Autumn: a season of change; the death of the year; the contemplation of things undone… heralded by the swish of dry leaves, cerulean blue skies, bracing north winds and—from the outermost suburbs to the Capitol grounds, as ubiquitous as the caw of crows—the grating whine of the leaf blower commencing at seven AM, right alongside newschoppers hot on the trail of traffic shots.
Sorry to be the turd in the punchbowl all the time, but the leaf blower is one of the most overrated, filthy, nettlesome, selfish contraptions this world has yet devised. First of all, even with careful operation, the leaves often end up blown into a neighbor’s yard or the street, where they become someone else’s problem. Leaf blowers have been making enemies for thirty-plus years, all the while becoming—like all things in this nation—larger, louder and more obnoxious.
Here are some pesky facts:
You don’t need me to tell you those fuckers are loud. Gasoline-powered leaf blowers commonly subject the operator to 95-decibel sound pressure. I’ve spent some time in the sound business and take it from me—95 dbs is loud. Loud enough—without scrupulous hearing protection (usually an afterthought on yard jobs)—to cause cumulative and irreversible hearing impairment over time. For us bystanders, even at fifty feet the sound pressure is still 65 dbs. The World Health Organization cites a general outdoors sound level of no more than 55 dbs. Since sound levels are exponential, 65 is ten times what the WHO suggests. But the noise is just the beginning.
Gasoline-powered leaf blowers use a two-cycle engine, which is a filthy and obsolete device. What makes them so nasty (listen up, scooter people) is that to facilitate lubrication of internal engine components, the lubricating oil must be mixed with the fuel. You’ve seen a car with bad rings before, that pall of blue smoke? A two-stroke is like a car with bad rings—all the time. Studies have found that operating a two-cycle leaf blower for one hour creates a combustion residue equivalent to 17 automobiles idling in the immediate area. A California Air Resources Board analysis found that in Orange County alone, leaf blowers created 2.11 tons of combustion pollutants—per day. The schmutz, especially the particulate, in the 2.5 micron range, penetrates deeply into respiratory systems which both CARB and the US EPA have linked to increases in asthma attacks, bronchitis, various other lung problems and a reduced ability to fight infections, especially in the young and old. But you say yours is electric? Don’t fool yourself thinking you get a pass, pal.
Think about all the different substances on your front lawn: toxic chemicals; fertilizers; lead; mold; pollen; dry dead plant particulate; car poo; dog doo and so forth. Now imagine a 180 to 250 mph air jet propelling those substances. Besides the exhaust, leaf blowers create a persistent toxic cloud. Particles, much in the 10 micron size, are small enough to penetrate deeply into lungs where they wreak all sorts of havoc, especially in the tender, pink developing tissue of children. An hour of operation stirs up five pounds of the above-mentioned ick into a cloud surrounding you and your neighbor’s house. And as a bonus: the free stray leaves!
Some communities have gone so far as to outright ban these damnable machines, but lawn contractors predictably moaned about going broke. The city of Claremont, California conducted a study and found that collecting leaves using the old fashioned techniques (raking) adds a whopping 6 percent of work compared to leaf blowers—this, of course, minus fuel and maintenance. Santa Barbara put severe restrictions on all leaf blowers and even banned the gasoline models in 1997. In terms of city budget, after an initial outlay of 90 grand to replace leaf blowers with manual equipment, Santa Barbara experienced a zero increase in budget requirements for leaf clean-up.
I’m not holding my breath for such radical steps here in Raleigh. I know how petrophilic my little town is and how little regard it has for its citizens when money is involved. But, at the least, we could vastly improve the irritation factor. Yet, as things stand now, seven AM continues to be the starting bell for any sort of money-making racket one wishes to inflict on their neighbors, as the residents of Boylan Heights will attest vis-a-vis the heavy construction commencing at Central Prison the moment there is daylight.