Suffolk Closeup: Ban the blowhards

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Spring is here and with it the sweet songs of birds, the rush of warm weather … and the racket of gas-powered leaf blowers.

All over the nation, moves to curtail the use of gas-powered leaf blowers are being made. In this area, a law restricting the use of these noise-makers from mid-May to mid-September is on the table in Southampton Village and a vote could come soon.

The Town of North Hempstead in Nassau County, a major Long Island town (population 233,000), just passed a similar law. Other area municipalities are considering legislation.

In the United States, the list of cities, counties, towns and villages that have restricted the use of gas-powered leaf blowers has become enormous.

It includes Carmel, California, the first city in the nation to ban gas-powered leaf blowers back in 1975, now joined by places including: Aspen, Colorado; Beverly Hills, California; Boulder, Colorado; Brookline, Massachusetts; Cambridge, Massachusetts; Claremont, California; Del Mar, California; Dobbs Ferry, New York; Evanston, Illinois; Framingham, Massachusetts; Hastings, New York; Honolulu, Hawaii; Houston, Texas; Indian Wells, California; Key West, Florida; Los Altos, California; Los Angeles, California; Malibu, California; Mamaroneck, New York; Maplewood, New Jersey; Menlo Park, California; Mill Valley, California; Montclair, New Jersey; Palo Alto, California; Pelham Manor, New York; Portland, Oregon; Portsmouth, New Hampshire; Rye, New York; Santa Barbara, California; Santa Monica, California; Scarsdale, New York; Scottsdale, Arizona; Sunnyvale, California; Tampa, Florida; most recently Washington, D.C.; White Plains, New York; and Yonkers, New York.

There should be action by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, but considering how that agency has been decimated by the Trump administration, that can’t be expected now. So, it’s up to cities, counties, towns and villages to do what needs to be done — one by one.

In Southampton Village, Mayor Michael Irving and Trustee Kimberly Allan are sponsoring the legislation. It cites activities causing “noise and other impacts negatively affecting the atmosphere and peace, comfort, repose and tranquility of the village particularly during weekends, and throughout the summer season when most residents and tourists are enjoying their homes and properties.”

It limits the months (no warmer weather months) and times (no earlier than 8 a.m. or later than 6 p.m.) and days (no use on Sundays and federal and state holidays) when gas-powered leaf blowers can be used.

The machines are extreme noisemakers, and they are also serious health hazards.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, they typically produce 90 decibels of noise. Exposure to two hours of such noise can cause permanent hearing loss.
Their engines produce as many hydrocarbons in 30 minutes as a Ford Raptor F-150 pick-up truck does driving 3,887 miles, according to research by Edmunds Automotive. Visit—
edmunds.com/car-reviews/features/emissions-test-car-vs-truck-vs-leaf-blower.html

“It’s the new second-hand smoke,” Trustee Allan said. “Exhaust emissions from gas-powered leaf blowers can contain significant amounts of highly toxic compounds linked to certain cancers, asthma and other respiratory problems, as well as damage to the heart, lungs, and central nervous system,” notes the organization Grassroots Environmental Education. Toxins in their engine exhaust include cancer-causing benzene, toluene and formaldehyde, among other poisons.

“Gas leaf blowers are a threat to our health and our environment,” said Bonnie Sager, co-founder of Huntington CALM, which began the struggle against gas-powered leaf blowers on Long Island. Its efforts have been endorsed by the Long Island Asthma Coalition, American Lung Association, Mt. Sinai Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Unit and the American Academy of Pediatrics LI.

As I have learned through the decades of writing about polluting processes and products, there are alternatives. For leaf blowers, machines utilizing high-energy batteries are available today. They make less noise and it’s at a different frequency that doesn’t carry anywhere as far, and there’s no exhaust. Where gas-powered leaf blower use has been restricted, this is what landscapers are commonly using.

In Southampton, Jackson Dodds & Company has been “using battery-powered leaf blowers for years — we’re going into our fourth season,” Doreen Johnston, sales manager with the landscaping firm, told me last week, adding, “We’re very happy with them.”

Hopefully, Southampton Village will pass its law on gas-powered leaf blowers and this will spread to communities throughout Suffolk. And wouldn’t it be good if action follows, too, on the county and state levels?

As the North Hempstead law puts it: the “use of gasoline-powered leaf blowers presents an environmental hazard that reduces the quality of life in the Town. Gasoline-powered leaf blowers endanger residents, passers-by and operators through the production of excessive noise and increase the risks of hearing loss” and otherwise constitute a “health hazard.”

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