Advocacy: Leaf blowers

leaf_blower_pic-resized-600I heard a report on NPR about the adverse affects of leaf blowers, so I decided to write to the company that owns my apartment complex.  I’m also going to create a similar version to send to the property management company of my office building and one to city council.  Thought I would copy the letter here  – feel free to use it as a template to reach out to your own local sources!

To whom it may concern:

I love living at [apartment name] and believe that [property management company] goes above and beyond to ensure the comfort and safety of its employees and residents.  As such, I hope you will consider evaluating [company]’s use of leaf blowers.

Cities across the country are banning leaf blowers for a multitude of reasons.  Leaf blowers pose multiple health risks in the form of air pollution, noise pollution, and the spread of allergens and harmful chemicals.  I believe that [company name] should evaluate its use of leaf blowers and whether it is in the best interest of its employees and residents.  Below I have outlined some important factors that should be included in your evaluation.

Adverse Effects to Health and Environment

Leaf blowers create unnecessary noise and air pollution and pose multiple health threats.  They spread airborne particles which provoke asthma and other respiratory diseases.  With an average muzzle velocity of 150 miles per hour, gas blowers blow herbicides, pesticides, fungal spores, weed seeds, insect eggs, pollen, and fecal contaminants up from the ground into the air.  This not only troubles asthmatics and allergy sufferers, but can result in the development of allergies and asthma for those who have not suffered in the past.  The effect is wide-reaching and effects not only your landscape employees, but all [company] employees and residents.

Leaf blowers are also detrimental to plant life.  The average air speed of a leaf blower is between 150-180 mph.  Leaf blower winds also carry away large quantities of heat from the hyperactive engine.  To a plant, this is like being blasted with a high-powered hair dryer.  The winds strip topsoil, desiccate roots, and kill vital soil-dwelling organisms.  If the [company] eliminated leaf blowers, it would save money by replacing its plants less often (I will address actual numbers at the end of this letter).

Additionally, as mentioned earlier, the high winds blow around weed seeds, causing faster spread of unwanted weeds.  This results in your landscapers having to work extra time to remove the weeds.  They may also be required to use extra harmful chemicals to eliminate the weeds, which also have an adverse effect on the health of the workers and residents.

Leaf blower pollution also comes in the form of unburned fuel, from the inefficient combustion process inherent in such devices.  Because they are designed to be air-cooled, the engines release 100% of their tailgate emissions directly into the immediate environment.  In one hour, a gasoline-powered leaf blower generates as much tailpipe emissions as a car traveling at 55 mph for 110 miles!  Worse, the leaf blower deposits these emissions into a confined space – in this case, the [apartment complex].

Evidence indicates that frequent exposure to emissions can significantly reduce lung function and induce respiratory inflammation, even in normally healthy people.  Symptoms include chest pain, coughing, nausea, and pulmonary congestion.  Additionally, landscapers and gardeners across the country have reported hearing damage from the engine noise, as well as eye injuries from pebbles and twigs propelled by the blowers.  I would hate for your employees to develop life-threatening illnesses due to the [company]’s policies.

The World Health Organization warns that humans should not be subjected to noise levels above 55 decibels.  Depending on the model, leaf blowers measure between 65 and 100 decibels to the user.  In case you are unfamiliar with the Decibel scale, it is logarithmic.  This means that 65 decibels is 100 times louder than 55 decibels – so your employees are being subject to a minimum of 100 times the healthy limit of noise.  In addition to ear damage, noise pollution degrades quality of life by impairing communication and social interaction, reducing the accuracy of work (which also has a high correlation with number of worker injuries), and creating stressful levels of frustration and aggravation that lasts even when the noise has ceased.

Financial Implications

First let’s examine the alternative: the use of rakes and/or brooms.  On the downside, it will take your landscape team longer to remove leaves.  On the upside, the [company] will be putting more money to the landscapers and less to machinery, which is of benefit to the local economy.  Below is a summary of the estimated annual costs of one leaf blower versus one rake (assumptions are listed at the end).

 leaf chart

Assumptions: (1) rakes take twice as long to remove leaves, (2) landscaper makes $11/hour and currently spend 2 hours per day on leaf removal (3) leaf blowers run on a mixture of oil and 87 octane regular unleaded gasoline, at an estimated $2/gallon.  Blowers use approximately 4 gallons per hour.

Additionally, switching to rakes will result in decreased costs due to:

  • Healthier employees
  • Decreased injury risk, leading to decreased worker’s comp premiums
  • Lower plant replacement costs
  • Lower weed displacement costs

The indicated costs are obviously an estimate only, but I encourage [company] to perform a similar analysis with their real costs.

I have used a variety of sources in drafting this letter, but I encourage you to research it yourself.  You will find that many companies and municipalities have already conducted cost-benefit analyses of leaf blowers, and have all come out to the conclusion that their use needs to be stopped.


[your name]

photo borrowed from

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