• Editor’s note: This is part 1 of a 2-part series. This article first appeared in the ColoradoBoulevard.net March 2021 print edition.

      two leaf blowers with dust on the street

      Two leaf blowers in South Pasadena (Photo – William J. Kelly)

      The roar begins each morning at 8:00 am. Step outside your home and see the cloud of dust settling on your freshly washed car, new house paint, or patio furniture. Breathe deeply and smell the fumes.

      By William J. Kelly

      Throughout the San Gabriel Valley, that’s the time gardeners start their engines, blowing a torrent of smog-forming and cancer-causing compounds and greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere from leaf blowers, lawn mowers, weed whackers, and a myriad of lawn and garden equipment.

      But don’t blame the army of mostly low-wage, often self-employed, and largely Latino workers who mow household lawns and maintain city parks and golf courses. After all, for decades these have been the only tools of the trade available to them to eke out a livable wage.

      Indeed, according to the California Air Resources Board, California has 16.5 million gasoline-powered lawn and garden tools. That’s more than the State’s 13.7 million light-duty passenger cars, which don’t include pickup trucks and large SUVs. And unlike those cars, which have become progressively cleaner since the catalytic converter was required in the 1970s, lawn and garden tool engines largely are bereft of any emissions control systems.

      No wonder, then, that today in the San Gabriel Valley and throughout the South Coast Air Basin, lawn and garden equipment emits more smog-forming and cancer-causing volatile organic compounds, like benzene and butadiene, than passenger cars.

      In fact, the latest South Coast Air Quality Management District data show lawn and garden equipment emits 31.2 tons a day of these compounds in the Air Basin, while light-duty passenger cars emit 24.4 tons a day. Other pollutants from the equipment include carbon monoxide, particulate, and nitrogen oxides.

      The emissions contribute to smog that triggers asthma, suffered by an estimated 7.7 percent of adults and 8.4 percent of children in the U.S., according the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. The particles and gases also cause allergies and exacerbate chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and other respiratory ailments, according to the American Lung Association.

      South Coast Air District spokesperson Nahal Mogharabi notes that gardeners have much higher exposure to equipment emissions than nearby residents. This, he says, can put them at increased risk of cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, as well as cancer.

      compariosn chart between leaf blowers and cars

      Source: California Air Resources Board

      California Air Resources Board data show gasoline-powered leaf blowers, which gardeners strap on their backs, emit more smog-forming pollutants in an hour than driving a 2016 Toyota Camry from Los Angeles to Denver. Using a lawn mower for an hour emits as much as driving from Los Angeles to Las Vegas.

      Concern is growing too about the carbon dioxide emitted by gasoline-powered lawn and garden equipment; carbon dioxide is the primary cause of global warming. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates nationwide lawn and garden equipment emits about 23 million tons a year of the greenhouse gas. In the South Coast Air Basin, which includes San Gabriel Valley, carbon dioxide emissions from the equipment total more than 270,000 tons annually, according to Mogharabi.

      Accordingly, many cities have included plans to potentially curb use of the gasoline-powered equipment and replace it with electric leaf blowers and lawn mowers in order to cut carbon dioxide emissions. The climate action plans for both Pasadena and South Pasadena, for instance, outline the need for action to cut the emissions.

      Fortunately, clean-air technologies have emerged in recent years that will protect the health of both gardeners and residents, as they restore peace in your neighborhood. Part 2 of this column will outline what’s being done.

      Part 2: Solutions and tips (coming April 14).
      > This article appeared in the ColoradoBoulevard.net March 2021 print edition.

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        • William J. Kelly

          William J. Kelly has spent his career in journalism and communications, including as a reporter and editor for what is today known as Bloomberg Industry Group in Washington, D.C., and as a writer for numerous publications. He also managed communications for the South Coast Air Quality Management District and has authored several books.

          Colorado Boulevard is your place for informative news and social living for the greater Pasadena area.
          We strive to inform, educate, and work together to make a better world for all of us, locally and globally.

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      1. Simon Fielder says:

        Good and very informative except for the utterly ruinous (and very usual):
        “But don’t blame the army of mostly low-wage often self-employed and largely Latino workers who mow household lawns and maintain city parks and golf courses. For decades blowers etc have been the only tools of the trade available to them to eke out a livable wage.”

        That is patronizing and wrong in about 20 ways.

        But it comes up a lot in the media and in pro-blower arguments. So let’s have a look…

        Leaf-blowers blowing dust clouds 45 weeks a year and leaf-fall into streets and gutters the other 7 is not a job. It is not a “trade”, but a time-wasting, harmful, expensive act of anti-social insanity.

        If you sympathize with people doing this, then go all-out to encourage them to go home early instead of blowing dust for 52 minutes. Encourage them to charge per job, not per hour, so they’re not spending 52 minutes blowing pollution, stressing out the community and deterring (or killing) wildlife. Go, instead of hanging around blowing for 52 minutes. And save yourself 52 minutes’ fuel costs. And if you’d rather not go home, hitch 52 minutes time saved by not blowing here to 56 saved not blowing in your other job today and hey! you’ve enough time saved to take on another gig and earn a ton more money.
        If “often self-employed” and “ekeing out a liveable wage” are the sympathy points here, shouldn’t the above be widely circulated?

        Then the other chestnut: “largely Latino” – in parts of the US, certainly, not in other countries. (In the UK mainly unskilled or semi-skilled men of no specific racial or ethnic group, mostly white.) I cannot buy this “Because they’re Latino we should be more sympathetic to the fact they’re wrecking society with violent machinery…”
        That is in fact racist as hell.
        – “Oh but he’s ethnic”
        – “Oh I guess that excuses it.”
        …is racist and patronizing. Violent machinery has nothing to do with ethnicity, and everything to do with stupid, usually masculine insensitivity, which can be exhibited by any ethnic group.
        (btw, ask anyone of a non-white group any time their ethnicity is flagged by a white person – they hate it. Those Latino men in the picture would f***ing hate this author’s attempt to justify their existences by pointing out they’re “largely Latino”, same as he’d hate living in Mexico and hearing “Check out how thirstier this guy gets in our country because he’s a white American!” – especially when he sees he’s no thirstier than anyone else.)

        “Mowing household lawns and maintaining city parks and golf courses”… breezily hides a multitude of roaring-machines for non-tasks lurking behind the unarguably decent mowing of household lawns. (It’s a bit like saying: Count Dracula has supplied northern Transylvania with infrastructure, a passably working economy and a range of night-time activities.)

        That these poor ekeing, aching men should be forgiven because they have no choice is nonsense. There are hundreds of semi and unskilled jobs which do not inflict unbearable distress and serious pollution that these men could do instead, but they like their easy gig of slowly walking around squeezing a trigger for 52 minutes. Far, far easier than: construction site work, hospital portering, nursing, office-cleaning, street-sweeping, kitchen-work, house-painting, care for the elderly, litter patrol, car-maintenance, delivery-driving, supermarket staff, security work, boat-crewing or any of the many equally low-paid roles, often filled by non-whites, that contribute enormously to society, are often genuinely strenuous, and in no way compromise public health.

        Sorry, but a lazy, arrogant, sociopathic, selfish bum blowing up dust pollution for 52 minutes everyplace he goes, is exactly that, regardless if he’s Latino, white or Martian.

        Simon Fielder, founder BanLeafBlowers Facebook group, UK researcher into blowers since 2007.

      2. Max Ogden says:

        Surely internal combustion automobiles driving on that asphalt are the bigger health issue?

      3. Gregory Harrison says:

        Thank you for posting this article. We can do better for both workers and our community by employing greener tools and changing our leaf-blowing mindset

      4. Elizabeth Motta says:

        These things are banned in most parts of LA, all they do is spread pollution, allergens and noise. In keeping with our clean air policies here in Glendale, it would make sense to ban them here as well.

        • Anne says:

          They’re banned for use within 500 feet of ANY residence in Los Angeles County and have been since 1998.

          You can report their use with the MyLA311 app. Nobody will ever take this seriously if people don’t speak up.

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