise has been linked to hearing loss, tinnitus, sleep deprivation, cardiovascular disturbances, mental health impairment, impaired task performance, aggressive behavior, and chronic fatigue.” (11)
What is floating in the air? Particulates; carbon monoxide; unburnt hydrocarbons from fuel and oil, including carcinogenic benzene and toxic formaldehyde; and other chemicals that are linked to cancer, heart disease and asthma, all emitted by … the two-cycle engine in GLBs. Molds, fungi, and animal feces kicked up by … GLBs. (9).
A GLB even harms the landscaping that one is trying to beautify! It blows away the thin layer of debris and leaves. Earthworms and beneficial microbes need that debris to nourish the soil; and some pollinating insects need it for shelter in winter. GLBs also blow away topsoil, damage exposed roots and compact the soil so it can’t absorb water and air as well (8).
In October 2021, the Huntington Town Board voted to prohibit commercial use of GLBs on residential property on Saturdays between Memorial Day and Labor Day (1, 2). So the current rules are (5):
GLBs are not allowed:
Weekdays before 8 a.m. or after 6 p.m.
Sundays or holidays
Saturdays before 9 a.m. or after 5:00 p.m.
Any time Saturdays between Memorial Day and Labor Day
However, there are exceptions: GLBs may be used on weekends or holidays 9:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m. by
commercial landscapers at some non-residential sites, including cemeteries, golf courses, government properties, and public school-owned properties, or in commercial and industrial zones. (Although in a seeming contradiction, the law prohibits “[…] any noise disturbance on any street adjacent to any [...] institution of learning […] while […] in use [ …], which unreasonably interferes with the workings of such institution”. (5))
In addition, use per day per property is limited to:
weekdays: 2 hours
weekends & holidays: 1 hour
This also has exceptions: time limits are waived during Spring and Fall “cleanup” periods, March 15 - April 30 and November 1 - December 20.
In other Long Island communities
The Town of North Hempstead prohibits “the operation of any motorized leaf blower, lawn mower, hedge, lawn or tree trimmer, mulcher or similar device on a weekday prior to 8:00 a.m. or after 7:00 p.m. or on a Saturday, Sunday or legal holiday prior to 10:00 a.m. or after 5:00 p.m.” (13)
The Town of Oyster Bay prohibits motorized leaf blowers before 8:00 a.m. or after 7:00 p.m. weekdays, and before 9:00 a.m. or after 5:00 p.m. weekends and holidays. (15)
The Village of Southampton bans GLBs May 20 through September 20. Other times of the year, they are allowed on weekdays 8:00 a.m. - 6:00 p.m., Saturdays 8:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m. Saturdays, and not at all on Sundays or holidays. In addition, larger “walk-behind” GLBs and more than two regular GLBs are not allowed unless the property is greater than 1/2 acre. (18)
How to Report Violations
In the Town of Huntington
Given 70,000 households and only two members of the Code Enforcement Bureau (6), you’ll need to report violations yourself:
Go to source of sound; bring a camera
Identify whether user is owner or professional
Apply limits on dates, days, times, users and duration
Report violation to Code Enforcement at huntingtonny.gov/public-safety or 631-351-3167. Include date, time and address of violation, and photo or video. If a commercial landscaper, include company name and license plate. (3, 12)
But be aware: some residents complain that the Town does not enforce the code (19).
In the Town of North Hempstead
Call 311 if within the Town, or (516) 869-6311 if outside the Town, Monday - Friday (except holidays) 9-4:45.
Or write to Hempstead Division of Code Enforcement, 220 Plandome Rd., Manhasset, NY 11030. (14)
In the Town of Oyster Bay
Call Code Enforcement Bureau at 516-624-6200 ext. 4, business days 9-4:30.
Or, download a PDF form, print it, fill it out; include proof of your identity, “either a copy of your driver’s license, utility bill, or have your signature notarized before you send the form”. Mail to 74 Audrey Avenue, Oyster Bay, NY 11771; or fax to (516) 624-6240. (16)
In the Village of Southampton
“Noise complaints must be addressed while the violation is occurring. Complaints should be called in to the Southampton Town Police Department at 631-728-3400. Police officers can handle noise complaints. If the complaint is made while Code Enforcement is working, they may respond. In many instances the offending source of noise will be determined and the individual in charge will be asked to remedy the problem.
“If remediation is not successful, the responding officer will need to take a written statement from the person complaining. A decision by the New York State Supreme Court has ruled that three separate households must be disturbed by the noise. Before a summons can be issued, there must be at least three people from different households willing to sign affidavits. Most cases do not go to trial, but if a trial is requested the complainants must be willing to testify at the time of the trial.” (17)
Restrict GLBs in other Towns on Long Island. Thirty-three other communities in the US, including eight in NY, have banned GLBs; 21 of them ban all leaf blowers. Twenty-six other communities restrict their hours, including the four mentioned in this article (10). Articles about the many reasons for restricting GLBs and some successful campaigns are aggregated at Huntington CALM (4).
Make the letter of the Huntington Town code match its stated “intent to minimize to the fullest extent possible unreasonably loud and disturbing noises that are prolonged, unusual, or unnatural in their time, place, and operation. Unreasonable noise is detrimental to the life, health, safety and welfare of Town residents; interferes with the quiet use and enjoyment of land; and disturbs the peace, comfort, and good order of neighboring areas and the community-at-large.” (5) After all, the Town code defines a noise disturbance as “Any noise, which endangers or injures the safety or health of humans or animals, or annoys or disturbs a reasonable person of normal sensitivities, or endangers or injures personal or real property.” (The Town of North Hempstead’s code is similar: “the making and creation of unreasonably loud, disturbing or unusual noises affect and are a detriment to the peace, welfare, safety, convenience, and health of the residents of the Town, and it is the policy of the Town to prevent such noises.” (13))
Tighten restrictions. Shorten the allowed dates, days and hours; shorten allowed duration to, say, 30 minutes per acre per week; limit decibels as other Towns do.
Enforce by drone and offer a bounty for reporters.
Tax the oil needed for two-cycle engines, the noisiest and dirtiest.
Eliminate the exemption for schools, to protect children.
Support the proposed statewide phase-out of all gas-powered lawn-care equipment, S.7462. (7)
How to report a noise violation in Huntington: huntingtonny.gov/news/?FeedID=3547
Huntington CALM (Clean Alternative Landscaping Methods): Breaking News! (compilation of many articles on GLBs)
Huntington Town code, chapter 141, Noise: (https://ecode360.com/28192324); gas leaf blowers covered in paragraph (N)
Huntington Code Enforcement Bureau: https://www.huntingtonny.gov/code-enforcement
Proposed NYS ban on gas-powered yard equipment: Harckham Introduces Zero Emission Lawn and Landscape Equipment Legislation | NY State Senate
“How Leaf Blowers Destroy Your Topsoil!”, August 20, 2013, SoilSave.com, https://soilsalive.com/how-leaf-blowers-destroy-your-topsoil
Noise & Health - Noise Free America: A Coalition to Promote Quiet; Documents the many harms to physical and mental health to humans and animals from excessive noise.
North Hempstead Town code, chapter 38, section 3, paragraph 13, Leaf Blowers: https://ecode360.com/9297124
Town of North Hempstead, Division of Code Enforcement: https://www.northhempsteadny.gov/content/16253/16261/16273/16628.aspx
Town of Oyster Bay Town code, chapter 156, section 4, paragraph 18, Leaf Blowers: https://ecode360.com/26876168
Town of Oyster Bay Code Compliance Bureau: https://oysterbaytown.com/codeenforcement/
Village of Southampton FAQs, Reporting a noise disturbance: https://www.southamptontownny.gov/faq.aspx?TID=15
Village of Southampton Code > Noise > Leaf Blowers: https://ecode360.com/38575426