On Monday February 28th the Pasadena City Council will consider whether to set a timeline to phase out the use of gas-powered leaf blowers.
By Wesley Reutimann
According to the California Air Resources Board, one hour of operation of a commercial leaf blower can emit as much nitrogen oxides (NOx) and reactive organic gases (ROG) as driving 1,100 miles in a 2017 Toyota Camry. This startling estimate is unlikely to be lost on anyone who strolls Pasadena’s residential neighborhoods. The smell of a two-stroke gas leaf blower is unmistakable.
Pollution from such “Small Off Road Engines” (SOREs) – a category that primarily consists of lawn, garden, and other outdoor power equipment – has now overtaken pollution from passenger cars. Statewide there are an estimated 16.7 million SOREs in use, versus 13.7 million passenger vehicles.
The small size of these devices belies their impact on local air quality, which unfortunately has been on the decline in recent years. The region remains an extreme non-attainment zone for air quality per the US EPA, with significant impacts for human health and the local economy. High rates of asthma and other respiratory illnesses, as well as cognitive impairments, some cancers, and even obesity have all been linked to exposure to air pollution. Chronic illnesses such as asthma also have high, long-term costs in associated healthcare and diminished productivity, from missed days at school to regular medications.
The California State legislature passed and the Governor signed AB 1346 in 2021. The new state law will phase out the sale of new, gas-powered yard equipment on December 31, 2023. The state legislature and Governor also approved $30 million in new funding for programs to support the transition to zero emission equipment. Popular programs such as the South Coast Air Quality Management District’s Electric Lawn and Garden Equipment Incentive Program will now receive an influx of funding to help small business operators, public agencies, and non-profit organizations exchange older gasoline- or diesel-powered lawn and garden equipment for new, zero emission equipment. Since 2020 the regional program has allowed participants to select from a variety of commercial-grade equipment, including handheld trimmers, chainsaws, pruners, and blowers, as well as lawn mowers.
At the local level, cities are also beginning to take supportive action. On September 1, 2021 the City of South Pasadena adopted a local ordinance to phase out the use of gas leaf blowers. Effective October 1, 2022, South Pasadena’s policy is designed to be non-punitive to small business owners by holding the property owner or tenant, whichever person authorizes the use of a gas-powered leaf blower, responsible for violations of the ordinance.
Local action on the issue is supported by a range of Pasadena-based organizations, including the Pasadena Audubon Society, League of Women Voters Pasadena Area, Throop Church, Day One, and Arlington Garden.
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