Tag Archive: gas-powered leaf blowers

Battery-powered leaf blowers: Has their time finally come?

Photo credit: Coolkasun licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

As we have written about many times, gas-powered leaf blowers are the bane of both urban and suburban residents, especially now during the autumn leaf drop season. Previous generations just raked the leaves or let them provide a natural mulch in quiet corners of the yard, but the modern lawn care standard has become “no leaf left behind.”

Rakes are natural, quiet, and provide gentle exercise to the legs, trunk, and upper body. Leaf blowers, even battery-powered ones, aerosolize pet waste, tire waste, spores, and other noxious and toxic substances. And gas-powered leaf blowers are a major source of air pollution.

Despite the hopes of many, though, I don’t think landscape workers and many homeowners will return to using rakes, but three recent observations give me hope that gas-powered leaf blowers will be replaced with battery-powered models.

First, on trips to Home Depot, Lowe’s, and ACE Hardware, there were prominent displays of battery-powered leaf blowers in the desired “end cap” location, along the main aisles of the store.

Second, last Sunday’s Parade magazine had an insert from a well-recognized landscape maintenance tool manufacturer promoting its line of battery-powered equipment, with powerful 40 volt batteries.

Third, and perhaps most importantly, I’ve recently seen a number of landscapers and gardeners using battery-powered leaf blowers.

I’ve spoken to a few professional gardeners and they all tell me the battery-powered leaf blowers are more than powerful enough for them to do their job easily, they don’t have to fuss with gasoline or trying to start the two-stroke engine, and they don’t have a headache or ringing in the ears at the end of the day.

The Atlantic covered Washington, D.C.’s gas-powered leaf blower ban. And in testimony before the District Council, Atlantic Monthly editor James Fallows discussed the technological advances in lithium batteries that make battery-powered leaf blowers feasible.

Maybe battery-powered leaf blowers’ time has finally come?

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He is the founding chair of The Quiet Coalition, an organization of science, health, and legal professionals concerned about the impacts of noise on health, environment, learning, productivity, and quality of life in America. Dr Fink also is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’ Health Advisory Council, and he served on the board of the American Tinnitus Association from 2015-2018.

Do noisy leaf blowers drive you mad?

Photo credit: David Long licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

You are not alone. Linda Robertson, The Miami Herald, writes about the scourge that is gas-powered leaf blowers. Robertson interviews south Miami resident Vicki Richards, a violinist and “connoisseur of sound” who is tormented by them. Richards laments,”You can’t play over it and you can’t play with it. I used to have house concerts, but nobody wants to hear ‘String Quartet with Leaf Blower.’” Indeed.

The problem isn’t just their ubiquity–and in southern Florida they are a year round menace–it’s also the quality of their sound. As Robertson writes:

Maybe it’s the oscillating pitch of the snarl or the persistence of the whine. Maybe it’s the sheer volume that puts [Richards] over the edge. Leaf blowers. Can they even be said to produce sound? Or merely an abomination of sound?

Robertson explains that leaf blowers were meant to be a labor-saving device, but now have turned into the thing that many people hate–but not the landscaping company owners who fight efforts to ban the gas-powered models. No, they claim that costs would escalate and their livelihoods would be adversely affected if gas-powered leaf blowers were banned, in whole or in part. There is no evidence that this is the case, however. In fact, according to Quiet Communities, there are more than 100 landscape companies now operating with electric equipment and manual tools at prices that are competitive. Just recently, BrightView, the largest landscape company in the U.S. purchased 200 commercial grade electric mowers, citing the environmental and health benefits. It may only be a matter of time before electric is the new norm for both mowers and handheld equipment.

In the end, the economic arguments against banning these loud and filthy instruments of torture are likely to lose ground, because electric counterparts are getting better and better and more than pay for themselves over time. On the other side, there are very real concerns about air and noise pollution and the impact gas-powered leaf blowers have on workers’ and residents’ health and the damage they do to a neighborhood’s soundscape and eco-systems. Recently, the state medical societies in New York and Massachusetts passed resolutions about the dangers of gas leaf blowers, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention raised a warning about the noise levels and adverse health impacts of leaf blowers. As Vicki Richards asserts, “nothing compares to the dissonance of two leaf blowers going simultaneously that cuts through you like a serrated knife. That’s how you drive a person insane.”

The battle has just begun. To read more about efforts to ban gas-powered leaf blowers and to learn about alternatives, check out Quiet Communities, “a non-profit organization dedicated to protecting our health, environment, and quality of life from the excessive use of industrial outdoor maintenance equipment.”

Massachusetts Medical Society: No to noisy leaf blowers

Photo credit: Hector Alejandro licensed under CC by 2.0

By Jamie L. Banks, PhD, MSc, Program Director, The Quiet Coalition

Are health concerns about gas-powered leaf blowers (GLBs) gaining momentum? On April 29th, the Massachusetts Medical Society (MMS) became the second in the nation to approve a resolution against GLBs, following the lead of the Medical Society of the State of New York (MSSNY). Other physician groups, such as Utah Physicians for Healthy Environment and Fresno Madera Medical Society, have also issued warnings on the use of GLBs and other fuel-powered lawn and garden equipment. The resolution brought by the society’s Committee on Environmental and Occupational Health and its chair Heather Alker, MD, MPH, recommends that the MMS:

  • Recognize noise pollution as a public health hazard, with respect to hearing loss;
  • Support initiatives to increase awareness of the health risks of loud noise exposure;
  • Urge the maximum feasible reduction of all forms of air pollution, including particulates, gases, toxicants, irritants, smog formers, and other biologically and chemically active pollutants; and
  • Acknowledge the increased risk of adverse health consequences to workers and general public from gas-powered leaf blowers including hearing loss and cardiopulmonary disease.

The growing concern on the part of the medical community over leaf blower noise is welcome news. Commercial GLBs can produce noise of 95 decibels and higher at the ear of the operator. This noise level exceeds safe occupational levels by an order of magnitude. The close proximity use of these powerful engines exposes both workers and others in the area to prolonged periods of excessive noise, not to mention toxic air pollutants. The presence of a low frequency component in the leaf blower’s frequency band distribution (i.e., the device’s sound signature) enables it to travel over long distances and through walls and windows.

The MMS resolution notes the harms to hearing and health from excessive noise produced by GLBs. Loud noise is known to cause hearing loss, tinnitus, and hyperacusis, as well as other health problems such as high blood pressure and heart disease. In addition, loud noise has negative effects on quality of life, communication and social interaction, work productivity, and psychological well-being.

The burgeoning use of GLBs and other fossil fuel powered equipment around our homes, schools, and other public spaces is a public health hazard, and a growing number of physicians and other health professionals are becoming concerned. The moves made by MMS and MSSNY are to be lauded, and other state societies and medical groups, including the American Lung Association and American Heart Association, need to prioritize this issue.  With the body of scientific evidence on the harms associated with noise and pollution, other state and national medical societies have a critical role to play in educating government officials and the public about the connections between environmental hazards and disease and the actions we can take to reduce risks in our communities.

Jamie L. Banks, PhD, MSc, is the Executive Director of Quiet Communities, Inc. and the Program Director of The Quiet Coalition. She is an environmentalist and health care scientist dedicated to promoting clean, healthy, quiet, and sustainable landscape maintenance, construction, and agricultural practices. Dr. Banks has an extensive background in health outcomes and economics, environmental behavior, and policy.

Source: Quiet Communities

Originally posted at The Quiet Coalition.