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The Climate Connection: It’s time to phase out gas-powered leaf blowers
The Climate Connection

The Climate Connection: It’s time to phase out gas-powered leaf blowers

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Leaf blower table

John Gleazer and Millie Pease at an informational table promoting the banning of gas-powered leaf blowers. 

Have you woken up to the loud drone of leaf blowers in your neighbor’s yard? In addition to the incessant noise, leaf blowers create air pollution, can exacerbate diseases such as asthma, and contribute to the worsening of COVID-19 symptoms.

And to make matters worse, they also create greenhouse gas emissions. Here in Napa, and across the country, citizens are weighing in, looking for alternatives.

Noise pollution

The first objection most people have to gas-powered leaf blowers is the noise. The average noise level is 80-85 decibels, which can cause permanent and irreversible hearing damage after two hours of exposure. Some models are above 100 decibels at the operator’s ear.

Moreover, gas-powered leaf blowers emit low-frequency sound waves that travel hundreds of yards, through walls and windows. These sound levels disrupt the peace for Napa residents at home, at work, in parks, and public spaces, and can undermine the experience of visitors at hotels, restaurants, and tasting rooms.

Health impacts 

Another problem is that leaf blowers can have negative health impacts. As everyone who suffers from allergies or asthma or who wears contact lenses knows well, leaf blowers create clouds of suspended pollen, dust, and mold.

Given Napa’s already high rates of asthma, not to mention the added pollution from the wildfires we have experienced in recent years, it’s doubly important to take measures to reduce those pollutants that we can control. (See, for instance, https://napavalleyregister.com/news/local/napa-county-gets-mixed-grades-in-air-pollution-report-due-to-wildfire-smoke/article_c4dc91f2-c69d-5aca-86bf-c10b56247ec8.html )

But that’s just the beginning. Other pollutants can also be kicked up into the air, including pesticides, viral diseases, animal feces, metals like lead, arsenic and mercury, and carcinogenic carbon compounds. These pollutants irritate eyes and lungs, exacerbate allergies and asthma and elevate the risk of respiratory and heart disease.

Testing by the California Air Resources Board (CARB) has shown that a leaf blower can create about 2.6 pounds of harmful particulate matter (PM10) per hour of use. Heavy backpack models also cause shoulder/back pain and vibration-induced hearing loss for the operator.

Air pollution and greenhouse gases

Two-stroke gas-powered engines generate high levels of pollution and greenhouse gases such as carbon monoxide, nitrous oxide and hydrocarbons. An Edmunds report found that a gas-powered leaf blower emitted 23 times more carbon monoxide and 300 times for hydrocarbons than a 2011 Ford Raptor.

CARB reports that operating a commercial leaf blower for one hour emits the same amount of smog-forming pollution as driving a 2016 Toyota Camry approximately 1,100 miles. Leaf blowers and other small gas engines combined now create more ozone pollution than all passenger cars in California.

Soil and landscape damage 

Another insidious effect of leaf blowers is their impact on our landscape. The wind speed of commercial blowers can reach 180 mph, which disrupts precious topsoil and causes dehydration, scorched leaves, loss of flowers, and reduced photosynthesis in plants. Removing leaves and other organic material deprives soil and plants of natural mulch that provides nutrition, retains water, and shelters beneficial butterflies, bees and ladybugs.

Solutions for the environment and your health

Given all of these concerns, residents of municipalities around the country are stepping up to demand alternatives.

Here in Napa County, Yountville has already passed a gas-powered leaf blower ban, combined with a subsidy program to offset the purchase of new battery or electric-powered leaf blowers and vacuums to help ease the financial burden on local businesses. Battery and electric-powered leaf blowers and vacuums are lighter, less noisy (mid-60 decibels), require less maintenance and do not generate greenhouse gases and smog compounds. New technology makes them just as powerful and similar cost to gas-powered models, with less expense for gas and oil over time.

Electric-powered leaf blowers or no-blow gardening have also turned out to be a great selling point for landscape businesses! Many customers support practices that reduce noise and air pollution and improve the health of their plants and soil.

Another option is the simple use of rakes and brooms. These tools are affordable, do not suspend harmful particles in the air and effectively corral leaves into compost bins, rather than simply blow leaves and sticks into streets and neighboring yards.

Actions you can take

• Encourage the city of Napa to follow the lead of Yountville and Sonoma, (and many other cities in the state) to enact a gas leaf blower ban by contacting your city council and supervisor elected officials. Encourage them to provide funding for education and a subsidy program to help offset the cost of new equipment.

• Support landscaping businesses that avoid gas-powered leaf blowers and use sustainable practices, and encourage those who don’t to make the switch.

• Sign our petition online or at the Farmer’s Market on Saturday mornings.

https://www.change.org/p/napa-city-council-ban-gas-powered-leaf-blowers-in-the-city-of-napa?fbclid=IwAR3HFcfPietUzysxCxS2tGQ4K191MeSyvkaBw4u3RfcKaa75GW2DaQ9MFms

• Volunteer with Napa Climate NOW!’s Gas Leaf Blower Team. Write Sharon Parham at sharon@parhamdesign.com\

• Join Napa Climate NOW’s Climate Ride June 4, 5, and 6 to help us raise money and awareness about climate issues and solutions. Volunteer to ride or donate to a rider at bit.ly/roadto3502021

Sharon Parham has been a Napa resident for 20 years with her own small company, Parham Design. She has been a member of Napa Climate NOW! since its inception, and is chair of its Communications Committee.

Napa Climate NOW! is a local non-profit citizens’ group advocating for smart climate solutions based on the latest climate science, part of 350 Bay Area. Like, comment, and share our daily Facebook and Instagram posts @napaclimatenow ! or visit us at http://napa.350bayarea.org

2020 rivalled 2016 for the warmest on record, as global temperatures were measured to be nearly 1.3C hotter than pre-industrial times, according to international data from the World Meteorological Organisation.

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Sharon Parham has been a Napa resident for 20 years with her own small company, Parham Design. She has been a member of Napa Climate NOW! since its inception, and is chair of its Communications Committee.

Napa Climate NOW! is a local non-profit citizens’ group advocating for smart climate solutions based on the latest climate science, part of 350 Bay Area. Like, comment and share their daily Facebook and Instagram posts @napaclimatenow! or visit http://napa.350bayarea.org

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