Ronda Kaysen of the New York Times has a very good new story about the way changing fundamentals of American suburban life, notably including a near-doubling of lawn-care employees since 2002, have brought new attention to the environmental, public health, and noise-nuisance effects of leafblower use. The story is here, and it emphasizes the same phenomenon you'll find discussed on many items in this site: the anomalous persistence of two-stroke, gas-powered engines in lawn-equipment use, even though they have been phased out or prohibited in most other uses (boating, watercraft, small transport vehicles in developing countries). The story centers on a proposal from Maplewood, New Jersey, to ban commercial use of leaf blowers during summer months.
Leaf blowers are beloved and reviled for the same reason: They are powerful. Strapped in a pack to a worker’s back, these blowers plow through leaves, grass clippings, debris and light snow, making it possible for a landscaper to quickly clear a property. A 2017 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report lists leaf blowers as a common noise that can contribute to permanent hearing loss.
Most landscapers use leaf blowers with two-stroke engines, which are light enough to carry but produce significant exhaust and noise. The gas and oil mix together, and about a third of it does not combust. As a result, pollutants that have been linked to cancers, heart disease, asthma and other serious ailments escape into the air.
The commercial-gardener aspect of the Maplewood proposal is significant, since day-long use of thje equipment by teams working through a neighborhood has a different effect -- on the neighbors, and on the yard crew -- than homeowners working on their own yards.
An emerging tech possibility offers a solution beyond the ones Maplewood is considering. That is the rapid appearance on the market of much cleaner, much quieter, battery-powered lawn equipment that allows crews to do their work with much less impact on themselves, the community, and the environment. You can read about them here, here, and here. They are the basis of trade-in programs in Los Angeles and many other cities, and their increasing power and affordability is why the shift away from antiquated, dirty gas-powered machines is just a matter of time.
Congrats to Ronda Kaysen, the NYT, and the people of Maplewood.