Exhaust emissions, fuel spills, and fugitive dust contaminants (all of
which contribute to air pollution) and noise from blowers can all impact
overall health, from subtle changes in well being to death. Air
pollution includes both smog and air toxics, which are chemicals that
may not be considered safe at any level, (97.7.10)
and which are known to cause cancer, or lead to other critical illness.
Noise can cause hearing loss, interfere with communication, cause rest
and sleep disturbance and changes in performance and behavior, and other
psychological and physiological changes that may lead to overall poor
health. (ARB Report)
Potential health effects from exhaust emissions, fugitive dust,
and noise range from mild to serious. -- ARB Report
We recommend Poisoning the Air: Airborne Pesticides in California,
CALPIRG/ Californians for Pesticide Reform, by Zev Ross and Jonathan Kaplan
(IGC), or see their homepage, to
learn more about pesticides.
The Zero Air Pollution four-minute Video
shows the dust drift caused by blowers, and describes the Orange County
Grand Jury Report, that recommended blowers not be used. The written
Video transcript is available on this site.
|In Los Angeles and nearby counties,
according to the Air Quality Management District, thermal inversions
act like a lid over the basin. Bright sunshine and warm temperatures
cause some pollutants to react with each other, forming even more
pollution . . .. Different types and levels of air pollution can cause
everything from watery eyes and fatigue to respiratory disease, lung
damage--even cancer. See Maps of specific pollutants in
LA or your own area. (Source).
A Natural Resources Defense Council
report estimates that, in the Los Angeles-Long Beach, California
area alone, in 1989, Adult Cardio-pulmonary deaths attributable to
Particulate Air Pollution were between 3,550 and 7,933. The
Breath-taking report estimates that approximately 65,000 premature
deaths from cardiopulmonary cause may be attributable to particulate
air pollution each year.
Joel Schwartz, Harvard School of Public Health, You find people
dying from chronic lung disease, pneumonia, and sudden heart attacks.
These arent people [already] lying in the hospital with tubes
stuck in them. The biggest increase we find on high air-pollution
days is in people dead on arrival at the hospital and:
Linking environmental pollution to specific disease is overwhelming,
but studies linking it to poor health are consistent, with significant
results. In response to stronger air pollution standards,
Industries have launched a direct attack on the science itself.
(97.8.1) We recommend this
whole Consumer Reports article, August 1997 Clearing the Air,
Is Our Air Clean Enough?
Polluted air Reduces the capacity of red blood cells to carry
oxygen to the body. It promotes and aggravates heart, blood
and other diseases. . .Alters behavior and may decrease mental performance;
Brings on headaches and irritability. (96.11.2)
A lot of our pollution comes from the products and services
we use every day. All of us can help by making some simple changes
in the way we live. and, Ozone, the worst ingredient of
smog, is not emitted directly into the air from any source.
It is formed when two other pollutants hydrocarbons . . .and
nitrogen oxidesreact in sunlight. (96.11.2)
A large body of research has proven that people suffer
serious health effects at pollutant levels below the current standards.
toxics are chemicals that may not be considered safe at any level.
they are known to cause cancer, or lead to other critical illness,
birth defects or genetic mutations. One example is benzene,
a component of gasoline, which has been linked to leukemia
American Lung Association recommends that passersby avoid blowers
if possible, especially if they suffer from respiratory problems
Toxic matter widely distributed by blowers may settle, unseen, on
infant and childrens outdoor play equipment and toys, which
are often sucked on by those children. It may drift or be drawn
inside their homes with the same results.
|Emissions And Fuel Spills
|The Federal Environmental Protection
Agency (EPA) and the State Air Quality Resources Board (ARB) are charged
with protecting the health of all residents of California. They
have waged an uphill struggle to reduce air pollution from all sources,
not just motor vehicles. This makes sense, when you consider
that only 50% of our air pollution comes from these vehicles.
By 1997, their efforts resulted in 70% reduced pollution by industries,
and automobiles were running more than ten times cleaner than in 1966.
(97.7.10) Around this time,
the AQMD began to emphasize pollution from millions of everyday single
uses of consumer products.
The AQMD is charged with regulating utility engines, also
known as non road engines, which include lawn and garden
equipment. A July 1997 AQMD report states, Commercial
equipment is responsible for the lions share of 14 tons per
day of smog-forming volatile organic compounds emitted by all lawn
and garden equipment in the Southland. (97.7.10)
An Air Resources Board report on the health and environmental impacts
of leaf blowers points out, Exhaust emissions from leaf blowers
consist of the following specific pollutants of concern: hydrocarbons
from both burned and unburned fuel, and which combine with other gases
in the atmosphere to form ozone; carbon monoxide; fine particulate
matter; and other toxic air contaminants in the unburned fuel. . .,
including benzene, 1.3-butadiene, acetaldehyde, and formaldehyde.. (ARB
Report) While manufacturers have made great improvements,
in some cases even meeting or exceeding standards not yet in effect,
older machines still in use are of concern.
Toxic compounds in gasoline are carcinogens; e.g. benzene has been
linked to leukemia (96.8.2).
At low exposures, carbon monoxide causes headaches, dizziness, weakness
and nausea. Ozone can cause constriction of airways, coughing,
sore throat and shortness of breath. Acetaldehyde is a
probable human carcinogen . . .and acute exposures lead to eye, skin,
and respiratory tract irritation. 1,3-Butadiene is classified as a
probable human carcinogen, is mildly irritating to the eyes and mucous
membranes, and can cause neurological effects at very high levels.
Formaldehyde is highly irritating to the eyes and respiratory tract
and can induce or exacerbate asthma. It is classified as a probable
human carcinogen. (ARB
Irritating to Living Tissue
p.4 of 7)
|Since 1995, when initial standards were
set, however, manufacturers have done an acceptable job certifying
and producing engines that are below the regulated limits.
By 1999, Exhaust standards already in place have reduced exhaust
emissions from the engines used on leaf blowers, and manufacturers
have significantly reduced CO [carbon monoxide] emissions further
than required by the standards. In addition, new designs
and methods of refueling have reduced fuel spills, and their resultant
Even so, Ultra-low or zero exhaust emitting leaf blowers could
further reduce public and worker exposures. What is an
acceptable job to the ARB may be lacking to environmentalists
and health care professionals, but it is a step forward.
It must also be remembered that air pollution standards are set amid
much uproar from manufacturers, other related businesses, and the
politicians they influence. The standards achieved by manufacturers
may still be set far below what would most benefit the health of state
residents. In efforts to avoid economic hardship for manufacturers
and distributors, safer emission and pollution standards may be phased
into effect only over a number of years.
|Historically referred to by many families
as Dust and Grime
Some people may experience severe respiratory or other reactions from
the distribution of dust, alone. The term fugitive dust
accurately describes the dust and fine debris distributed by the powerful
air velocity of blowers. Once airborne, it cannot be controlled.
It is a mixture of many pollutants propelled from landscape and hardscape
alike (patios, decks, walkways, driveways, sidewalks, gutters, streets).
Especially where blowers are used on residential landscape and hardscape,
it may contain dried fecal material, fertilizers, fungal spores, mold,
pesticides, and herbicides.
Blowers are designed to move relatively large piles of leaves and
debris. In efforts to satisfy customers, manufacturers promote
blowers with more power: i.e. higher air velocity,
which equals a greater distribution of fugitive dust and Particulate
matter. This air speed may be up to 120mph. Hurricane
winds start at about 117mph. Where only gasoline blowers
are banned or restricted, yard workers look to alternative fuels and
for more power in the electric models. This defeats the intent
of restrictive laws, which is cleaner air.
The ARB 2000 Report states Banning or restricting the use of
leaf blowers would reduce fugitive dust emissions. Many
air quality districts prohibit the generation of dust which becomes
visible in the atmosphere beyond the property line of its generation.
Particulate Matter (PM)
Smog has long been recognized as
a danger to health. Only recently has Particulate matter,
which is a part of the dust made airborne by blowers, been recognized
as even more of a danger.
Particulate Matter (PM) contains both fine and coarse
particles, all of which are re-suspended into the air over and over
again by blowers. They may remain, unseen, in the air we breathe
for hours to days at a time. Even when below current standards,
PM is associated with increases in mortality and morbidity.
Coarse particles come from paved road dust, and are
a major contributor to airborne PM in Los Angeles. Road dust
may contain small amounts of toxic metals arsenic, chromium, lead
and mercury, as well as soil, tire and brake particles and allergens
(including pollens, pollen fragments, animal dander and molds) which
can cause or intensify allergenic disease. (ARB
PM may contain carbon, soot, sulfur (97.7.2),
lead. Coarse particles are also formed by ammonium nitrate.
Fine particulate matter (PM10) . . .(finer than
a human hair), takes the form of either liquid droplets or solids.
The particles are mixtures of man-made and natural substances including
sulfates, nitrates, metals, carbon, rubber, sea salt, soil, soot
and organic material. (96.11.2)
We know that breathing fine particulates causes premature
It now seems probable that fine particles are more toxic than coarse
particles. It may help that manufacturers have reduced the
emissions of new blowers in the past few years.
When blower advocates point out that it also contains dried animal
feces, it usually triggers an E-e-e-u-u-w-w-w! response
from listeners. Heres the poop on pigeons.
They carry and transmit diseases such as encephalitis, salmonella
and histoplasmosis. Theyre loaded with ectoparasites like
fleas, ticks and mites. . . (98.12.2)
Because some people have expressed the fear that hantavirus found
in the urine leavings of rats could be spread by blowers, ZAP sought
information from James N. Mills, Ph.D, chief, Medical Ecology Unit,
at the CDC. He was gracious enough to give us a full explanation.
Because the blowing air would dissipate the virus, and it would
likely be exposed to ultraviolate sun, it is very unlikely to be
spread by blowers. The power of the virus decreases rapidly once
outside the rodent's body, and doesn't last more than two or three
days. It is more likely spread by exposure to enough of the urine,
especially at the site of broken skin or eyes, in a shaded or dark
environment where there is an active infestation of infected rodents.
That situation does not match up with common residential landscape
He does, however, recommend blower operators wear hepa/N100 filtered
face masks (for small particle aerosols), wrap-around goggles, and
protect areas of broken skin.
|No studies have been done on the impact
of blower use on the spread of pesticide residues. However,
there is a widespread use of pesticides in California, and the
use of pesticides on home lawns is heavier than comparable area use
in agriculture. (The Ecology
of Eden) A USGS survey of air monitoring studies shows airborne
pesticides travel far from their original source. and. . ..
. . may pose significant risk particularly to pregnant women, children
or chemically sensitive/immune system compromised individuals.
(Poisoning the Air report, p.3)
Between 1991 and 1995, use of cancer causing pesticides more than
doubled. Some pesticides break down very quickly. Others
adhere to soil or dust particles, or vaporize, and could easily be
blown, along with dust and gasoline fumes, right into neighboring
homes. Symptoms of exposure, such as nausea, vomiting, and/or
headaches, could be mistaken for the flu. (Poisoning
the Air report, p.12)
The things we dont know could be harmful to our health.
No safe levels for exposure to a combination of pesticides
and chemicals have been identified. The results of low exposures
over long periods of time need to be studied.
toxicity [of pesticides] refers to long-term health effects that occur
months or years after the toxic exposure. Health effects may be delayed
consequences of past exposures, or a result of continuing low-level
exposures over time. Effects can include respiratory problems, cancer
and other tumors, neurological damage, and reproductive effects such
as birth defects, stillbirth, spontaneous abortion and infertility.
(Poisoning the Air report, p.11)
Compared with short term effects:
Acute Toxicity of
Pesticides: Acute toxicity refers to short-term adverse health
effects that occur after recent exposure to the toxic substance. Usually
this is within a few minutes to a few hoursat the most a few
days. Effects can include: stinging, burning, rashes, blisters, scarring,
blindness, convulsions, nausea and dizziness. (Poisoning
the Air report, p.11)
|Noise is an emission,
|Noise: any unwanted sound:
probably loud, unmusical, and disagreeable, with potential of causing
hearing loss and other adverse health impacts. In addition,
the quality of the noise has a bearing. High pitched sounds,
whatever their volume, may be noise to sensitive individuals.
. . .there is a growing recognition that continued noise
exposure can trigger physiological changes in blood pressure, sleep,
digestion, and other stress-related disorders. (01.3.2)
Where unwanted airport noise levels reach 65 dB, as monitored continuously
in Westchester, Play del Rey and South Los Angeles, about 9,000 residences
are eligible for funds for soundproofing; dual-paned windows, solid-core
doors and attic insulation. The quietest gas blower on the market
at the time this web site was created, claimed to be 65 db by ANSI
standards which are explained below.
Los Angeles has noise restrictions on machinery used in or within
500 feet of any residential zone of the City. Powered
equipment intended for repetitive use in residential areas, including
lawn mowers, backpack blowers, small lawn and garden tools and riding
tractors . . . (Section 112.05
LAMC) including electric blowers, which are not banned, are restricted
to a maximum of 65 decibels at 50 feet. This is a standard that
few gas blowers operated in residential neighborhoods could meet.
Los Angeles blower supporters requested a compromise of
banning only blowers that registered over 65 decibels by the American
National Standards Institute, Inc. (ANSI herein).
The ANSI Accredited Standard Committee, which developed the method
for measuring blower sound, includes blower manufacturers and trade
associations. We applaud their interest in finding a workable
standard that, at least, gives consumers a formula for comparison-shopping
amongst various models and manufacturers of gardening equipment.
The method of testing, however, does not represent actual sound levels
resulting from blower use in residential areas, and leads to erroneous
conclusions on the part of lawmakers. The ANSI sound test score,
an average of several readings taken at a distance of 50 feet, may
have been explained to them as normal conversation level.
When advised that a new machine on the market is 65 decibels,
press and politicians frequently conclude that is the same level of
noise heard by all people who are within hearing range of the machine.
They also may conclude that the machine with the lowest standard possible
is the only one that will be used in a typical neighborhood.
In addition, the ANSI dB label on new machines may not represent the
noise level of that machine as it sounds after a period of use, particularly
if it is not well maintained.
STANDARD: Also referred to as "Industry Standards."
The ANSI tests take place in an open field, with ground cover lower
than 3 inches, and where large reflecting surfaces (such as property-line
fences and walls, houses and cars) must be at least 100 feet from
the blower. The sound meter microphone is 50 feet from the operator
of the machine and four feet above ground. Eight readings are
taken in a circle every 45 degrees as either the operator rotates,
or the microphone is moved. The eight readings are then averaged
to the nearest decibel. They are set to A for weighting,
which evaluates high or low frequencies.
Average, remember, is neither the lowest, nor the highest reading.
One very low reading can bring down other fairly high readings.
When a blower is five feet from an open window of ones home,
blowing between and echoing off the neighbors stucco house exterior
and a cement wall, the noise entering ones home is not averaged,
it is direct and may be much higher than 65dB.
Doubling the distance between the source and the person hearing a
sound drops the sound level by approximately 6 dB. With the
logarithmic scale used to rate noise, 80 dB is 10 times as loud as
70dB. 90dB is a hundred times as loud. (Source).
Since sound pressure levels are not directly additive, see the ARB
2000 Report (Source) and/or go
to noise pollution web sites (Noise
Pollution Clearninghouse and National
Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders) to figure
out what this means to listeners who are closer than 50 feet, or for
machines with decibel levels higher than 65.
For comparison of sounds which, when controlled or chosen by a listener,
are acceptable, but which become noise when unwanted and/or
unexpected, consider the following table:
These decibel level comparisons may refer to the levels of older appliances,
not the quieter versions available today.
level for uninterrupted sleep (World Health Organization)
Loud. 75-95dB Very Loud.
About 25% of people will be awakened or delayed in falling
asleep (Human Factors)
Light traffic, Normal conversation, quiet office. (Sony
acceptance level for spaces where quiet is expected.
People will have to raise their voices slightly to converse
over distances greater than 8 feet. Will awaken about
half the population about half of the time. Still annoying
to those sensitive to noise (Human Factors)
Dining, social conversation (Human Factors)
Air conditioner at 20 feet, sewing machine (Sony)
A generally noisy environment, sporadic conversation
is acceptable. About half the people will experience
difficulty sleeping (Human Factors)
Only one or two newer blower models, at 50 feet.
level for telephone conversation without difficulty (Human
Vacuum cleaner, hair dryer (WISE)
The upper level for normal conversation, even when close
together. At six feet, must shout. Telephone
conversation will be difficult. (Human Factors)
Noisy restaurant (Sony)
Too noisy for adequate telephone conversation. A raised
voice required at a distance of two feet apart. (Human
LEAF BLOWER at your next door neighbor's.
Garbage disposal (WISE)
Conversation is difficult, must be in a loud voice less
than one foot apart. It is difficult to think clearly
after about an hour, there may be some stomach contraction
and an increase in metabolic rate. ( Human Factors)
Average city traffic, alarm clock at two feet (Sony)
Up to 110 dB or more
Some blowers, next to operator's ear.