A story this week from The California Report, for the San Francisco public broadcasting station KQED, stresses the surprisingly important public-health and environmental-justice aspects of the seemingly trivial practice of using dirty, noisy, gas-powered lawn equipment. As the story by David Gorn begins:
They may look pretty innocuous — those leaf blowers, hedge trimmers and gas mowers wielded by a small army of gardening crews across the state
According to state air quality officials, those machines are some of the biggest polluters in California. In fact, by 2020, leaf blowers and other small gas engines will create more ozone pollution than all of the passenger cars in the state.
Yes, really, there will be more pollution from gas-powered gardening equipment than from cars, confirms Michael Benjamin, division chief at the California Air Resources Board.
How can this be?
There’s a reason for that: Regulations on car exhaust have gotten tighter and tighter over the years, substantially reducing their ozone-damaging emissions. At the same time, while there have been some controls on the smaller gas engines, there haven’t been enough, says Benjamin.
The story also very clearly emphasizes the environmental-justice aspect of hired lawn crews, which in California are mainly staffed by lower-wage Latino workers, being chronically exposed to dangerous emissions. It quotes the head of the American Green Zone Alliance, Dan Mabe:
Mabe has worked these gardening crews himself — “since I was 7 years old” — and has the health scares and breathing problems to prove it. Mabe’s crusade to trade in gas for electric machinery is based on a desire to improve air quality and workers’ health. But there’s another motivation for him. Many gardening crews across California are Latino, he says, and that takes the discussion to another level.
“You can call it environmental justice. It’s a demographic that isn’t really being addressed.”
It's a very strong report that deserves wide attention, especially the next time you hear that eliminating these obsolete, hyper-polluting machines is a "First World Problem."