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Why Leaf Blowers & Lawn Care Practices are Hazardous to our Health

[Photo courtesy of Bedford 2020 Healthy Yards Program]

Recently I was invited to consult on the landscape management and grounds maintenance of a large condominium complex.

The progressive management company was aware of studies that show how continued use of leaf blowers could potentially elevate blood pressure in the elderly. Pretty interesting!

See: 

https://www.alternet.org/2014/08/modern-pestilence-leaf-blowers-generate-infuriating-noise-toxic-gases-and-hazardous-dust/

https://www.salon.com/2017/10/08/noisy-but-that-is-not-all_partner/

https://www.kqed.org/news/11310630/more-pollution-than-cars-gas-powered-gardening-equipment-poses-the-next-air-quality-threat

https://www.seattleglobalist.com/2017/09/25/leaf-blowers-flagged-as-polluters-possible-health-threat/68802

In addition to the annoyance factor with the high decibel sound produced, the air quality was polluted by emissions. Leaf blowers’ two-stroke engines are even more polluting than cars, because gasoline and oil are combined in one system and emissions from both are released during use.  These toxic emissions are especially harmful to children and the elderly. 

In 2010, doctors at Mt Sinai Hospital wrote a letter detailing the health effects of leaf blowers, in support of a proposed leaf blower ban in Eastchester, NY. 

Some key points from their letter:

  • “Inhalation of these small airborne particles can provoke asthma and other respiratory diseases in children and can increase the severity of chronic lung disease in our elderly."
  • "Some of the other potential pollutants from leaf blowers and internal combustion power tools are carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, hydrocarbons, and, even, ozone formed from some of these other pollutants. Even lower level exposures have been associated with respiratory and central nervous system effects."
  • “Manufacturer estimates of noise levels from leaf blowers for bystanders 50 feet away are about 70 dB and, of course, the noise is louder if residents are closer. The World Health Organization recommends general daytime outdoor noise levels of 55 dB or less. Noise may affect quality of life by impairing communication, reducing accuracy of complex tasks, and increasing stress.”

The extreme speed of air produced by leaf blowers also makes them a less than ideal maintenance tool. In the process of blowing lawn clippings or leaves, you are also inevitably blowing away topsoil, disrupting microbiology, and spreading particulates and any toxic applications applied in traditional landscaping. 

There is a solution to each and every problem we face.

In this case, switching to an ecological maintenance program, using mulching mowers and electric backpack blowers was a start.

Even better, reducing the need to continue the practice of blowing helps. This requires training existing grounds crews or starting over with a new provider of services.

Reducing lawn care by better landscape design—including reducing lawn area, establishing no-mow areas, expanding perennial beds, etc—alters cultural practices for better conditions in the day to day experience of homeowners.

Planting fragrant herbs/plants for healing improves air quality and increases the health benefit for all concerned. Establishing native plants and wildflowers to attract birds, bees and butterflies not only increases biodiversity but also generates calm and interest/investment in the property. This promotes an awareness and appreciation of nature and our connectedness.

By building models of ecologically sustainable landscapes we see, time and time again, the most life-affirming healthful benefits for ourselves, our clients and our communities.

--

Jay Archer

President, Landscape Ecologist

9140560-6570

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