An Argument for the Banning of Gas-Powered Leaf Blowers

Gas powered leaf blowers have become ubiquitous in Portland and the noise and air pollution they cause is particularly egregious and pointless, directly impacting our quality of life. More than an irritant, these machines actually accomplish little while causing a great deal of harm to the environment and our health, especially to children and to the elderly.

This should not be ignored or minimized, as small off-road engines used for residential and commercial lawn and garden will soon exceed automobiles in greenhouse gas emissions.1

The 2-stroke gas powered engines used by most commercial backpack-style blowers are nothing less than pollution bombs. About one-third of the gasoline that goes into this sort of engine is spewed out, unburned, in an aerosol mixed with oil in the exhaust. It was determined that a half-hour of such “yard work” produced the same amount of hydrocarbon emissions as a 3,887-mile drive in a truck.2

Leaf blowers are inordinately large emitters of carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, and hydrocarbons, according to a study conducted for the California Air Resources Board. The two stroke engine fuel is a gasoline-oil mixture, and is thus, especially toxic.

Wind speeds in excess of 180 mph are blasting landscapes throughout our city. New growth and developing flowers are damaged and precious topsoil is blown away. Blower winds stress plants causing dehydration, burned leaves, and the suspension of photosynthesis. Blowers effectively distribute disease spores, weed seeds, insect eggs and dried fecal matter throughout the landscape

The common practice by professional landscapers is to simply blow the plant debris with accompanying pesticides and toxins off the property and onto the city streets, while simultaneously polluting the air we breathe. Rains then carry the residue into our sewers and rivers.

Of the 18 most commonly used herbicides, seven are cancer causing, six cause birth defects, six have reproductive effects, eight are neurotoxic, nine are damaging to the kidney and liver, and fourteen are irritants.3

The poisonous mix of oil and gas pollutants produced by leaf blower exhaust has been linked to cancers, heart disease, asthma and other serious ailments. According to the EPA and the California Air Resources Board, leaf blowers increase the number and severity of asthma attacks, bronchitis or other lung diseases, and reduce our ability to fight infections. According to warnings of leaf blower manufacturers, everyone within 50 feet of a blower in use should be wearing hearing, eye and breathing protection.

Portland must ban gas-powered leaf blowers for reasons of environment, health and quality of life. If everyone in Multnomah County stopped using gas-powered leaf blowers, there would be about 1,430 fewer tons of carbon monoxide emitted in a year.4

Portland’s reputation as an environmental leader of cities, as well as its duty of care for the health and welfare of its citizens, all require a long-overdue remedy to this ongoing, insidious problem.

1 EPA California Air Resources Board Small Engine Fact Sheet, June 2017 .

2James Fallows, Lloyd Alter, Leaf Blowers Are Still a Scourge of Humanity, (https://twitter.com/lloydalter)

3 Jay Feldman, Executive Director of the National Coalition Against the Misuse of Pesticides, citing the EPA and NIH as his sources ofinformation [http://www.nonoise.org/quietnet/cqs/leafblow.htm#carblett].

4 Emission estimates by the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality [Larry Bingham, The O r e g o n i a n , o r e g o n l i v e . c o m / e n v i r o n m e n t / i n d e x . s s f / 2 0 0 9 / 1 0 /which_to_use_rake_or_leaf_blow.html]

Jerry Deckelbaum, JD, LCSW