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Leaf blowers: A scourge in our community

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.

13 Comments

  • Thank you, Mr. Kram. Well said, and I totally agree. Especially with the last point: Haddonfielders need to begin talking about this awful and far-ranging nuisance.

  • I will raise one hand and risk not using both to protect my hearing and lungs.
    Lawn mowers and leaf blowers are exceptional polluters. Their small engines spew outsize amounts of smog-forming NOx, cancer-causing volatile organic compounds and lung-damaging particulate matter.
    Operating a gasoline-powered leaf blower for one hour produces as much volatile organic compounds and NOx as driving a 2017 Toyota Camry from New York City to Orlando, Florida.
    As a former Haddonfield Environmental Commission member for many years, this issue was frequently discussed and acknowledged as a radioactive topic due to the large number of residents that use landscaping services.
    After the recent UN COP26 climate conference how can the citizens of Haddonfield who are over 77% college educated deny simple science?
    Source:http://www.aqmd.gov/docs/default-source/Agendas/Governing-Board/2021/2021-june4-025.pdf?sfvrsn=2

    • Agreed this is a difficult issue with so many that use landscape services or have their own leaf blower but one that needs to be addressed. I take my granddaughter and dog for a walk in the mornings and have to avoid streets due to the noise and dust. The noise is particularly difficult for me as I have severe hearing loss and wearing hearing aids. Thanks for the good article Mark.

  • Ban the leaf blowers. For all the reasons you’ve already stated. They are awful. Hours and hours I spend listening to the horrific gas blowers of surrounding neighbor’s lawn services.

  • I wholeheartedly agree with Mark Kram’s comments, and I support Haddonfield efforts to reduce the use of two-stole gasoline powered leaf blowers to minimize the pollution they cause!

  • Thank you for raising this subject. We absolutely agree with you. The blowers are indeed a problem for all of the reasons that you cite. Most egregious for us is the random nature of when the landscapers arrive, and the noise that is generated by the 2-cycle engines. Since it is certainly impractical to prohibit the use of blowers, although there is something that resonates in me about raking leaves manually, I would recommend two approaches.

    1. Limit the times when leaf blowing is permitted — perhaps 10am to 4pm, and not on weekends. At the minimum, I like the idea of a “quiet time” for the entire community, but that’s another discussion.

    2. Mandate the use of electric blowers. As you mention, Princeton has set up a partial ban. More significantly, California is also implementing a ban on 2-cycle engines. As I understand it, the new electric blowers are as powerful as the gas powered ones, and can switch out batteries when needed.

  • At a time when people the world over are concerned with reducing our pollution output, we in haddonfield are still permitting CONSTANT use of leaf blowers, excessive fertilizer, overspraying of pesticides and constant use of in ground sprinkler systems (every single night, and in the rain, yet)! The world may burn, but our lawns will be perfect! This must STOP! We are damaging our children and our future for this nonsense!

  • Hand raised! We love sitting on our porches – sometimes it’s difficult to even have a conversation. Raking is great exercise, boosts your dopamine levels…

  • Thank you for your article! I completely agree. Our town is noisy with leaf blowers, construction, roadwork, etc. Let’s start by banning leaf blowers, for our planet and our peace.

  • That’s a great article and I agree with you completely. Thank you for writing it. I believe we are the only people in our immediate neighborhood to not have a lawn service. We love to sit on our porch and enjoy the fresh air and see people biking, walking and running past our house but often have to return inside because of the deafening sounds of the landscaping industrial complex. I wonder if it would be possible to have a referendum, preceded by several information sessions, on requiring leaf blowers to be electrically powered.

  • I have been in the process of converting all my gas powered yard equipment to electric, but your article has convinced me to speed that up. I’ve always been self conscious of the noise and don’t start too early in the day as a result. Nevertheless, I’m all for an ordinance on this as they are terribly noisy and awful for the environment. First let’s limit the hours they can be in use, or months in the year they can be in use to give people time to see the writing on the wall and switch to electric and then eventually ban them outright.

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