leaf blowers zero air pollution
research regarding leaf blower laws
 
Type of Machine

Users

Where They Are Used

How They Are Used

Inconsiderate Use

Inconveniences to Others

Impacts on Neighboring Properties

About 4 printed pages.

 


Patterns of Blower Use

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See four-minute Video of blower in use.




 

Type of Machine

The Air Resources Board states that “there are approximately 410,000 gasoline-powered blowers in use in the state today. . . (99%) [of blower operators] utilize two-stroke engines.”  Noise levels exceed 90 decibels at the ear of the user.  One study assumed that nozzle air velocities ranged from 120 to 180 mph, and calculated that wind speed at the ground would range from 24 mph to 90 mph, sufficient to raise dust, and equivalent at the middle to high end speeds, to gale-force winds. (Source)

See how two stroke engines work.

Who Uses Blowers “Virtually all professional gardeners use engine-powered blowers.” (Source)
 
A gardener’s association representative noted that many Los Angeles gardeners are recent immigrants (98.1.7).   Especially in the case of blower operation, they may be day laborers, unsupervised, unwarned, unprotected and sometimes unpaid (98.11.1).  These workers may suffer from language difficulties.  They may not have been given proper safety training, or trained to use and maintain blowers properly.  In their eagerness to please, they may not become aware of problems their blower use causes.  Since at least the 1980’s many “gardeners” in Los Angeles have been what the press has reported as “mow, blow and go” upkeep workers.  They mow lawns and trim bushes, then clean up after nature and themselves. 
 
Currently, many gardeners also take on all the responsibilities of total care not only of the lawn, but also the plants.  There is a relatively new trend away from small, single-owner gardening businesses, sometimes with a helper or two.  Landscape companies now manage several crews of two to six workers.  Nearly 50% of work crews consist of three or more workers, “sweeping through yards with power mowers, weed whackers and leaf blowers” (98.10.1).  Workers remove and replace bedding plants as soon as flowers droop.  They either inform the property owners when fertilization is necessary, or carry out the job automatically.  They make changes in landscape, and install or repair sprinklers.  Many large landscape companies make even properties with small lots look like Disneyland. 
 
Employers may never see the workers who come to the neighborhood after they have left for work, much less meet the landscape company owner and/or the supervisor. 
 
Because of this trend, terms may get confusing.  A homeowner who hires a specific worker has historically been “an employer” (or customer).  If that same homeowner or renter of a residence hires a landscape company, he or she is now a “client”, and the landscape company considers itself the employer of the worker.  For the purposes of this web site, unless otherwise specified, the terms “employer” and “client” are used interchangeably and mean the owner or resident of the property that is being cared for.
 
Also due to this trend of larger work crews, two blowers may be used at once, enhancing the chance that, even if a newer, less polluting blower is used, an older blower is also used. 
Where They Are Used
While large commercial landscape companies who oppose bans use blowers to maintain public places such as parking lots and shopping malls, the L.A. ban of gas blowers is within 500 feet of a residence.  Therefore, this web site will focus on residential use of blowers. 
 
Zero Air Pollution (“ZAP”) conducted a random survey of public opinion, Survey99, wherein participants believe up to 60% of blower use is on hardscape. An industry sponsored education video for blower operators shows more than five times more blower use on hardscape than blower use on lawn and garden.  Yet, the voiceover at the end states blowers are “an important Lawn and Garden Tool.”
 
Residential blower users, gardeners and homeowners alike, also appear to value blower use on hardscape such as driveways more than their use on lawn and garden bedding.  Blowers became especially popular during the drought year of 1976 to “clear debris without using water to hose down driveways, parking lots and other paved areas.” (98.2.4)  This habit grew amongst gardeners, even though water, itself, may have taken longer to clear leaves and debris than would rakes and brooms.  Users most appreciate blowers, it seems, for removing grass clippings from hardscape, and leaves from the top of and in between low-growing hedges and other plants.
 
They are often used near open doors or windows to a residence, and between the exterior brick or stucco walls of a house and cement walls at property lines, amplifying sound, causing echoes and a higher rise of dust than when used in more open areas. 
How They Are Used
Blowers may be used on a given property from 15-60 minutes or more.  Two blowers may be used at once, one to gather leaves, the other to follow along after the lawn mower to gather or blow grass clippings off of sidewalks and other hardscape.
 
However, instead of being used in conjunction with rake and broom, they have replaced those tools.  A commonly observed work technique is the blowing of individual pods, leaves and small debris together, gathering and re-gathering wayward leaves that fly beyond the designated pile, perhaps moving it all from one end of a property to another.  They have been used to move large pods across thick grasses and heavy, wet leaves along a gutter, where a rake would take much less time. 
 
These poor work habits may be seen so often due to the use, as noted above, of day workers unused to the machines, or not properly trained.  Many professional gardeners gather leaves on lawns more efficiently than the above example.  Dust and debris are another matter.
 
Besides blowing dust and debris upwards into nearby open windows, they blow it to, or it settles on, properties on either side of, or situated at a lower level than, the one which is being serviced.  Blowers are sometimes left running while a user walks to another location or attends to another chore.  Once the machines are running, operators do not seem to combine their use with rakes and brooms.
Inconsiderate Use
Long before health studies showed more serious concerns, complaints about blowers stemmed from their inconsiderate use and noise.  The amount of fugitive dust (See Definitions of terms), emission odors and the decibel level that reaches neighbors depends on the size of the property, the number of trees and leaf dropping plants, the size of the driveway and other hardscape or dirt areas, the amount of grass clippings which fall onto that hardscape, and obstructions such as tables and chairs, potted plants, toys or gardening equipment left on the ground.
 
The urging by manufacturers and other related businesses, that blower operators follow their instructions, warnings and suggestions for making blower use tolerable to bystanders and neighbors, has worked to some extent.  Landscape companies and some gardeners try to be courteous when someone walks by.  Most, however, are not even aware of the chaos and tension they cause while they concentrate on their work.  They are busy, looking where they are going; for errant grass clippings on the sidewalk and leaves hiding under bushes, or for the last speck of dust.  When they feel rushed, power is increased, making even more noise, and blowing debris even over fences and walls into neighboring homes. 
 
But, the industry attempt at “education” does not reach most hired-help blower users.  Advice contained in industry publicatons and manufacturer's User Manuals may not have been read by the purchaser, much less the laborer who actually uses the machine.
 
In some neighborhoods, blowers inconvenience someone at least once a day.(99.10.1) 
“Inconveniences” to Others Caused by Blower Use
1)  Having to get up to close a door or window to keep out fumes, dust and debris and/or noise;
2)  ... and then having to turn on otherwise unnecessary air conditioning;
3)  Having to turn up the volume on radio, music and television;
4)  Moving to another room in order to hear and/or concentrate on a conversation or to use the phone;
5)  Being awakened, or having children awakened prematurely from regularly scheduled sleep time or naps;
6) Increased housekeeping, especially where an inhabitant has dust, mold, animal or plant allergies;
7)  Leaving yard work or an outdoor place of relaxation to retreat indoors;
8)  Crossing the street, perhaps several times daily, in order to avoid blowers
   (heard from joggers and parents of small children);
9)  Inability to use clothes lines instead of dryers for laundry;
10)  Necessity of washing cars, fencing and exterior of house more than otherwise required.
Impacts on Neighboring Properties
In most of Los Angeles, use of a dirt blower at one residence may impact eight-to-fourteen neighboring properties with noise, and air pollution from fugitive dust, emissions and fuel spills.(See Presentation) People “inconvenience” themselves to get out of a blower’s way or beyond its uproar in order to avoid these adverse impacts. 
 
The trend toward two-income families, has resulted in more disposable income, but less “free” time.  Gardening chores are hired-out, even by residents of “not-quite middle class communities” (98.1.10).  Nearly half of participants in Survey99 are not home when their landscape work is being done once each week.  Therefore, they are not aware of how disrupting it can be to their neighbors when mower, blower, edger and trimmer are all operated at the same time or one right after the other for up to an hour on their property.
 
More than an “inconvenience”, however, are the health and quality of life problems which may be created or amplified by blower use.