The Oak Park Village Board wants to ban gasoline-powered leaf blowers but is divided on how to accomplish it. That was evident at the board’s June 13 regular meeting, where the sole topic was amending the section of village code regarding that particular piece of lawn equipment.

“We’re talking about removing leaves from our yards,” Trustee Susan Buchanan told her fellow board members. “I just want to keep that in mind when we’re going down a rabbit hole of complexity.”

That rabbit hole formed as trustees grappled with each other over whether to follow the divergent recommendations of village staff and the Energy and Environment Commission. The latter advised a campaign to phase out gas-powered lawn-care equipment, with the exception of lawnmowers, over the next year for Oak Park residents. Greater enforcement, with a dedicated village email for complaints, and an educational program for contractors and residents were also recommended by the EEC.

Village staff recommended a feasibility study. That study would guide implementation of the ban and also allow village staff to appropriately budget and support landscaping businesses through the ordinance change, which could go into effect as early as next spring. The study would also ease the workload of the Public Works Department and sustainability team.

“Both public works and sustainability are pretty short-staffed at the moment,” said Oak Park Sustainability Coordinator Marcella Bondie-Keenan, who said she and the sustainability team would be “happy” to move forward with the EEC’s recommendation.

As it currently stands, village code permits the use of gas-powered leaf blowers, providing they do not emit more than 65 decibels, May through November. All owners of gas-powered leaf blowers must register that piece of equipment with the village of Oak Park and must display the registration sticker on the leaf blower at all times. Village staff acknowledged that enforcement of the noise restriction has been lax.

Village board conversations about gas-powered leaf blowers have largely ignored the social justice implications a ban would present, according to Trustee Lucia Robinson. As many lawn-care companies are owned by minorities, she asked for greater consideration of the intersection between the village board’s equity and sustainability goals, particularly related to enforcement of any potential ordinance changes.

Trustee Chibuike Enyia’s concern was less about which recommendation to follow and more about the immediate impact of gas-powered leaf blowers.

“If we’re not going to heavily enforce anything, how are we going to keep those people safe in the meantime?” he asked.

Gasoline-powered leaf blowers present numerous harmful effects, from the ecological to the auditory. The hand-held devices are capable of producing wind speeds comparable to hurricanes. The small-but-mighty Echo PB-2520 leaf blower weighs under 9 pounds but delivers gusts of air at 170 miles per hour, the same wind speed of a Category Four hurricane. Other gas-powered models are even more powerful. Such strong bursts disturb topsoil and displace pollen, chemical residues and fungi spores into the air.

The gas leaf blowers rely on an oil and gas mixture that generates more air pollutants than some pick-up trucks. A 2011 study conducted by InsideLine.com found that a Ryobi 4-stroke leaf blower emitted almost seven times more oxides of nitrogen and 13.5 times more carbon monoxide than the 2011 Ford F-150 SVT Raptor, a 6,200-pound pick-up truck. Other gas-powered blowers performed even worse in the study.

The noises emitted are equally troublesome. Most leaf blowers emit 70 to 90 decibels of noise. Noise at that range over a prolonged period of time can cause hearing damage, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, making it dangerous for the operators of gas-powered leaf blowers.

Considering the negative health and environmental impacts of gas-powered blowers, Buchanan urged the board not to get bogged down in bureaucracy but to move quickly in making an ordinance change.

“This does not seem like a big deal that is going to affect any of us very much except the leaves on our yard,” she said.

Despite Buchanan’s entreaties, the feasibility study ultimately won out. Village President Vicki Scaman directed staff to move forward with the study.

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