The Movement Goes International (Netherlands Report)

The Hague, minus leaf blowers (Vincent van Zeijst,  Wikimedia Commons )

The Hague, minus leaf blowers (Vincent van Zeijst, Wikimedia Commons)

From a reader in Holland:

I cannot recall when your group began highlighting noise-producing pollution-creating leafblowers that destroyed quiet weekends in Washington and elsewhere. But I used your articles to a good end, especially as our memories of Washington iare still very dear to us.

Quite a while ago I noticed those machines introduced in our quiet street here in The Hague so I started writing to the municipality. "Yes we'll inform such and such department" was the usual reply.

Writing to some of the many environmentally sound factions in the city council recently delivered  rather more positive reactions.

Lo and behold, I found city workers armed with the latest Husquarna electrical machine in our street today !

As Washington goes, so goes The Hague! At least on this point.

The Home of Walden Pond Votes For Leaf Blower Limits

Over the past twenty years, more than one hundred American cities, mainly in California, passed bans or limits on the use of gas-powered leafblowers.

Now additional cities are joining the list at an accelerating pace. The latest development is from Lincoln, Massachusetts, as reported in The Lincoln Squirrel. In the storied tradition of New England small-town governance, the measure was adopted by a public vote at a town meeting, 112-106.

The Squirrel article reports:

Supporters argued that gas-powered leaf blowers are unacceptably noisy and polluting and harm Lincoln’s rural atmosphere. “Gas blowers are the most polluting machine ever made,” one resident said. …

Eric Harris, who lives near Route 2, said he doesn’t notice the highway traffic noise much, “but the difference when you have a leaf blower is enormous, not just decibels but the kind of noise it makes — it’s the kind of noise you can’t escape from. I wish this proposal had been more draconian than it is.”

“This is a reasonable solution to a problem that’s resulted in over 70 unsolicited complaints on our website,” said John Koenig, a member of the Leaf Blower Study Committee, which has been studying the issue for several years and proposed the bylaw.

Lincoln includes Walden Pond. Had Henry David Thoreau been on hand for this town meeting, there presumably would have been at least 113 Yes votes.

Update The Quiet Communities site has a nice report on this development, with the headline “Making Thoreau Proud Again.”

What Does 'Making the Switch' Really Mean? A Training Workshop Explains Practicalities of Moving Past the Gas-Powered Blower Era

As more and more communities across the nation begin the shift from hyper-polluting gas-powered lawn machinery to clean, much quieter battery-powered alternatives, the practicalities of the transition become all the more important.

What’s the most practical type of battery-powered equipment? What are the costs and savings to expect? Are there significant training issues? What are the most important efficiency steps> What else will come as a surprise, good or bad?

Over the past three years, Quiet Communities a nonprofit based in Boston that has been a pioneer in sustainability and noise-reduction efforts around the country, and the California-based American Green Zone Alliance (AGZA) a leader in zero-emission grounds-maintenance strategies, have worked with the town of Southampton, New York, to convert its municipal operations to battery systems. In late March the two groups help a workshop in Southampton to help privat business prepare for the transition.

Desiree Keegan, of The Independent, wrote about the program and quoted Dan Mabe, head of the AGZA:

The switchover impacts not only quality of life, but worker health and the environment, according to Mabe. He said on average the noise profile is 50 percent less with electric than using gas-powered equipment across the board. The CEO said when converting from a two-stroke (oil-and-gas-fueled) hedge trimmer to a commercial electric trimmer, the noise profile lessens by 70 percent….

“Community health is affected as well, because if you can smell it, you’re exposed to it,” Mabe said. “On a more macro-level, there’s an environmental impact to the planet. When you have to use the chemicals and cleaners to maintain a small internal combustion engine from cradle to grave, there’s a solid-waste component to that, where there’s going to be belts, spark plugs, filters, plastic, and metal cans that really aren’t recyclable that end up in our land-waste system.”

From the AGZA web site’s coverage of the workshop, here is a photo of one of the many displays. 

Commercial battery-powered equipment on display at the workshop. ( AGZA photo .)

Commercial battery-powered equipment on display at the workshop. (AGZA photo.)

Developing evidence of the environmental and public-health damage done by current machinery was one indispensable step in the transition process. Convincing community leaders and local legislators that it was best for the community to make the switch, was the next step. Now comes the switch itself: showing landscape professionals and their crews, plus the customers that hire them, how to make this change work to their interest as well. Thanks to QC and AGZA for setting a strong example.

Texas, California, New York: 'Accelerating the Inevitable' Is Underway

Headline from  .

Headline from .

The nationwide move to phase out hyper-polluting, technologically obsolescent, dangerously noisy gas-powered leafblowers is gaining momentum. In addition to the many previous instances reported in this space, most prominently Washington DC, three new communities are preparing to join the list.

Dallas: From a story by Corbett Smith in

Gas-powered leaf blowers could take the fall for Dallas’ problems with loud noises….

The city already has rules that regulate the use of lawn equipment between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. on weekdays and 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. on weekends. But, Kingston said, “There’s a host of environmental and public health reasons not to have these around” at all.

Lancaster, California: From a story by Julie Drake in Antelope Valley Press:

The City Council will consider introducing an ordinance at Tuesday’s meeting that would require the im­ple­mentation of electric-pow­ered landscape equipment by landscape maintenance bus­inesses within five years….

“Replacement of gaso­line and diesel com­mer­cial landscaping equip­ment will reduce fuel con­sump­tion and spillage, ex­haust emis­sions, noise, toxic sol­vents used for main­ten­ance. As a result of this pro­gram the Antelope Val­ley will benefit from qui­eter, cleaner, and heal­thi­er neighborhoods, schools, bus­i­nesses, and com­mu­nities,”[City Manager Jason] Caudle’s report said.

Southampton Village, New York: From a column by Karl Grossman in Shelter Island Reporter:

Mayor Michael Irving and Trustee Kimberly Allan are sponsoring the legislation…. It limits the months (no warmer weather months) and times (no earlier than 8 a.m. or later than 6 p.m.) and days (no use on Sundays and federal and state holidays) when gas-powered leaf blowers can be used.

“It’s the new second-hand smoke,” Trustee Allan said. “Exhaust emissions from gas-powered leaf blowers can contain significant amounts of highly toxic compounds linked to certain cancers, asthma and other respiratory problems, as well as damage to the heart, lungs, and central nervous system,” notes the organization Grassroots Environmental Education. Toxins in their engine exhaust include cancer-causing benzene, toluene and formaldehyde, among other poisons.

A major city like Dallas, a medium-sized city in California’s inland “High Desert” region, Southampton Village on Long Island — these are three very different communities, to put it mildly. The trend is spreading. Congratulations to leaders in all three locales.

Easthampton, NY, Considering Seasonal Ban on Gas-Powered Blowers

The village of East Hampton, New York, already has time-of-day limits on the use of gas-powered leaf blowers during summer time. Its Village Board is now considering a complete ban during the months of June, July, August, and part of September, when the area is at its peak as a vacation and resort destination.

Details in the East Hampton Star, below: For more information about similar efforts in the region, see Huntington CALM.

Under existing law, between June 1 and the second Friday of December, a homeowner or tenant’s use of gas or diesel-powered lawn care equipment is limited to Monday through Friday between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m., on Saturday between 8 a.m. and 3 p.m., and on Sunday and federal holidays between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. People other than the tenant or homeowner must follow the same restrictions on weekdays and Saturdays, but are also prohibited from using such equipment on Sundays and federal holidays.

The proposed law, introduced at an East Hampton Village Board meeting on March 15, would completely prohibit the use of such equipment between June 1 and Labor Day, and at all times on Sundays and federal holidays (including between Labor Day and May 31). Golf club and municipal employees who are performing their professional duties would be exempted from the prohibition, as they had been previously, provided that no leaf blowers are used within 100 feet of the nearest residence.  

The D.C. Leafblower Saga, as Recounted in 'The Atlantic'

From “ Get Off My Lawn ,” in the April, 2019 issue of  The Atlantic .

From “Get Off My Lawn,” in the April, 2019 issue of The Atlantic.

In the April, 2019 issue of The Atlantic, James Fallows of the magazine, and of QCDC, has an article on how the Washington D.C. City Council decided to approve a bill to phase out gas-powered leafblower use within the District, by January 1, 2022.

You can read the article, “Get Off My Lawn,” here. A sample:

When people encounter engines these days, they’re generally seeing the outcome of decades of intense work toward higher efficiency. The latest models of jet-turbine engines are up to 80 percent more fuel-efficient than their 1950s counterparts….

The great outlier here is a piece of obsolete machinery Americans encounter mainly in lawn-care equipment: the humble “two-stroke engine.”… If you’ve seen a tuk‑tuk, one of the noisy tricycle-style taxis in places such as Bangkok and Jakarta, with purple smoke wafting out of its tailpipe, you’ve seen a two-stroke engine in action.

But you won’t see as many of them in those cities anymore, because governments in Asia and elsewhere have been banning and phasing out two-stroke engines on antipollution grounds.… Two-stroke engines have largely disappeared from the scooter, moped, and trail-bike markets in America. Regulators around the world are pushing older two-stroke engines toward extinction.

Yet they remain the propulsive force behind the 200-mph winds coming out of many backpack leaf blowers. As a product category, this is a narrow one. But the impact of these little machines is significant. In 2017, the California Air Resources Board issued a warning that may seem incredible but has not been seriously challenged: By 2020, gas-powered leaf blowers, lawn mowers, and similar equipment in the state could produce more ozone pollution than all the millions of cars in California combined. Two-stroke engines are that dirty. Cars have become that clean.

As recounted on this site over the past three years, D.C. Council Member Mary Cheh took the lead in supporting this bill, and last fall it passed the D.C. Council unanimously. Supporters in D.C. hope this will be a catalyst for further action across the country.

“Unbelievably Quiet and Incredibly Powerful”: Ryobi Joins the Fray

One of the big themes of this site has been “accelerating the inevitable” — speeding the move away from obsolete, hyper-polluting, dangerously noisy gas-powered equipment, and toward fast-developing new battery-powered models.

The same revolutions in battery technology that are transforming the automotive, aviation, power-storage, and other fields will also inevitably eliminate any rationale for using antiquated gas-powered equipment. It will also ease the transition in the rapidly rising number of cities, now including the District of Columbia, that have mandated a shift to battery-powered machinery.

Here is the latest indication of where business-and-technological innovation is leading: a new, low-priced entry from Ryobi, which bills this blower as “unbelievably quiet and incredibly powerful.” The purpose of this site is of course not to promote any one company’s offerings over the others’, but instead to welcome the competition among many manufacturers, established companies and newer businesses alike, to bring more effective, less costly products to the market.

More information from Ryobi’s site, here, source of the screenshot below.


Another Community Makes the Switch: Portola Valley

Above, a screenshot from the  story  in the  Almanac  in Portola Valley, California.

Above, a screenshot from the story in the Almanac in Portola Valley, California.

The Almanac, of Portola Valley, in northern California, reports on the City Council’s 4-0 vote to ban gas-powered leaf blowers, after a two-year phase in period.

The story, by Dave Boyce, says:

Before voting to approve the ordinance, council members spoke favorably of the ban as a way to address noise impacts for people who work from home, as a way to slow soil damage since education efforts have not seemed to work, and as a way to address climate change.

"That one is huge," Councilman John Richards said in reference to eliminating the greenhouse gas emissions from gasoline-powered blowers. "I think we are absolutely in a crisis."

Councilman Craig Hughes called climate change "the biggest thing that is probably going to impact the most people. ... The more we can pick off low-hanging fruit, especially when there are viable alternatives, we should take every opportunity to do that. Fuel-shifting – transitioning to electric power from fossil fuel – is an easy way to do that."

Congratulations to the residents and city government of Portola Valley.

‘The Washington Monthly’ on the Case Against Leaf Blowers (and other equipment)

Above: From Mike Lofgren’s piece  in  The Washington Monthly  .

Above: From Mike Lofgren’s piece in The Washington Monthly.

The Washington-area writer Mike Lofgren is best known for his books and articles on politics, defense policy, and international relations. He worked for nearly 30 years as a Congressional staffer, mainly for Republicans. In 2012, his prescient book The Party Is Over warned about the developments in Republican-party politics that eventually led to Donald Trump. Another of his well-known books is The Deep State.

Now, in The Washington Monthly, Lofgren argues that it is time to ban hyper-polluting, dangerously noisy lawn equipment. His article is called “The Case for Lawn Care Regulation,” and here is a sample:

“There is little documentation that monitors this activity, but from what I’ve observed over time, fewer people maintain their own lawns than they used to. An aging baby-boomer generation and the rise of dual-income households with little free time are likely causes.

“That means the job is increasingly done by commercial services that use heavy backpack blowers, commercial-grade string trimmers, and mowers suitable for golf courses…. The mowers, with massive engines lacking mufflers, generate far greater perceived noise than consumer-grade mowing equipment.

“By every reasonable standard, the lawn equipment noise problem meets the common law threshold of a persistent nuisance degrading the quiet enjoyment of one’s property. Every time I have raised the issue with local residents, they agree that the commotion is frequently unbearable, but no one looks for a solution. Perhaps they feel it is one of those ever-present annoyances about which nothing can be done, like the gulag experience of airline travel or self-service checkout at Home Depot.”

Lofgren goes on to suggest what a useful response might be. Worth reading in full. Thanks to Lofgren and The Washington Monthly.

The Surprisingly Ramifying Effects of Hearing Damage

This past spring, both the Pew trusts and the federal Centers for Disease Control issued reports about hearing loss, among Americans of all ages, as a rapidly rising public health threat, and about rising levels of ambient noise as a principal cause. Louder and louder urban life—because of sirens, machinery, traffic, even music playing in earbuds or sound in loud public spaces like restaurants—was becoming “the new second-hand smoke,” according to one source quoted in the Pew report:

Noise is “the new secondhand smoke issue,” said Bradley Vite, an anti-noise advocate who pushed for regulations in Elkhart, Indiana, that come with some of the nation’s steepest fines. “It took decades to educate people on the dangers of secondhand smoke. We may need decades to show the impact of secondhand noise.”

Now Jane Brody, veteran personal-health columnist for the New York Times, has an update about the surprisingly ramifying effects of hearing damage. In the popular imagination, hearing problems are often portrayed as inevitable fallibilities of age — “Grandma forgot her hearing aid, so you better talk extra loud.” By contrast, almost everyone recognizes vision-damage as a serious practical and emotional obstacle.

The sub-headline of Brody’s article is, “Poor hearing is not just an annoying inconvenience.” She explains:

Now a growing body of research by [Dr. Frank R. Lin, head of a hearing center at Johns Hopkins] and his colleagues and others is linking untreated hearing loss to several costly ills, and the time has come for hearing protection and treatment of hearing loss to be taken much more seriously….

Two huge new studies have demonstrated a clear association between untreated hearing loss and an increased risk of dementia, depression, falls and even cardiovascular diseases. In a significant number of people, the studies indicate, uncorrected hearing loss itself appears to be the cause of the associated health problem.

The story is worth reading in full, at the NYT’s site.