Opinion: WeHo’s Curbed the Noise. But What About the Unhealthy Soot of Those Ubiquitous Leaf Blowers?

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Shortly after incorporating, West Hollywood outlawed noisy leaf blowers.

Being well into my 87th year it takes me a while to catch up on my reading.  And, with delight, I eventually encountered the piece, “Get off my lawn!” in the April edition of The Atlantic magazine. The article was all about leaf blowers and the author’s successful three-year quest to have them banned in Washington, D.C. Really must congratulate the writer, but caution him, as you will see below, that the job is but half done.                       

Some ten years in the past our little burg enacted a regulation against the use of gasoline-powered leaf blowers.  Those ubiquitous, noisy, soot-exhausting devices that seem almost to be a physical anomaly on the back of our personal yard workers. At the time, an ordinance was based upon the high decibel levels produced by the machines. I happened to be the very first person to be cited because the fellow who managed our wee plot of green used one of the odious devices.   The citations were to be given to the property owners who hired the leaf blower-wielding workers.  I was not happy with that process and hurried out along my street and the adjacent commercial block and found seven other leaf blowers in action and promptly informed Code Enforcement.  The outcome was that I received an email absolving me of my crime and rescinding the fine of $55.  This is not the end of the story.

For the last 35 years of my working life – ending ten years ago – I was a hands-on consultant/trainer in the occupational safety, health, and environmental trade.  I knew all about two-cycle engines (also known as two-stroke engines)  and was quite aware of the noise, but more importantly, of the amount of unburned particulates and volatile organic compounds (VOCs)  they produced.  There are thousands of such engines popping away in places one would never guess. Beside leaf-blowers, yard workers also use hedge trimmers, edge trimmers and lawnmowers, all powered by small, two-stroke engines.   Let us not overlook chainsaws, motorbikes and some small personal movers. My concerns then, as now, were for the protection of the environment, which includes nearby human and animal beings,  and the worker. After discussing the rationale behind the West Hollywood regulation with the folks at City Hall, I  wondered why the regs stopped at leaf blowers and only the noise aspect and did not also cover the other instruments these yard men (landscapers) use.                        

Just last week, Miguel, who chases leaves around my house, brought another worker with him and between them flailed the landscape with string-trimmers, hedge trimmers, and leaf blowers.  Thankfully, no lawnmower as I have no grass to trim. Noise and stench of engine exhaust followed. The federal EPOA tells us that about 30% of the fuel used in these machines exits the exhaust port in the form of unburned particulates (soot)  and VOCs of varying degrees of toxicity- and we all breath that exhaust.  Ten years ago the answer I was given at City Hall was that the city felt that banning the other machines would endanger the livelihood of the workers.  This is the sort of answer one gets in a town which has many residents up in arms over a proposed “women-only club,” but not over the environmental harm of small engine exhaust.

Probably 35 years ago, in a study I made of two-stroke engines,  I put together a folio – with pictures – to illustrate the failure of leaf blowers to truly do the job most yard workers expect of them. It is not just leaves that get blown around. The machines move only the heavier dirt and dust particles along with the leaves, the lighter particles simply fly up into the air and resettle on any available surface – which means that patio and garden furniture must be cleaned additionally after the workers leave.  Cars parked nearby are left with a fresh coat of dust also. And we must breathe not only the exhaust but the dust.  My claim was that the machines are only partly efficient and brooms, rakes and the occasional use of water are more broadly efficient, although regarded as the tools of troglodytes.

However, removing all these yard worker’s tools would be equivalent to eliminating an entire working group and the mainstay of many families.  Yet, we have to come to grips with the problem.  The EPA estimates that within just a few years, in California alone, the growing number of two-stroke engine’s exhaust output will be equal to the emissions of all the automobiles in the state. Will West Hollywood be willing to be the first city brave enough to wrestle with the problem and start on the road to solving a major environmental issue?  The movement must begin somewhere, why not here?


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cino
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cino

They are too lazy to rake. Lawns were maintained long before gas powered leaf blowers. There are also electric blowers. Residents have to get involved, I stopped them on my street. If the gets large enough people will follow the law.

David
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David

I came to know two long ago that Los Angeles has three things related to air movement: leaf blowers, helicopters and the bags of hot air that come from Hollywood.

Cy Husain
Guest

The ONE thing you missed is that the heat is coming from Anthropogenic Climate Change. So the Great City of West Hollywood and the rest of Los Angeles is NOT to blame for the rest of the country’s mistakes when they are responsible enough to point them out! 🌟

David
Guest
David

My comment was sarcasm, it had nothing to do with climate change.

Cy Husain
Guest

My comment was serious, it had to do with sticking up for West Hollywood!

Cy Husain
Guest

A very good article by Carleton Cronin concerning the emissions resulting from incomplete combustion from 2 cycle engines! Already California has been moving away from 2 cycle engine motorcycles and scooters for very good reason and, should do the same with landscaping equipment. The technology currently exists to replace all this equipment with quieter zero emission cordless electric. We should also consider getting to the root of the problem as to why we all need to have an aesthetic monocrop agricultural project known as “lawn” in any and all fertile spaces? A few years ago there was a popular project… Read more »

J. T. Anderson
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J. T. Anderson

Excellent article but West Hollywood will never enforce the leaf blower law. Everyone has a story about the blowers so I won’t share mine. Beverly Hills is just as bad as West Hollywood. I have been walking my dogs in both cities for over 20 years and I know which days to avoid. Fridays in Beverly Hills are terrible, with five to ten or more yards being groomed at the same time. The days in West Hollywood vary but it doesn’t take much to create hazardous air quality conditions on many of the narrow streets. The problem could be lessened… Read more »

Larry Block
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Larry Block

Thanks Carleton for another great insight. We need to preserve all your op-eds in a book and place them in the John Heilman West Hollywood Archives at the Library.

Scott J Sigman
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Scott J Sigman

Finally, use rakes. The noise is one thing but 1) wearing a mask to protect my breathing with COPD 2) the pollution insecticides pollens and more we get to inhale not worth the cost of speedy clean up 3) I dog goes nuts from apartment to walks and she’s more allergic than I 4) employment opportunities. Seriously we raked and swept our properties since a child through adult hood The air has plenty of pollutants and the machines send up more And how about power washing the Santa Monica streets. I see them do it in front of Gelsons to… Read more »

Josh Kurpies
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Josh Kurpies

The City of Santa Monica has banned all forms of motorized leaf blowers within the city (MMC 4.08.270). A leaf blower is defined as any motorized tool (gas, electric, battery powered) used to propel fallen leaves, grass clippings and debris for removal. Infractions may be punishable by substantial fines to property owners, property management companies, landscape companies and/or individual operators. City of SM’s website states: In what belies commonly held perceptions on air pollution, an individual gas powered leaf blower, those often used by professional gardeners, emit 500 times the level of hydrocarbons than a modern automobile (CA Air Resources… Read more »

Manny
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Manny

Santa Monica should have such a stringent law when it comes to scooters. But I digress…..In West Hollywood gas powered leaf blowers are prohibited. We don’t live in the desert so there is no need to ban electric powered blowers. In this environment electric powered blowers do the best job at ground maintenance. Any skilled gardener gathers debris into a pile and then scoops it up with a broom or rake. Residents and property owners need to simply tell their gardeners, as I have, that they must use electric leaf blowers. But let’s not use Santa Monica as a good… Read more »

Josh Kurpies
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Josh Kurpies

It’s the small particulates that are blown into the air from their resting point that remain in the air that are of concern, not the leaves and debris that are of the size of those being swept or raked up from the piles. If rakes and brooms can remove the piles, then rakes and brooms can be used to create the piles as well – with minimal disturbance of the already settled particulates that create unhealthy air to breathe.

Manny
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Manny

The particles you describe are already in the air. When disturbed, those common particles don’t linger in the air. You’re being over critical. If the operator uses the correct speed on the electric blower there is no issue.

Live in WEHO
Guest
Live in WEHO

Maybe ban trees so there won’t be ANY pesky leaves. Lol.

The Real Zam
Guest

You should be aware that there are electric alternatives to nearly every power gardening tool. Even large rideable lawn mowers have electric options. On top of this, the leaf blower is slowly becoming obsolete in all its forms. Leaf vacuums are catching more and more. With these devices the same debris and dust which would have been blown into piles or released into the air is sucked into a bag. They’re also priced comparably to similarly powered blowers. On top of this, they save Gardners the extra step of picking up the piles of waste after the blowing process is… Read more »

JF
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JF

Why don’t we just go back living in caves…it was such a cleaner way of life. I mean, come on people ..enough with banning everything in site. Stop already.

Chris
Guest
Chris

The noise and exhaust are horrible, but the dust they create is just as bad. Walking (or running) down santa monica blvd in the mornings is filled with dusty air from all the blowers ‘cleaning’ the sidewalks. Our air suffers enough. Get a broom for the sidewalks and a rake for the yards. The quality of our air should be as important as the noise.

Eric Schmidt
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Eric Schmidt

Let’s outlaw leaf blowers in West Hollywood. It’s good for the environment and good for the quality of life for Residents. The sound is noise pollution and a nuisance. I grew up on an acre lot in Michigan. Us kids used rakes to clean up leaves and brooms to clean concrete. We would gather the leaves and take them to the landfill. The problem with leaf blowers is that they just blow the leaves and debris somewhere else like a neighbors yard. They should be swept up and taken away. The City should always be looking for ways to improve… Read more »