Some of us get out our gas-powered leaf blowers, or hire guys who have these gas-powered blowers, to come out and clean up the mess.
One reader who lives in the Northgate area is not wild about leaf blowers. In fact, this reader, who works at home, has been driven—if not crazy in suburbia, then into fits of irritation—by the incredibly loud noise these machines make when they are being used to clean up neighbors' yards.
"My complaint is noise," writes this reader, who shall go by the name Leif Earacheson. "Most leaf blowers produce a penetrating, irritating, and grating, noise. There is nothing else like it – not freeways, garbage trucks, lawn mowers, chainsaws, low flying planes, garage bands, or Harleys. ... Every weekday there are various gardeners who come and violate the peace in the valley."
Mr. Earacheson contacted me to find out if others in Walnut Creek are similarly irritated--or driven crazy--by leaf blowers. He also shared his contact with Mayor Gary Skrel about the issue. It doesn't sound like the city is inclined to deal with it:
“The City discussed banning them in 2006 during the preparation of General Plan 2025," Skrel wrote Mr. Earacheson (or, it would probably be easier to write, "Leif.). "And it was acknowledged that, since the Bay Area Air Quality Management District continues to permit the use of leaf blowers throughout our region, the City of Walnut Creek will also allow their use...”
Leif has done considerable research that shows that a number of cities around the state have come to recognize leaf blowers as major pollutants of the noise and air—and have passed ordinances limiting or banning their use. Those cities include, according to Leif: Belvedere, Berkeley, Beverly Hills, Carmel, Claremont, Del Mar, Indian Wells, Laguna Beach, Lawndale, Los Altos, Malibu, Mill Valley, Piedmont, Santa Monica, Hermosa Beach, West Hollywood, Palo Alto, Portola Valley, and Sunnyvale.
I had no idea about what pollutants leaf blowers could be before Leif sent me his “dossier.”
Here’s some key points about the hazards of leaf blowers, from a document, posted on NoNoise.org. This document discusses the situation in Sacramento, our state’s capital, but it could also apply to Walnut Creek as well. This document also provides scientific and public policy statements regarding the hazards of leaf blowers.
In Sacramento’s General Plan, the normally acceptable ambient noise level in residential areas is no more than 60 decibals; levels higher than 70 decibals represents an unacceptable level.
The average blower measures 70-75 dB at 50 feet according to a manufacturer's lobbyist , thus louder at any closer distance. Leaf blowers are routinely used less than 50 feet from unconsenting pedestrians and neighboring homes that may be occupied by home workers, retirees, day sleepers, children, the ill or disabled, and pets.
Noise seems to be a form of pollution that we often overlook, when we’re considering the quality of our drinking water or energy use. But, according to this same site, “Noise interferes with communication, sleep, and work. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says noise degrades quality of life by impairing communication and social interaction; reducing the accuracy of work, particularly complex tasks; and creating stressful levels of frustration and aggravation that last even when the noise has ceased."
Besides noise pollution, leaf blowers also contribute to air pollution: “Leaf blower motors are inordinately large emitters of CO, NOx, HC, and PM. … Two-stroke engine fuel is a gasoline-oil mixture, thus especially toxic. Particles from combustion are virtually all smaller than PM2.5. According to the American Lung Association, a leaf blower causes as much smog as 17 cars.
As Leif asked, what do you think about leaf blowers? And about leaf blowers in Walnut Creek?
Personally, I had never seriously considered the nuisance and polluting factors of leaf blowers until Leif shared his research. I’m usually never at home when neighbors have their landscapers, who regularly use leaf blowers, come to clean up their yards. I’m at work. I understand wanting to have a leaf-free walkway, for safety reasons, especially if the resident is elderly. But wouldn't a rake do just as well for that purpose?
Another thing I don’t understand: This need people have to blow the leaves off their lawns or out of their shrubs and flower beds. Does it hurt the grass or those plants to have them covered with leaves? Could the decaying leaves actually provide natural and useful nutrients? My father always thought so. He tended to let the leaves stay.
Gardening experts? Please chime in.
Personally, I like seeing a carpet of leaves covering a lawn or shrubs. It makes me think of the beauties of autumn. If the leaves don’t hurt the underlying vegetation, then I suspect that people’s need to have pristine, leaf-free lawns, even in the heavy leaf fall of autumn, is another one of those interesting examples of human beings needing to control nature. Even if it means using an air and noise polluting leaf blower to do so.