SUSTAINABLE LANDSCAPING

AN Ill WIND

By Sierra Club member Dr. Bonnie Sager, Co-founder Huntington CALM

Huntingtoncalm@gmail.com. Published in Vol. 35, No. 2, Summer 2015 Newsletter.

You can hear them a mile away.

They are relentless and go from morning till night, seven days a week.

As annoying as the noise can be, Gas Leaf Blowers also cause many other health and environmental problems.


The land maintenance business has grown dramatically over the past 30 years. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of landscapers grew 42% between 2002 and 2012 to 1.1 million workers and continues to grow at a steady pace. Convoys of landscape trucks and trailers loaded with industrial-sized gas-powered mowers, blowers, trimmers, and edgers have become a common sight in our neighborhoods.


Gas leaf blowers (GLBs) are the worst environmental and health offender in the arsenal of lawn equipment. A GLB operates at speeds of up to 270 mph (higher than any hurricane); in one hour, one GLB kicks up approximately 5 pounds of mold, fungal spores, insect eggs, fertilizer, heavy metals and rodent feces; it can take hours to days to settle, depending on the weather. They pollute the environment and harm our health in several ways.

ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT


Each year, according the US government, lawn and garden machines consume close to 2 billion gallons of gasoline and generate many billions of pounds of toxic and carcinogenic air pollutants. The inefficient 2-stroke engine of the GLB produces more pollution than any other lawn equipment. Up to 30% of their gas goes directly, unburnt, into the atmosphere. In the summer, the volatile organic compounds from raw gasoline combine with sunlight and NOx to form ground level ozone, which harms sensitive vegetation.


One hour of GLB operation is the equivalent of 40 cars idling for one hour. One GLB operating for 30 minutes puts out more emissions than an auto traveling 2,000 miles. These blowers usually travel in packs, so multiply these numbers by 2-3. And of course, the gasoline that does combust produces the greenhouse gas CO2, adding to global climate change.

In addition to air pollution, the maintenance of GLBs puts an untold amount of toxic chemicals and solid waste into our landfills, soil, and water. Examples include detergents, degreasers, lubricants, spark plugs, hoses, and filters.


According to Cornell Co-Operative Extension, every time a GLB is filled with gasoline, approximately 2 ounces spill. That adds up to 17 million gallons of gas spilled each year. from filling gas powered lawn equipment, over 50% more than the amount spilled by the Exxon Valdez (Source: Steinberg T. American Green: The Obsessive Quest for the Perfect Lawn, 2006). This spillage ends up in our air, soil and water supply.

ECOSYSTEM IMPACT


Noise, toxic fumes, high speed air-jets, and hot air from GLBs have a damaging impact on our ecosystems. Wildlife may be injured or driven away from their habitats. Nests and habitats may be disrupted or destroyed. Seeds, pollen, and sap vital for propagation of plants and animals may be desiccated. Branch breakage, leaf loss, and root exposure resulting from the high velocity air-jets only inches away can injure or kill plants. Loss or compaction of topsoil and mulch reduces protection and nourishment for plants, animals, and insects. Air-jets can spread disease-causing pathogens and invasive seeds. Natural ground cover protects, nourishes, and provides moisture to plants and animals, including important pollinators. Butterflies and insects need leaves for their habitats. Even the precious honeybee is put in harm's way.

AIR POLLUTION AND HEALTH


Leaf blowers and other gas-powered lawn and garden equipment emit millions of tons of toxic, carcinogenic air pollution each year.


The American Lung Association, Children’s Environmental Health Center, and the US Environmental Protection Agency warn explicitly against gas-powered lawn equipment.


GLB pollution consists of: 1) ozone-forming chemicals and 2) fine particulate matter. Ozone and particle pollution threaten the health of millions of Americans, according the American Lung Association. There is broad agreement amongst leading medical organizations that even short term exposure to these types of pollution can cause or contribute to cancer, early death, heart attack, strokes, congestive heart failure, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and other seri-linking fine particulate pollution exposure to autism in children.

NOISE AND HEALTH


At point of use, gas-powered leaf blower noise levels can exceed 100 decibels (dB). Those levels far exceed safe levels established by the World Health Organization, US Environmental Protection Agency, and Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Noise at these levels can affect our physical and mental health, and our ability to think and function. Potential health effects range from annoyance and sleep disruption to ischemic heart disease, high blood pressure, and hearing loss.


Noise degrades our quality of life. Where has the peaceful use and enjoyment of our homes and properties gone? It is difficult to enjoy outdoors activities like walking, jogging, biking and gardening. We are driven into our homes to try to escape the incessant whine of the GLBs.

ALTERNATIVES


Today we have commercial grade Lithium Ion battery blowers. They are not perfect, but are a much better alternative. They do not pollute, do not cause ground level ozone, eliminate solid waste byproducts and are much quieter. Hand held equipment may be low tech, but it gets the job done too. In the summer there are few if any leaves -- so why use a GLB to blast some grass clippings and dirt? The risks far outweigh the benefits.
We urge you to speak to your local politicians and tell them you want a restriction on GLB use during summer months. Tell your landscaper NOT to use a GLB on your property when there are no leaves. You are the consumer and have every right to request this. Over 400 municipalities across the US have restricted or banned GLBs. Landscapers haven’t suffered economic hardships, prices have not increased, properties still look neat and tidy and everybody has cleaner air and a healthier environment.

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The Sierra Club, a non-profit organization, is the nation’s longest standing volunteer driven environmental organization. Its purpose is to ‘explore, enjoy and protect the planet’. It does this by educating the public and influencing public policy decisions — legislative, legal, and electoral.


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