by Mark Kram Jr
Raise your hand if, like me, you have been jarred from sleep early on a weekend morning by the deafening roar of a leaf blower. That has happened again and again.
Or: you have found yourself on your porch on a tranquil day when a SWAT team of workmen with leaf blowers shows up unannounced on your block. I once saw a crew of five hop off a truck, fire up their blowers and scatter across a yard the size of a postage stamp.
Or: say you work from home. In the Covid-19 world we now inhabit, home offices have become commonplace. But try conducting business when just outside your window, your neighborhood is under siege by a guerrilla unit of landscapers.
When I have a book to write, I pray for rain. Or I set about writing between the hours of 10pm and 4am, not because I am an insomniac but because I can be assured an uninterrupted working environment.
As someone who has lived in Haddonfield since 1987 – ah, how peaceful those days now seem – there are days when I feel as if I am living on an airport tarmac. Leaf blowers have become that ubiquitous. Worse, you never know when they will arrive, in what numbers, or for how long they will stay. I remember one day some years ago when a three-man crew spent five hours straight, blowing leaves into piles in front of two houses on my block.
But it is not just the noise its the frayed nerves and strained feelings between otherwise friendly neighbors that leaf blowers engender. Given the pollutants that two-stroke gasoline-powered leaf blowers spew – including carbon monoxide, nitrous oxides, and carcinogenic hydrocarbons – they pose an existential hazard to our health. Swept up in the dust created by them can be pollen, mold, animal feces, and chemicals from herbicides and pesticides.
Our children are breathing this crap.
The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and other publications have recently carried articles condemning leaf blowers. Just last week, The Times noted that “a two-stoke gasoline-powered leaf blower spewed out more pollution than a 6,200-pound Ford F-150 SVT Raptor pickup truck” and that “a half-hour of yard work” produces approximately the same hydrocarbon emissions as “a 3,900-mile drive from Texas to Alaska in a Raptor.”
Hearing is also imperiled. According to the Times, some leaf blowers “produce 100 decibels of low-frequency, wall-penetrating sound – or as much noise as a plane taking off – at levels that can cause tinnitus and hearing loss with long exposure.” At particular jeopardy are workers on the crews themselves, very few of whom I have ever spotted wearing ear protection.
With the world facing a grave and worsening threat from climate change, communities across the United States are stepping forward to take action. More than 100 cities have passed regulations to ban or restrict the use of gas-powered leaf blowers.
We are seeing a switch-over to more eco-friendly electrical equipment. In New Jersey, Princeton recently adopted an ordinance banning gas-powered leaf blowers during the winter and summer – a step forward, although it still permits their use for spring and fall cleanup.
What should Haddonfield do? I think we should talk about it. That is, if we can hear each other above the din.
A local author, Mark Kram Jr. is a member of the Haddonfield Environmental Commission. The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the Commission or its other members.