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