Don’t blow it!

As we savor the glorious color of New England in autumn, an obnoxious machine can disrupt our enjoyment.

Leafblowers are so noisy, wasteful and unhealthy that their use should be restricted or banned. Hundreds of communities have done so, including liberal strongholds like Cambridge and Berkeley, and it’s time for Amherst to consider such action.

It’s hard to miss the noise of a leafblower. Gas-powered ones put out between 90 and 100 decibels; the EPA says anything over 75 can cause hearing loss. Even the manufacturers say that anyone within 50 feet of a leafblower should wear ear protection.leafblower

These machines, which create hurricane-force winds, do more than move leaves around. They can pick up dust, topsoil, animal waste, fungi, herbicides and tiny microbes and send them swirling into the air.

These allergens and toxins can be harmful to breathe, especially for children. The American Lung Association recommends that people avoid leafblowers.

The engines in gas-powered leafblowers are inefficient, and spew hazardous compounds into the air, such as carbon monoxide, nitrous oxide and hydrocarbons, according to the EPA. They put out more pollution than a 6,200-pound Ford F150 truck, adding to the problem of climate change.

The people most at risk from leafblowers are the ones who use them. Employees of landscape contractors should be provided with equipment to protect their eyes and lungs as well as their ears.

But really, why do so many people hire these landscapers? Leafblowers didn’t exist before the 1970s, and before then we survived quite nicely with rakes and brooms. Clearing one’s yard of leaves with rakes can be a pleasant chore.

We look upon leaves not as a waste product to get rid of but as an important constituent of our compost piles and thus our garden’s fertility. We willingly accept leaves that a neighbor provides us and bag them for future use in compost.

There are many options for restricting leafblowers. Cambridge limits their use to certain times of day. Berkeley banned them altogether long ago. Scarsdale, N.Y. restricts their noise to 75 decibels. Los Angeles and Aspen allow only electric leafblowers, which are quieter and less polluting than gas-powered ones.

Some might say, “Are we going to ban chainsaws next?” But the difference in productivity between a chainsaw and a hand saw is much greater than the difference between a leafblower and a rake. (We use an electric chainsaw.) Some tests have even shown rakes to be faster than leafblowers.

How about it, Amherst? Are we ready to reclaim the serenity of autumn, freed from the noise and pollution of leafblowers?

For new readers of this blog, here’s a quick overview of 140 past posts in 13 categories, including frugality, simple living, gardening, living without, cooking and climate change.


2 thoughts on “Don’t blow it!

  1. I’m a big fan of the regulatory state, but others are not. One really has to decide whether this particular annoyance is top priority. For God’s sake, we can’t even get a carbon tax enacted in this country. I think living in a free society requires a certain amount of private persuasion (you know, where you actually speak to your neighbor about your concern?) to go along with the prudent and restrained lawmaking. An essential aspect of freedom is bearing witness repeatedly to the folly of others, and then deciding whether or not you’re going to communicate about it. I could support an incremental step a la Cambridge on this issue, but we need to have a little additional faith that our fellow citizens can get the message about the harm caused without the community having to come down on them. We have lost confidence in simple, private moral suasion.

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