leaf blowers zero air pollution
research regarding leaf blower laws

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Survey 99



Intention. Survey99 was designed to gather unbiased answers. If Participants first inquired about the survey and/or its sponsors, they were informed of Senator Burton's SCR19, which seeks information regarding the health and environmental effects of leaf blowers on their operators and on the general public. Participants were told survey results would be sent to the California State Legislature, and asked to hold all other questions until after the survey was completed.

Administration. Surveys were administered by unpaid volunteers. It was imperative that Survey99 responses accurately reflect the experiences and opinions of as diverse a sample of Participants as possible. Persons were approached in a random manner for personal interviews at shopping malls, sports and music events, Farmers' Markets and public beaches. A small minority of surveys were taken door-to-door or by telephone. Only California residents of voting age were surveyed.

Affiliation of Survey99 Author. Survey99 was designed by Diane Wolfberg, Chair of Zero Air Pollution ("ZAP") Education Committee. ZAP is a grassroots group of concerned residents and workers in Los Angeles, California who joined together in 1995 to secure a ban against 2-stroke motor gas leaf blowers in Los Angeles California. ZAP, as an organization, was created in response to a gardener association which formed and united with blower manufacturers, to fight the ban. Costs associated with ZAP activities are borne by individual members who incur those costs themselves.

In addition to other volunteers, Diane Wolfberg and George Wolfberg also administered Surveys, designed the database for data entry, tallied the answers and composed this Survey99 Report. Diane Wolfberg is a former teacher and legal secretary. George Wolfberg is retired from the office of the Los Angeles City Administrative Officer. Many, if not all, Los Angeles City Council members he worked with throughout his 35-year tenure will vouch for his competence and integrity. Both have a history of volunteer work with civic and nonprofit groups, as have most of the members of ZAP.

Design Consultant. Surveys were designed with the assistance of Anya van Leeuwen, who holds an MBA in marketing.

Limitations. Volunteers were given only two weeks to complete the surveys. Of 53 completed surveys, over 38 zip codes and a wide variety of income levels are represented.

Where a blower has not been used on the property of a Participant's residence in the past 12 months, questions regarding blower use were skipped. All findings about blower use and protective gear concern only blower use on the property of Participants' residences.

Where a statistic represents a sub-group of Participants, rather than the whole, it is so noted as representing only those who answered.

Participants were picked at random. For instance, a table and signs (which did not indicate the subject matter of the survey) were set up at a farmers' market. People who showed interest were surveyed. At two beach areas, which were available to public transportation, a particular walking path was pre-determined. All people within that path who were not sleeping, engrossed in reading, or in animated conversation were approached. At the shopping mall, shops which did not have customers at the time were entered, and people who appeared to be employees or owners were approached.

Upon commencement of the survey taking, it soon became clear Survey99 represents opinions of California residents who had not been heard from before. A question regarding possible affiliation with special purpose groups involved in this controversy would have made that clear.


Total Number of Surveys 53. Owners=36, Renters = 17



It is believed that Los Angeles is the largest market for leaf blowers in the world. The use of leaf blowers has been a contentious issue in California for many years, as evidenced by bans in 20 cities, and regulations in many more. The right of a local government to regulate leaf blower usage in its jurisdiction has been challenged by various bills proposed in the California State Legislature since 1998. Two proposed 1999 bills will carry over into the year 2000.

SCR19 (Burton) requested the California State Air Resources Board to make a report of existing studies which regard the health and environmental effects of leaf blowers on the public at large and on blower operators.

Survey99 was designed to reveal perceptions and opinions of the public at large, regarding residential landscape maintenance practices and any problems associated with blower use. The goal of Survey99 was to find facts, which might help proponents and opponents of blower bans have an understanding of each other's concerns. Concerns of ZAP members include the following:

  1. Blower Intrusion
  • Residents in some California neighborhoods suffer daily assaults of blower noise and pollution. This results in persons at home, including retirees, parents and caregivers to infants and the sick, having to change their routine in some way. For instance, they might change locations within the impacted property, and/or close doors and windows in order to engage in conversation, concentrate on work, or relax. Use of blowers also creates sleep problems for night shift workers who must sleep during the day, as well as others who must rest during this period.
  • The impact of blower use is exacerbated when the odors and noise of blowers are added to those of lawn mowers and edgers. With the advent of larger landscape crews, all of these machines are frequently used at the same time, despite the advice of at least one manufacturer to "use only one piece of equipment at a time. . . .". If all three are used at once, the noise and odors are that much more disturbing. If all three are used separately, the noise and odors are extended over a longer period.
  • Lawnmower noise, in one study, inhibited the response of passersby to a woman in need of help. When the mower was turned off, indifference was replaced by helpfulness.
  1. Harmful Gardening Practices
    • Independent landscape contractors and gardening experts state that blowers are harmful to the environment, the soil and vegetation.
    • Workers are encouraged by manufacturers to use power blowers, instead of water, for "areas such as gutters, screens, patios, grills, porches and garages," areas that are more easily and more quickly cleaned with a broom or rake.
    • The Amish have a phrase for gardening practices which allow for hearing the sounds of nature, the sounds of reassurance that the world is alive and well. "We are the quiet on the land."
  2. Health Concerns
    • The two-stroke engine used on blowers has been banned in the form of personal water craft (jet skis) from use on Lake Tahoe and in lakes in Washington state because of its noise and air and water pollution.
    • A 1997 study by Kaiser Permanente linked Particulate Matter to excess mortality and morbidity, and to higher asthma mortality rates between 1970 and 1994. This is a period of time during which blower use increased greatly.
    • Recent studies have demonstrated that agricultural products and animal feces from landscape and farming activities are a major source of ocean pollution in such areas as Los Angeles and Orange Counties,
    • The South Coast Air Quality Management District, in 1990, linked leaf blowers to air pollution and in 1997 reported that Particulate Matter could "potentially damage the lower respiratory tract and the gas-exchange region of the lung. A 1994 report stated that air toxics (e.g. benzene, a carcinogenic component of gasoline) are not safe at any level. Fuel spills, exhaust emissions and the blowing up of gasoline residue from streets are all concerns which prompted efforts to ban leaf blowers.

2. Conflicting Statements and Opinions

Conflicting statements and opinions have been presented based on evidence that can be linked to blower use. Yet there appear to be no serious health studies specifically related to residential use of leaf blowers and/or other gardening equipment

There are conflicting findings and/or opinions regarding the amount of time blowers are used, what they are used for, as well as the time differences between blowers and other methods of leaf and debris gathering.

In the absence of such specific health studies, it appears that a more general study regarding quality of life issues, actual landscape maintenance practices, and economic questions, would help California state legislators make informed decisions in the future. Economic facts were not called for in Senator Burton's SCR19, therefore they are not discussed specifically in this Report. They are discussed generally as they relate to lack of both automatic and requests for pay raises.

  1. Economics
  • Conflicting statements made by a landscape contractor's association create confusion by declaring, on the one hand, that workers will have to be fired if blowers cannot be used, and, on the other hand, that more workers would have to be hired to use rakes and brooms.
  • Independent landscape workers, themselves, have said and been quoted as being unwilling to discuss pay adjustments with employers because they fear their job will be given to a lower-cost competitor;
  • Proponents of leaf blower bans believe these economic conjectures should not outweigh health and quality of life issues surrounding the use of blowers.