Something the village board can agree on

Opinion: Columns

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By Ken Trainor

Staff writer

The current Oak Park Board of Trustees is reportedly looking for direction. With personality conflicts aplenty, they need an issue they can work on together, one that will raise the quality of life for all Oak Parkers, equitably. And I know just the thing:

Ban gas-powered leaf blowers.

If you've been reading the Viewpoints section of Wednesday Journal regularly (and I certainly hope the mayor and all the trustees do), you may have noticed that for the past five weeks, five separate writers wrote letters calling for a ban on leaf blowers. 

That's what I call a groundswell. 

On Sept. 18, Jim Whalen ["Acoustical litter is a health risk"] noted that many U.S. communities are banning leaf blowers, effective Jan. 1, 2022, because they are detrimental to our health. 

Julie Laney ["Oak Park should ban gas leaf blowers"], on Sept. 25, cited an American Lung Association warning about respiratory and cardiovascular threats from particle pollution.

On Oct. 2, Louise Mezzatesta ["Gas leaf blowers are bad for your lawn"] questioned their effectiveness and said lawns need to be raked to get rid of thatch.

Elaine Johnson ["The case for banning leaf blowers"] noted that James Fallows of The Atlantic magazine, in an April article, "Get off my lawn: How a small group of activists [including Fallows] got leaf blowers banned in the nation's capital," cited a 2017 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which discussed how noise and air pollution from these devices cause harm. Johnson also noted that at least 100 U.S. cities will ban the blowers on Jan. 1, 2022.

And last week Patricia Olderr wrote in with "It's way past time to ban leaf blowers."

Indeed it is. We've been putting up with these ridiculous (and ridiculously loud) machines for far too long. All the way back in 2006, environmental advocate Ginger Vanderveer wrote to Viewpoints twice (May 24 and June 28) urging readers to stop using leaf blowers.

And even further back, on Oct. 17, 2001, I wrote my column on it. To summarize:

"I'm all for banning leaf blowers. This village would be a lot quieter without them, and I maintain their constant caterwauling raises the overall stress level, which is too high to begin with. All terrorists have to do is thoroughly infiltrate the nation's lawn service industry and perpetually run their leaf blowers, which would drive the entire population insane (and deaf). Wait, maybe they've done it already. People have been acting pretty crazy lately.

"I didn't hear a single leaf blower at New Melleray Abbey, the Trappist Cistercian monastery in Iowa where I've been going every October to try to restore my sanity. Restoring sanity isn't all that difficult. Basically, we need to slow down and quiet down. We're usually in a hurry because we're trying to catch up with time, but the secret is to slow down and let time catch up with us. It's a paradox — when you slow down, you have more time. Or maybe it just seems that way. Maybe you just make better use of the time you have.

"The secret to leading a happy life, I'm convinced, is not being in a hurry. You miss too much on your way to the deadline.

"It took me four days at the monastery before I quieted down. Being in a quieter environment doesn't do any good unless you also quiet down inside. The noise inside our heads can be as loud as any leaf blower.

"The monks here are quiet, inside and out. They work hard but never go more than a couple of hours before heading back to the chapel to pray. They don't give themselves the chance to gear up to hyperdrive. 

"They do this, I suspect, because God is silent. After watching the sun set silently on one horizon and the full moon rise silently on the opposite horizon two nights in a row, I decided silence isn't the problem. God is quiet, not silent. You have to be almost as quiet as God in order to hear something. And it's hard to hear anything when you're always in a hurry and surrounded by leaf blowers. 

"What would we hear if we could quiet down that much? What secret is God trying to impart? If we listen — I mean really listen — this is what we'd probably hear God say:

"Turn off the damn leaf blowers!"

After that column (not necessarily because of it), the village did act on gas-powered leaf blowers, restricting their use except in the fall. Well, as you've no doubt noticed, that directive fell by the wayside. Lawn services use leaf blowers non-stop from April through November, all so our lawns will have that sterilized, obsessively manicured look (God forbid some blades of cut grass should be visible on the sidewalk!).

This village would be a lot more serene without that constant infernal racket (not to mention all the dust). Everyone might be calmer, even the trustees. So I'm throwing my full support behind the proposal to ban gas-powered leaf blowers in Oak Park — hopefully even before 2022.

If you agree, contact the village board and ask them to put this issue on their agenda. After all, the main reason anyone runs for office (let's hope) is to raise the quality of life for their constituents. 

Banning leaf blowers will improve our lives. 

I have it on the highest authority.  


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Reader Comments

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Van James Furniss  

Posted: October 27th, 2019 3:34 PM

HuntingtonCALM here. In response to Mr. Dwyer's comment on battery blowers- Today commercial grade battery backpack and handheld blowers are readily available from all the major manufacturers of gas blowers. They are comparable in work production to gas. Although not a perfect solution because they still blow up unsavory matter, they are a far better choice if one must blow. They do not produce toxic, carcinogenic, emissions, ground level ozone, fine particulate matter, and they are much quieter since they do not have that obnoxious window and wall penetrating low frequency sound component. Many municipalities have banned all blowers due to public health concerns. Today the medical community is calling noise the new second hand smoke. Noise is more than an annoyance, it has serious health implications. Noise impacts our health in many ways from the obvious hearing loss and tinnitus to increased blood pressure, cortisol levels, and precipitation of cardiac events. Since there is a an obsession in this country with air scrubbing every blade of grass and leaf as if they were an anathema, battery blowers are a far better option. Huntington CALM believes one has the right to do whatever they want on their own properties within the means of the law, but since toxic emissions, fine particulates, and deafening noise do not respect property boundaries legislation is needed. The 2022 date you refer to is for Washington, DC where they are allowing landscapers to transition to battery blowers. Also note their legislation will ban the sale of gas blowers in D.C. No community can call itself Climate Smart, if they allow the use of the highly polluting, gas guzzling, greenhouse gas producing gas leaf blowers. Visit page for the latest news on gas leaf blowers

Jeffrey Smith  

Posted: October 27th, 2019 2:33 PM

The comments from the OPReich on this editorial - calling for a ban on leaf blowers - could have been written by Russian trolls. I expect the latter group will arrive shortly on these pages, now that Infowars has commented on Oak Park politics and the horror of a mere woman telling a white man to shut up. As a friend said, the right wing posters on the WJ comments threads are like belches from hell.

Brian Slowiak  

Posted: October 25th, 2019 2:15 AM

The last sentence should read, Ah, the Oak Park vision in motion, silencing a commotion, what a notion.

Brian Slowiak  

Posted: October 25th, 2019 2:13 AM

The last sentence]should read, Ah, the Oak Park vision in motion, silencing a commotion.

Brian Slowiak  

Posted: October 25th, 2019 2:08 AM

Since Ken Trainors quest for quiet has partly brought the community a ban against leaf blowers, you would think the ultimate follow through would be a ban against the unnecessary noise of the Fourth of July public fireworks show, The noise from the fireworks fills the air with burnt cordite, co2 in the needless transporting of the fireworks and human effort to explode the fireworks, and is a fire hazard. Plus the costly police presence , detracts from the communities quest for quiet, needlessly antagonizes animals. All this takes away from our quiet. Funds not spent on fireworks could be spent on the ultimate act of quiet, abortion. Think of the entire community en masse showing up at night on the Forth of July and quietly sitting and looking up to the sky, thinking, not chanting, the name Ken Trainor, in quiet harmony. Ah,the Oak Park vision in motion.

William Dwyer Jr.  

Posted: October 24th, 2019 7:10 PM

That's "quieter."

William Dwyer Jr.  

Posted: October 24th, 2019 6:59 PM

Just a thought. Or two. My experience watching and enduring and- twice- using a borrowed leaf blower- is that first, electric blowers are considerably quitters than gas powered blowers, and two, the electric blowers have really responsive controls that, as you turn them up/down, they become louder/quieter. Discuss.

Jenna Brown Russell  

Posted: October 24th, 2019 6:10 PM

I'm not sure how this aligns with our equity goals, since those that benefit most from the technology that interrupts the peaceful countenance of the retreat taking set are often hardworking, not highly compensated, landscape workers. They will now be working harder and longer. But I shall be interested to see if the VOP leaf collecting service that violates their own existing ordinance each fall (with good reason-it is a LOT of leaves) change their methods. And I remain gobsmacked by our priorities.

Alice Wellington  

Posted: October 24th, 2019 6:02 PM

Katina Smith - nope. The usual suspects will claim that it is racist.

Maureen Connolly from Oak Park  

Posted: October 24th, 2019 5:54 PM

I agree - the noise pollution is the worst. And thank you for your reflection on silence at the monastery. My experience at a hermitage and nature sanctuary in Western Illinois.

Katina Smith  

Posted: October 24th, 2019 5:38 PM

Can we also enforce the noise laws that are already exist by ticketing cars playing loud music through the Village of Oak Park?

Jim Major  

Posted: October 24th, 2019 5:13 PM

I will be relaxing trying to listen to the jumbo jets that fly overhead every 45 seconds when the noise from a leaf blower will absolutely ruin it for me . They must be stopped.....

Gina Orlando from Oak Park  

Posted: October 23rd, 2019 5:42 PM

Amen, Ken! Leaf blowers are so polluting to our minds, ears, lungs and sanity. The workers are often quite clueless that someone needs to walk past them. It's abusive.The pollution is from the loud sound, serious particulate matter and chemicals from the gasoline. And the workers' health is at risk. So few actually wear a mask or ear protection. As I view these workers, it seems they'd get their work done faster with a rake. Sure, that would take some elbow grease, but it's so much safer. They can't enjoy using these awful machines. Let's get leaf blowers banned before the fall of 2020. Village, Park District and citizens, let's get on board with a more natural way to deal with leaves and grass. Gina Orlando Oak Park

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