, Salem, MA

August 19, 2013

Letter: Sensible regulations needed for leaf blowers

The Salem News

---- — To the editor:

Leaf blowers, particularly those powered by two-stroke gasoline engines, are obnoxious and polluting. They stir up a filthy stew of pollutants that stay suspended in the air for hours, and they emit unburned petroleum fumes. Most are astonishingly loud, far louder than other lawn equipment, and they make an especially irritating whiny noise. There is little to be said in their favor and most of the vaunted gains in efficiency have been shown to be marginal at best. Whatever the benefits, they pale in comparison to the costs — costs which are borne by neighbors and passersby rather than the property owner or landscaper.

The blowers are destroying what remains of peace and quiet in our neighborhoods. Summer afternoons and evenings spent on the porch or strolling through the neighborhood with dogs and children are ruined by the blast of blowers. And noise is only part of the problem. Leaf blowers are commonly used to blow debris from private yards into the street, creating great clouds of particulates and pollutants that remain suspended in the air for hours. It is intolerable and it is unnecessary.

Even Echo, a leaf blower manufacturer, instructs that leaf blowers should not be used to blow dry, dusty material, such as garden topsoil, gravel, and construction debris. It advises that machines should never be used at full throttle in residential areas, and that two blowers should not be used simultaneously. If you’ve watched landscapers at work in Salem, you’ve seen every one of these instructions honored only in the breach. What protection is there for the passerby or neighbor forced to breathe in the fumes and dust and subjected to ear-splitting noise?

Blowers endanger not only passersby, but also the workers forced to use them. Very few landscape laborers wear ear and nose protectors even though OSHA regulations require workers who are consistently exposed to decibel levels above 85 to be protected. Many gas-powered leaf blowers blow a 90 on the decibel scale –– a level that the World Health Organization has deemed unhealthy. Even Larry Will, formerly vice president of engineering at Echo, and a vocal apologist for the leaf blower industry, urges the adoption of regulations prohibiting the use of leaf blowers that exceed 65 decibels at 50 feet.

It is clear that the existing noise ordinance in Salem has proven ineffective to address improper and obnoxious leaf blower use. Two years after a voluntary ban on leaf blowers was instituted in the McIntire District, the majority of residents who responded to recent surveys would like to see the use of leaf blowers limited to spring and fall clean-up. A majority also supports a ban on gas leaf blowers. A sizeable minority would like to see a complete ban on leaf blower use. The takeaway is clear: people want to see something done to address the problem. It’s time our city government took the health and well-being of its residents seriously. Sensible regulation, including at a minimum a seasonal ban, limitations on the use of gas-powered leaf blowers, and a ban on the use of leaf blowers on city streets and sidewalks and within a certain distance of neighboring residences, should be enacted without further delay.

Jeanne Kempthorne