Princeton should move beyond partial ban of gas leaf blowers, phase them out altogether

To the Editor:

The Princeton governing body is to be complimented for the partial ban on gas leaf blowers. Princeton permits the use of gas-powered leaf blowers March 15-May 15 and October 1-December 15 while banning them during the other seven and one-half months. 

Officials seem to agree that Gas-powered leaf blowers–with exasperating noise, being unhealthy for workers, and a menace to the environment–are bad. What has been learned since they passed the bill in 2021?

Noise

It’s almost impossible to enjoy a quiet moment in our neighborhoods during certain hours of 3/15-5/15 without hearing the blasting of gas leaf blowers, their engines alternating between bone-shaking rumbles and maddening whines assaulting our ears.

Sound from gas leaf-blowers can reach 90 decibels or more and have been shown to exceed the World Health Organization’s recommended daytime standards of 55 amplitude-weighted decibels.  Their low-frequency noises can travel hundreds of yards and penetrate walls.

Workers

As disturbing as health and noise issues are from gas leaf blowers for neighbors, harms to landscape workers are exponentially more severe. They face alarming risks to their health, including asthma, cardiovascular disease, other respiratory illnesses, and irreversible hearing loss.

Given the demographic makeup of many landscape workers–who may be recently arrived immigrants–gas leaf blowers are not just a neighborhood nuisance, they also contribute to racial and social inequality.

In addition, the EPA says these machines produce carcinogens like benzene, butadiene, and formaldehyde — is it any wonder, in Philadelphia, one in five children have asthma? 

The Environment

According to James Fallows, a former writer for The Atlantic, gas leaf blowers are “vastly the dirtiest and most polluting kind of machinery still in legal use.”

Lawn equipment in Pennsylvania, for example, emits 965 tons of fine particulates annually, the equivalent of pollution from more than 10 million typical cars.

Just one commercial lawn mower running on gas for an hour produces as much smog-causing pollutants as driving 300 miles in a car. Gas leaf blowers are much worse, producing the equivalent pollution of driving 1,100 miles.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates show that lawn and garden equipment powered by fossil fuels released 30 million tons of carbon dioxide in 2020. 

Because 170 municipalities have banned gas-powered leaf blowers, there already is a market for electric blowers . . . which are immensely quieter than gas ones, and their engines generate zero emissions (that’s zero). Passing a ban with a phaseout period allows landscapers to plan for upfront costs, which can be recouped in a couple of years.

Gerhart Arndt, owner of Conshohocken-based Sustainable Lawn Care Services has said, “We use all battery-powered equipment throughout our services. It’s much easier and safer for the operator as well as reducing maintenance and upkeep to a minimum.”

Gas-powered leaf blowers have been banned in Montclair and in Washington, D.C. since last year. Seattle will have a full ban by 2025, and West Orange by 2026.

The Town Council of Cambridge, Mass. (home of what university?) recently unanimously voted to move its total gas leaf blower ban from 2027 to 2026.

All the reliable harbingers of spring in Princeton are here — weather warming, flowers blooming, trees budding, and noise galore plus gas fumes proliferating.

We all know the harms of gas-powered leaf blowers. Yet, when compared to hundreds of other communities, why is Princeton’s “law” the weakest? Why do we only prohibit their use in the months when they’re generally not needed? (It’s as if Princeton University banned cheating by its students only in the summer when there are no classes.)

Mayor Freda and members of the Town Council should move forward with totally phasing out gas-powered leaf blowers by 2025 and make Princeton quieter and cleaner, eliminate a major source of climate change, and protect laborers who bear the brunt of these harms.

Let’s do it soon and completely.  Please. 

Sincerely,

Milt Lieberman

8 Comments

  1. I work from my studio in my home and often have my new grandbaby at my house. Four houses border my property and often 1 or more are using gas blowers at the same time, or in succession My house literally shakes and smells of gas. Please ban these unnecessary, noisy , polluting pieces of equipment.

  2. If only gas leaf blowers were unnecessary and weren’t needed, that would be a wonderful world. The article writer above compares Princeton with Cambridge, Massachusetts and suggests that if Cambridge can ban leaf blowers, then so should Princeton. But has the letter writer been to Cambridge? It’s an urban city with very few trees, and nothing like Princeton with its abundant trees.

    If you live on a lot with many trees, gas-powered leaf blowers are a necessity. Corded electric leaf blowers can’t cover the terrain and battery powered ones aren’t powerful enough yet (I write this as someone who uses battery powered chainsaws). Gas-powered blowers are a necessity in the former Township areas of Princeton. They are not needed in the Borough part as the lots are much smaller.

    The current compromise is a good one by confining the noise of the leaf-blowers to certain times of the years. I’d support even confining it to certain days of the week to allow others days to be more quiet, or banning them in the town center. But a total ban is not realistic right now.

    1. Blue Sky Green Earth uses all battery equipment for their landscaping company, so battery tools are indeed powerful enough these days.

  3. Why does Town Topics get delivered in a PLASTIC bag to every Princeton residence? And stacks of newspapers all around Princeton businesses? If you want to consider sustainability and banning leaf blowers why not extend the plastic bag ban to everyone.

  4. I agree completely. Two adults working from home here in a dense area near town center. A complete ban would be a blessing for everyone and the environment.

  5. Yes, ban them completely. There is rarely a quiet moment these days, so annoying and terrible for the environment.

    Blue Sky Green Earth landscaping uses all battery equipment, including their truck. (I’m not affiliated with them).

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