Facts and Myths about Leaf Blowers

 

Facts and Myths

 about

 The Phase-Out of Gas-powered Leaf Blowers in the District of Columbia

Introduction:  The City Council of the District of Columbia is considering legislation that would phase out the use of gas-powered leaf blowers because of their excessive noisiness.  The bill would limit their sale after December, 2021. Gas-powered leaf blowers sold in DC would need to be labeled as not allowed to be used in the District.  Battery-powered and electric leaf blowers would be allowed.  Enforcement of the ban would be the responsibility of the DC Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs. This legislation would follow models applied in some 170 cities across the country.

FACTS THAT YOU MAY NOT KNOW:

1.       Fact: Gas-powered leaf blowers are noisier than battery-powered blowers, even when their labeled noise levels are the same.

a.       Gas blowers have a unique and loud low frequency noise that makes them sound much louder than battery-powered blowers, . [Pollock2; Fallows2,p. 2; Small2 (Video)]

b.      Even gas blowers that are rated by the industry as emitting the same 65 decibels as battery blowers are significantly noisier. [Transcript (Pollock) p. 16; Pollock2, p.8-9; Haskell2]

2.       Fact: Gas-powered leaf blowers have a much larger impact on the neighborhood

a.       The low frequency noise from gas blowers travels much longer distances and penetrates windows more easily and therefore affects significantly larger numbers of neighbors in urban settings. [Banks2, p. 5; Transcript (Pollock) p. 15; Pollock2, p. 8; Transcript (Sainburg) p. 5]

b.      Not only neighbors, but customers and operators as well appreciate the major reduction in the noise. [Transcript (Sainburg) p. 5-9]

3.       Fact:  Noise can lead to permanent hearing loss

a.       Many gas leaf blowers impact the operator’s ears at 100 decibels or more. [Transcript (Johnson) p. 14; Transcript (Banks) p. 19; Banks2, p. 4]

b.      91 decibels for 2 hours or 100 decibels for only 15 minutes a day can result in permanent hearing loss according to the CDC.

c.       Even exposure to an average of 75 decibels over a lifetime can result in permanent hearing loss. [Fink, p. 2]

4.       Fact: Noise can lead to a wide variety of additional serious effects on humans and wildlife

a.       Adverse effects from noise include cardiovascular impacts, and effects on the immune system and on development.  [Fink, p. 12; Banks, p. 2, 10, Elkins2, p. 3; Fallows2, p. 7]

b.      Low frequency noise such as emitted by gas blowers is such a special health concern that additional protection is warranted, especially for children, the elderly, and other sensitive populations. [Banks2, p. 4]

c.       Workers frequently walk into the path of approaching traffic since they cannot hear the traffic because of the noise.  [Transcript (Small) p. 26]

d.      Loud noise interferes with habitats and life cycles of birds and animals.  [Transcript (Cottingham), p. 7]

5.       Fact: Gas-powered leaf blowers emit large quantities of hazardous air pollutants for workers and neighbors.

a.       Gas-powered blowers emit high levels of hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide, and nitrogen oxides.  By the year 2020, air emissions from lawn care equipment in California are expected to exceed the air emissions of all the cars in California.  [Elkins2, p.3]

6.       Fact: DC’s Current regulation of leaf blowers’ decibel levels is so difficult to enforce that a more effective solution is demanded.

a.       Enforcement of the current regulation in DC is either non-existent or ineffective resulting in demands that the DC Council to do something about noisy leaf blowers, from:

       i.      14 Advisory Neighborhood Commissions  (more than 1/3rd of the ANCs in the city),

       ii.      over 2300 people who signed a Change.org petition; and

       iii.      virtually all of the public witnesses at the Council’s July 2nd hearing.  [Transcript (Orlins), p. 26; Elkins1; Transcript(Cauman, Spatafora) p. 29-30]

b.      Current enforcement requires the presence of an inspector with a noise meter at the time of the violation, and that is not practical, but the new legislation will be much easier to enforce. [Transcript (Johnson), p. 12; Fallows2, p. 4; Elkins 2, p. 6; Banks2, p.6]

 

MYTHS ABOUT THE PHASE-OUT OF GAS-POWERED LEAF BLOWERS:

1.       Myth: Battery blowers are weak and not capable of doing the work

a.       Over 140 lawn care companies use blowers other than gas-powered blowers, and they are profitable.
[Transcript (Banks) p. 20]  

b.      Five of these successful lawn care companies testified or submitted statements to the Council.
[Transcript (Sainburg) p. 5; Transcript (Kline) p. 7; Banks2, p. 11 ]

c.       Current lawn care companies use battery leaf blowers for large acreages and for sustained periods of time and can accomplish the work in the same amount of time. [Transcript (Sainburg) p. 5; Transcript (Kline) p. 7, 10; Elkins2, p. 4]

d.      Nationwide, many businesses, schools, and 170 municipalities, are making the switch away from gas-powered blowers. [Banks2 p. 1, 6]

2.       Myth: Courteous behavior on the part of lawn maintenance companies is a solution

a.       The manufacturers of the equipment (OPEI) and the Lawn Care trade association (NALP) have no control over lawn care companies, all of which are independently operated. [Elkins2, p. 1; Blackwelder, p. 4]

b.      The financial interests of the commercial lawn care companies incentivize the most aggressive use of blowers. [Fallows2, p. 3; Blackwelder, p. 4; Transcript (Johnson) p. 14]

3.       Myth: Over time the marketplace will solve this problem without further regulation

a.       Marketplace forces do not reflect the interests of those affected by the use of this noisy equipment (workers, neighbors). If the workers and neighbors were buying the machines, they would buy the quieter ones but they don’t have a voice in the decision. [Elkins2, p.2; Blackwelder, p. 2]

b.      The marketplace promotes the noisiest leaf blowers, equating power and effectiveness with the loudness of the sound.  [Transcript (Johnson) p. 13; Banks2, p. 4; Transcript (Kline) p. 7; Elkins2, p. 1]

4.       Myth: Banning gas-powered leaf blowers will impose a serious financial burden on lawn care companies

a.       The allowed phase-out over three years gives companies time to replace old gas-powered blowers with battery-powered blowers since gas-powered blowers wear out quickly. [Transcript (Small) p. 28; Transcript (Kline) p. 7]

b.      Most of the lawn care companies operating in the District are Maryland and Virginia companies with clients in those states as well. They will not have to switch their entire inventory of blowers in order to serve the District.
[Elkins2, p. 6]

c.       Battery-powered blowers are cheaper to run and maintain than gas-powered blowers over time.
[Transcript (Kline) p. 7]

d.      More manufacturers are introducing battery-powered blowers as alternatives and prices are coming down. [Transcript (Kline) p. 7; Fallows p. 5-6]

5.       Myth: Banning gas-powered leaf blowers after 2021 is unenforceable

a.       The existence of laws in 170 communities across the country demonstrate that a ban on noisy  blowers can be effectively implemented. [Banks2, p. 6]

b.      Enforcement techniques such as the use of citizen affidavits eliminate the need for an inspector to observe a violation while it is occurring. [Elkins2, p.6]

c.       DC already uses citizen affidavits to enforce violations of the allowed hours for private trash haulers in the city.  [Elkins2, p. 6]

6.       Myth: Workers can protect themselves from hearing loss caused by gas-powered blowers

a.       Leaf blowing is an entry-level job where the worker has little job security or control over the equipment he must use. [Transcript (Plume), p. 6; Fallows2, p. 8]

b.      OSHA policy requires that employers use safe equipment to protect workers (e.g. battery-powered blowers) before requiring workers to use protective equipment, such as hearing protectors. This is important because hearing protectors are often not effective in preventing hearing loss because of their poor quality and the need for even the high quality protectors to fit correctly.  [Elkins2, p. 3]

 

August, 2018