Leaf-blowers are noisy and a health hazard

In the tree-filled neighborhoods of Mt. Airy and Chestnut Hill, autumn brings the gentle, rustling sound of fallen leaves but, just as commonly, the roar of leaf blowers used to collect them.

The street where I live in Chestnut Hill is lined with large, ancient sycamores which drop a tremendous amount of leaves each fall. Last year, I asked my leaf-blowing neighbor across the street if he might consider using a rake. This November, I interrupted Matt Kozlowski, above, on the job with his leaf blower for his thoughts.


While these blowers make life easier for landscape companies and homeowners, they are annoying to anyone in the general area and a genuine health threat to those in the immediate vicinity, and especially to people with asthma or cardio-pulmonary vulnerabilities. The threat might be most serious to the person operating the leaf blower, who may or may not be wearing protective ear and mouth protection.

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Debris and dust stirred up into the air may consist of the dried feces of birds and pets, molds, pollen and pesticides. Smaller particles may lodge deep in the lungs. And the gas-powered engines emit unhealthy hydrocarbons.

The United States Environmental Protection Agency has published a scientific study detailing the particulate emissions from leaf blowers and promotes the use of non-polluting manual garden tools in its flyer, “Your Yard and Clean Air.” The California Air Resources Board concluded that these emissions and “fugitive dust” could have health effects ranging from mild to serious, depending on the nature, extent and duration of the exposure. California cities have taken the lead in banning the use of leaf blowers.

Laguna Beach bans all blowers while others, such as Santa Barbara, bans only gas leaf blowers. Citizen discontent is stirring in Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey and Pennsylvania according to Diane Wolfberg, chair of the education committee, Zero Air Pollution Los Angeles, an association of gardeners formed to support the Los Angeles ban.

Wolfberg also reports that police and public street services personnel in Los Angeles have been issuing citations for violating the city’s ban on the use of gas-powered leaf-blowers within 500 feet of a residence.

Roger Fey, chief enforcement officer for Philadelphia’s Air Management Services, says that a few years ago he received a number of noise complaints but that has died down since. Leaf blowers are ostensibly included under the city’s noise code covering lawn equipment. An official search of Air Management’s database would yield a more definitive record of citizen complaints.

Brian Rudnick is a self-described complainer who lives in Chestnut Hill. He complains about the nation’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the state’s unwillingness to tax natural gas extraction, the city’s practice of closing or limiting library hours, his family’s neglect to put their shoes on the shoe rack on the porch. He blogs at closeup.brianrudnick.com.

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