It’s time to ban leaf blowers. Long past time actually. Not all leaf blowers, just the gas-powered kind. They’re a health hazard. They’re a hearing hazard. Most of all, they are an environmental hazard. And worst of all, there are viable alternatives: electric- and battery-powered leaf blowers that will do the job.

Banning gas-powered leaf blowers is building momentum. More than 100 U.S. municipalities have banned or restricted them or are in the process of doing so. California is about to implement a statewide ban.

Oak Park and River Forest should join this groundswell. 

Oak Park, in fact, already did. They passed a leaf blower ban back in 2003, then backed off when lawn-service companies came caterwauling. The village adjusted the ordinance to make it decibel-based, which is basically unenforceable — even if the village had the will to enforce it, which they don’t. Anyone who walks the streets of our town from spring through fall knows that whatever decibel level was set, it is easily being exceeded by these dinosaur jetpacks roaring away on almost every block, three seasons out of every year.

They make as much noise as a plane taking off (more than 100 decibels), according to Monica Cardoza, who writes for Audubon Magazine, quoted by Margaret Renkl, a N.Y. Times opinion writer in her Oct. 26 column. 

What rankles Renkl, one of my favorite nature writers, is that “the gasoline-powered leaf blower exists in a category of environmental hell all its own, spewing pollutants — carbon monoxide, smog-forming nitrous oxides, carcinogenic hydrocarbons — into the atmosphere at a literally breathtaking rate.

“This particular environmental catastrophe is not news. A 2011 study by Edmunds found that a two-stroke gasoline-powered leaf blower spewed out more pollution than a 6,200-pound Ford F-150 SVT Raptor pickup truck. Jason Kavanagh, the engineering editor at Edmunds at the time, noted that ‘hydrocarbon emissions from a half-hour of yard work with the two-stroke leaf blower are about the same as a 3,900-mile drive from Texas to Alaska in a Raptor.’

“The two-stroke engine found in most consumer gas-powered leaf blowers is an outmoded technology,” Renkl writes. “Unlike larger, heavier engines, a two-stroke engine combines oil and gas in a single chamber, which gives the machine more power while remaining light enough to carry. That design also means that it is very loud, and that as much as a third of the fuel is spewed into the air as unburned aerosol. …

“In his Oct. 2 newsletter, James Fallows [longtime writer/editor for Atlantic Magazine] summarized the emissions problem this way: ‘Using a two-stroke engine is like heating your house with an open pit fire in the living room — and chopping down your trees to keep it going, and trying to whoosh away the fetid black smoke before your children are poisoned by it.’”

If leaf blowers have a negative impact on the rest of us, imagine the impact it’s having on the lawn-service workers who wield them all day long. I hope they’re using ear protectors, but if they are, that’s a clear admission of the dangers of this particularly obnoxious technology.

All of this is entirely avoidable. Viable alternatives are available. 

“For people committed to their manicured lawns,” writes Renkl, “the good news is that powerful electric and battery-operated leaf blowers now exist, and they are quieter and greener and healthier than gasoline-powered blowers. Their market share is also growing rapidly; electric equipment now represents roughly 44 percent of lawn-care machinery sales.”

There is no longer any excuse for us to put up with these bloviating abominations. Banning them would significantly raise the quality of our lives and the quality of the environment. Our village trustees have been talking about increasing Oak Park’s commitment to environmental issues. Trustee Ravi Parakkat has proposed a “sustainability incubator” to help turn ideas into reality. Legislation banning gas-powered leaf blowers would be the perfect place to start if we’re genuinely serious about improving the local environment. No lip service, no back burners, pass it now. The lawn service companies will squawk, but they no longer have a viable counter-argument. 

Last Saturday I passed someone using an electric leaf blower in the Hemingway Business District on Lake Street, the cord trailing out from one of the storefronts. This isn’t rocket science. It is perfectly do-able and not a burdensome investment. This isn’t too much to ask. 

But asking lawn services to voluntarily comply won’t work. They’ve proven that since 2003. They have inflicted their auditory assault on us (and their own workers) for 18 years longer than should have been allowed.

I’ve been on this crusade a long time. I wrote my first leaf blower column exactly 20 years ago.

It’s long past time for both Oak Park and River Forest to take this step. It will improve the environment, save our hearing and raise our quality of life.

It’s time to ban gas-powered leaf blowers.

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