KCET Airs Documentary on Environmental Effects of Lawn Equipment

The public TV documentary that was previously mentioned here aired last night, and is now available on KCET's site. You can see it here -- or in the embedded version below, with the leafblower portion starting around time 14:30. 

The KCET project was in collaboration with a non-profit anti-pollution and corporate responsibility group called Fair Warning. On its web site, Fair Warning has a powerful new item, about the same theme the video emphasizes: that while noise is the most obvious side-effect of leaf blowers, it may not in fact be their most damaging consequence. Noise is a genuine problem, but even worse is what their emissions do to the the health of the people who use them, who in big cities are increasing the usually-low-wage employees of commercial lawn crews. Even beyond the impact on these workers, these old-tech engines have polluting and climate effects that, almost incredibly, are coming to rival those of automobiles. The new item says:

As FairWarning reported in September, while automobile motors have been overhauled over the decades to slash emissions, there has been no equivalent clean-up of small off-road engines, a category including lawn and garden equipment and generators. As a result, those gas-powered machines are on their way to becoming the worse polluters. For example, the California Air Resources Board says the smog-forming contamination from running a top-selling leaf blower just one hour matches the emissions from driving a 2016 Toyota Camry for 1,100 miles.

In the Los Angeles area as soon as 2020, the small machine category is expected to overtake ordinary sedans as a source of oxides of nitrogen and reactive organic gases, which are precursors to smog. Nationwide, the Environmental Protection Agency estimates that small nonroad engines already account for 81 percent as much of those pollutants as sedans, a comparison that excludes SUVs and light trucks.

 Fair Warning reports that California, which for nearly half a century has led the nation in anti-pollution standards, is preparing much tougher controls on two-stroke equipment (emphasis added):

[California] Air board officials, however, plan to propose another batch of rules in 2020 to further curb both evaporative and exhaust emissions. That move is intended to accelerate a shift in the marketplace from gas-powered equipment to so-called zero emissions electric machines. “In the longer term, what we need to do is transition entirely away from gasoline-powered off-road engines,” said Bill Magavern, policy director for the California advocacy group Coalition for Clean Air.

The goal is to curb pollution linked to lung cancer, heart disease, strokes, asthma and other respiratory ailments. Those thought to be most at risk are landscaping workers who spend long hours operating gas-powered equipment, and who may be exposed to elevated levels of ultrafine particles that pose a breathing hazardAir tests commissioned by FairWarning in June and July found high ultrafine particle concentrations around operating machines – in one case, the concentration was more than 50 times higher than at a nearby traffic-clogged intersection.

As this report makes clear, the public-health and environmental damage done by this sort of dirty old equipment is all the more unnecessary, since lawn-equipment manufacturers, notably Stihl, are pioneering new, clean, quiet battery-powered machines.

Next in this space: an update in the nation's capital, Washington D.C., to apply progressive standards similar to those in the nation's most populous state.