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Suffolk Closeup: Banning gas-powered leaf blowers

The Village of Southampton has become the first municipality in Suffolk and Nassau counties to completely ban the use of gas-powered leaf blowers.

The process was deliberative and inclusive with an emphasis on a phase-out stage. Southampton’s Deputy Mayor Gina Arresta said last week that when “I first became a village trustee four years ago” there was a “push from residents” for a ban on gas-powered leaf blowers.

A task force was put together, which Ms. Arresta led consisting of people from “all sides — contractors, landscapers, residents, members of the village’s Environment Committee. You have to bring people together.”

And the task force “came to a general consensus,” said Ms. Arresta.

Initially, the village had restrictions on months, days and hours during which the devices could be used. There were “pros and cons” raised on the task force regarding a complete ban. There were issues about “getting equipment” and substitutes for the gas-powered machines. Also, “some of the technology” for alternatives “was not there yet.”

So, the plan was for a phase-out with a target date for a total ban by 2024.

As of May 16, the total Southampton Village ban was in effect.

The reaction from folks who have contacted her, said Ms. Arresta, has been “very good … people are very happy.” She’s received comments including “it’s the best thing to do.”

“We applaud the Village of Southampton,” said Bonnie Sager of Huntington, an early champion in Suffolk — and now also nationally — for a ban on gas-powered leaf blowers. “It’s a wonderful step for the health of people of the village and for the workers who are most impacted bearing the burden of using this highly polluting and noisy equipment. It will improve the quality of life and reduce air pollution. Gas leaf blowers are by and large the dirtiest and most polluting piece of equipment still in legal use. For landscape workers their noise can be deafening. For neighbors they often are a constant source of annoyance and disruption.”

Ms. Sager added, “Landscape workers are often low-wage non-English-speaking, hard workers who are sacrificing future health in order to keep customers’ lawns pristine. They may not have generous health insurance, if any, and most likely have no idea of the health hazards they are exposing themselves to. Breathing toxic emissions and fine particulate matter for hours a day can cause severe health issues ranging from cancer, heart disease, asthma and COPD.”

Ms. Sager is co-founder of Huntington Calm and also a new national group, the Quiet Clean Alliance. It’s based on “there being strength in numbers,” she said, and formed by leaders of Quiet GA from Atlanta, Ga., and QCPDX from Portland, Ore., and herself. Already there are nearly 50 “member organizations” from all over the U.S.

Meanwhile, there “are viable alternatives” to gas-powered leaf blowers. The cost of battery-powered electric leaf blowers has come down and the technology improved.

“They produce no emissions, don’t use fossil fuels and emit far less noise,” Ms. Sager said. She added that people “may also consider leaving some leaves and beneficial grass clippings. They help our pollinators and improve soil structure.”

A company specializing in battery-powered leaf blowers is Kress Commercial, which on its website says its equipment is “designed for landscaping companies and municipalities seeking to integrate sustainable practices into their operations.”

“Air and noise pollution hurts everyone,” Ms. Sager said, “especially our children, our elderly and the worker. Cleaner air, less stress and hearing loss from noise combined with safer working conditions is a win for everyone.”

In Suffolk and Nassau, “some villages and towns have restrictions” on the use of gas-powered leaf blowers, she added. As for other complete bans on use in the U.S., Ms. Sager cited the Village of Larchmont in Westchester County; Washington, D.C.; Montgomery County, Md; and Montclair and Maplewood, N.J.. In addition to bans by several municipalities in California on use, the state at the beginning of this year started prohibiting statewide the sale of gas-powered leaf blowers. 

The new Southampton Village law is a model is in part for a bill that Huntington Town Councilmen Dave Bennardo and Salvatore Ferro plan to advance with a target a complete ban in Huntington “possibly in 2026,” Ferro told me last week.

The Quiet Clean Alliance declares on its website (quietcleanallianace.org) that it is “a network of independent campaigns across the U.S. working to eliminate gas leaf blowers from our communities due to their considerable health and environmental harms. Our goal is to accelerate the shift away from gas leaf blowers and other gas-powered landscape equipment at local, state, and national levels.”

It says that on a local level, “We work cooperatively to accelerate the shift off gas leaf blowers…” In states, “We track active bills in state legislatures that support the reduction or elimination of gas-powered landscape equipment. Members jointly support and defend policy efforts …” And on the national level, “We advocate for action by Congress and federal agencies to eliminate gas leaf blowers and other gas-powered landscape equipment and to restore the Federal Noise Control Office” (which was eliminated during the Reagan administration).