Greenwich Citizens Against Leafblower Mania

Health Hazards

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Health hazards of leaf blowers

Posted by GreenwichCalm on April 1, 2011 at 4:35 PM Comments comments (46)

Regarding the issue of the health impacts

of leaf blowers, consider that: 


  • The World Health Organization recommends noise levels of 55 decibels or less, 45 decibels to meet sleep criteria.  A leaf blower generally measures at least 70-75 decibels at 50 feel away and far higher at close range. 

  • The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has found that noise levels over 75 decibels can cause hearing loss and are harmful to human health.  

  • According to the California Air Resources Board the types of air pollutants emitted when using a gasoline-powered leaf blower for half an hour are equivalent to those emitted from 440 miles of automobile travel at 30mph average speed.  Compared to an average large car, one hour of operation of a leaf blower emits 498 times as much hydrocarbons, 49 times as much particulate matter and 26 times as much carbon monoxide.
  • A Grand Jury convened on the subject of leaf blowers in San Luis Obispo County, CA concluded that:

"Considering the evidence... the health hazards citizens are exposed to from two-cycle leaf blowers outweigh the possible benefit they provide."  The Grand Jury went on to recommend that all cities within that county initiate a phase out of leaf blowers.


  • Dr Barry Boyd, an oncologist at our own Greenwich Hospital, testified to the Town of Greenwich Board of Health in 2005 that:

Air pollution connected with leaf blowers worries him. He believes gasoline powered engines are the reason CT is the number one state in the country in incidences of breast cancer. He stated that one leaf blower, in one hour, pollutes the same amount as 40 cars idling on a lawn. "Connecticut has one of the highest rates of cancer," he said. "It is critical that we eliminate pollution from gasoline-powered engines where we can. Summertime is when Connecticut air is most polluted. A summertime ban on leaf blowers makes sense to me," he told the members.

  • Every doctor affiliated with the Mt. Sinai Children's Environmental Health Center in New York City signed a letter submitted on April 22, 2010 by the Mt. Sinai Hospital supporting proposed restrictions on leaf blowers in Eastchester, NY.  The Mt. Sinai team of doctors stated that: 

"Leaf blowers pose multiple hazards to human health.  Children are the most susceptible members of our population to these hazards because they breathe more air per pound of body weight per day than adults and thus inhale more of any pollutants that are thrown into the air by this equipment.  Children's vulnerability to the health effects of this equipment is further magnified by the fact that they are passing through the stages of early development, and thus their lungs, ears, eyes, and other organ systems are inherently more sensitive to environmental hazards than the organs of adults."

The doctors went on to elaborate in great detail the specific hazards associated with leaf blowers, emphasizing the categories of: airborne pollutants, noise, and eye hazards.

  • The American Lung Association of New York State submitted a letter in 2008 which "commends the towns and villages across the Lower Hudson Valley that took a positive step to protect lung health by passing leaf blower ordinances."  


  • June Kaminski, MSN, PhD candidate, studied leaf blowers and published an article entitled "Leaf Blowers Threaten Health."  Dr Kaminiski discovered that: "the particulates spewn into the air by leaf blowers contribute to and aggravate respiratory and allergy problems, as well as add a significant amount of pollution.  They also dry and destroy the fragile top soil, hurting the environment."  She found that "if landscape contractors [operating leaf blowers] are not protecting their ears with earplugs or earmuffs, they are routinely exosing their ears to sounds above 85 decibels--the level experts agree may threaten hearing over a period of time."  

  • Steve Zien, a professional landscaper and Executive Director of Biological Urban Gardening Services (BUGS), an international membership organization of primarily professional landscapers, states:

BUGS has opposed the use of leaf blowers for many years for a variety of reasons.  There are many hidden costs when utilizing blowers regularly.  The leaf blower is perhaps the most over-used and inappropriately used landscape tool.  Autumn's tremendous amout of organic debris that requires collection might be considered appropriate use of this tool.  However, the weekly routine of blowing abuses the soil and damages landscape plants while the noise creates ill will from neighbors and clients alike.  

The landscape maintenance industry should join BUGS and take a positive approach to blower bans.  Old fahsioned leaf raking can be a renewed service that their business could provide.  It could be used as a selling point: no noise and environmentally sound too!  Approach it right and they could charge the client an appropriate fee for this service, especially if blowers are banned.  This could even become a major selling point for some companies.  It could lead to business growth and the hiring of more personnel to mee the demand.  Environmentally sound landscapers should be able to turn this kind of legislation into a positive for their businesses, making it work to their benefit.

Noise and auditory damage

Gasoline powered leaf blowers create noise levels of 90-100 decibels at close range, and exceed the EPA's recommended maximum noise level of 80 decibels even at 50 feet.  Many Greenwich residents in the high density neighborhoods regularly endure the noise of neighbors leaf blowers from less than 50 feet away!  Repeated and/or sustained exposure to high noise levels damages the nerve endings in the ears and contributes to loss of hearing and deafness.  Children are particularly vulnerable.  Doctors at the Mt. Sinai Children's Environmental Health Center have documented the harmful health impact of leaf blowers on children, and have written letters in support of the leaf blower ban we are seeking.

The World Health Organization recommends ambient noise levels of 55 decibels or less (Environmental Health Criteria 12: WHO).

Noise and mental/emotional distress

The narrow frequency bandwidth of the noise emitted by leaf blowers, the whine, the pitch, is a particularly disturbing sound.  The sounds these machines make regularly provoke people to rage.  The constant use and over-use of leaf blowers reduces the productivity of our citizens (many people work at home), disturb sleeping infants and children, and they cause rise in blood pressure, adrenaline, heart rate and nervous stress.  To put it mildly, they drive people crazy.

Noise also degrades our quality of life.  It reduces communication. It interferes with our ability to enjoy being outdoors, or taking walks, or working or playing in our own backyards.  It reduces property values, as Greenwich realtors have testified to the Health Board.  It is an uncivil and selfish act to subject one's neigbors to a half hour or hour of deafening noise every week in order to have a pristine lawn area.

Worker safety and OSHA

The noise levels experienced by the operators of leaf blowers, are dangerous to their ears and can cause permanent hearing loss. The Occupational Health and Safety Act (OSHA) requires hearing protection for any workers using equipment that generates noise over 85 dB.  According to the World Health Organization (WHO) "there is an increasing predictable risk" of hearing damage from noise above 75 dB.  According to the American Academy of Otolaryngology, half the wearers of hearing protectors do not get the expected benefit, due to improper fit or failure to wear them continuously.  And many workers do not even wear protection at all.  Not suprisingly, there is evidence of unusually high levels of hearing loss in landscape workers.  Using leaf blowers commercially may violate OSHA.

Breathing the particulate matter stirred up by and the emissions from the leaf blowers is also detrimental to worker health.  Many landscape workers in Greenwich are operating leaf blowers a large part of every day, with undeniable adverse effect on their hearing and their lungs.

Air pollution and emissions: carcinogens

Leaf blowers contribute to smog and ozone pollution, a problem particularly in the warm months (which is the season we are seeking to ban their use).  The inefficient two stroke engine on a leaf blower often releases as much as 25% of its raw, unburned gasoline in its exhaust, according to studies by the Air Resources Board of the CA EPA.  The exhaust contains unacceptable levels of harmful hydrocarbons and oxides of nitrogen, both pollutants which contribute to smog and other health problems.

Reducing the use of leaf blowers helps reduce levels of ozone, carbon monoxide, and fine particulate matter as regulated by the Clean Air Act.  When the City of Los Angeles reduced the number of leaf blowers operating in the LA area by 1,500 it was estimated to eliminate up to 14 tons of harmful emissions annually.

Among the substances blown into the air and respired are heavy metals, pesticides, and other carcinogenic substances.  In addition, the exhaust from the two stroke engine also contains benzene and other carcinogens. 

Dr. Barry Boyd, a Greenwich Hospital oncologist has informed the member of the Greenwich Board of Health that:

Air pollution connected with leaf blowers worries him. He believes gasoline powered engines are the reason CT is the number one state in the country in incidinces of breast cancer. He stated that one leaf blower, in one hour, pollutes the same amount as 40 cars idling on a lawn. "Connecticut has one of the highest rates of cancer," he said. "It is critical that we eliminate pollution from gasoline-powered engines where we can. Summertime is when Connecticut air is most polluted. A summertime ban on leaf blowers makes sense to me," he told the members.

Particulate matter

Leaf blowers are a large contributor to particulate matter in our air, especially in summer, when particulate pollution is at its worst.  The high velocity jets in leaf blowers blow into the air many unwanted and toxic elements.  Various pollutants include dust, salt, lead, arsenic, mercury and other heavy metals, pesticides, fertilizers, fungicides, rodentides, herbicides, fungi, dirt, ash, mold, spores and fecal matter.  Approxmiately 5 pounds of particulate matter per leaf blower per hour are blown into the air and can take hours and even days to settle.  These particulates aggravate allergies.  They also contribute to cardiac conditions such as arrhythimia and can cause heart attacks.  Moreover, they contribute to pulmonary diseases such as bronchitis.  Please visit EPA's web site about the health impacts of particulate matter:

A Grand Jury in the Superior Court of California issued findings about the toxicity of leaf blowers and the health hazards associated with them.  Contact us for a link to this study.

Spread of pulmonary disease, asthma, and allergies

The dust, pollen, spores and other particulate matter spread by leaf blowers exacerbates asthma, emphysema, and allergies.   Children and the elderly are the most vulnerable segments of the population and are particularly impacted by the use, and abuse, of leaf blowers in our community.  Nine doctors from the Mt. Sinai Children's Environmental Health Center wrote a letter supporting other town's restrictions on leaf blowers because of these and other health concerns.  Contact us for a link to this study.

Among the particulates thrown into the air by leaf blowers are dried fertilizers, and fecal and urinary matter of animals, including mice and other rodents.  These substances have been linked to the spread of various respiratory diseases.

Destruction of gardens and landscapes through compaction, dessication and loss of topsoil

Leaf blowers blow a concentrated stream of hot air onto plants at 200 mph--higher speed and force than a hurricane.  As professional landscaper Steve Zien says: "wind speeds in excess of 180 mph are currently blasting landscapes throughout [the country].  Leaves are ripped from branches, new growth and developing flowers are damaged and precious topsoil is blown away.  Nurseries and Extension Agents are receiving more plant samples from gardeners indicating a tornado or hurricane devastated their landscape plants."

Winds stress the fragile living material of plants, causing deydration, burned leaves, and the suspension of photosynthesis and other natural plant functions.  Overall growth is also slowed.  Natural openings in teh leaves that allow for the exchange of oxyen and carbon dioxide are sealed shut.  Diesease spores laying dormant on the soil or fallen debris are blown back onto plants where a little moisture can renew their cycle of infestation and damage.  Blowers effectively distribute disease spores, weed seeds and insect eggs through the landscape and onto neighboring landscapes.  

Blowers create a disposal problem.  Most landscapers do not compost their debris; they put it into sanitary landfill which are being rapidly filled to capacity.  The organic material is a gardeners best friend and should remain on site to be recycled back into the landscape.

Another hidden cost of leaf blowers is that they deprive flowers, shrubs, and trees of live-giving mulch.  Without this natural blanket, erosion, water evaporation and the spread of disease all become problems.  Mulch, when not blown away, creates a favorable growing environment for plants and beneficial organisms both above and below ground while adding nutrients to the plants' root zone.  When mulch is removed to the compost and renewed annually many soil borne diseases are kept to a minimum.

Disturbance of small mammals, birds, and insects, and their habitat

Noise, toxic fumes, and hot air blown at hurricane force are all taking a toll on animals and birds in our landscapes.  Even beneficial insects like earthworms and bees are being damaged by the assault of the leaf blowers most yards in Greenwich are subjected to.  Nests and other habitat are disturbed, animals and birds are driven away by noise.  Pollen, sap, and other natural plant substances are dessicated or simply sent airborne.  Every living creature in the range of a leaf blower is harmfully impacted.

Non-point source water pollution

Another problem is the common practice of many landscapers to blow debris into the street, or into a neighboring property. When it is pushed into the street it often clogs storm drains and gutters, contributing to inefficient functioning of these drains and to increased flooding and erosion. At other times, the debris enters the drains and moves toxins and other unwanted material into our creeks, rivers and ultimately Long Island Sound, creating a significant new source of non-point source water pollution.

The City of Santa Monica, CA forbids the use of leaf blowers because it recognizes the link between the toxic substances, including heavy metals and chemicals, which are pushed into gutters by leaf blowers and which end up in the already polluted Pacific Ocean and the rivers and bays that connect with it in the Santa Monica area.

Overall carbon footprint and energy usage

Leaf blowers accomplish collection of material inefficiently.  They use fossil fuel in place of human effort and muscle, at the expense of our environment.  Their two stroke engines use gasoline exceptionally inefficiently, spewing 25% of it unburned into the air through their emissions.  Why use an engine to do what your arms can do more efficiently and with no harmful effects to humans, animals, or the environment?  Americans are increasing in obesity and becoming more and more sedentary, in part because we no longer do even the simple, and rewarding tasks, or tending our own gardens, cutting our grass ourselves, or raking autumn leaves.

A University study showed that Americans spill 17 million gallons of gasoline per year refilling lawn mowers, leaf blowers, chain saws and other lawn and garden equipment.  That's more than the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska.  Every time a leaf blower is refilled, toxic fumes called Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) can be released into the air.  Spilling and overfilling equipment can also result in the release of VOCs.  When VOCs react with the sun, ground-level ozone or smog is produced.  Ozone can affect not only the lungs, but many other organs and systems of the body.  Children, the elderly, and people with chronic illness are the most susceptible.  Gasoline spilt on lawns can seep into the groundwater and waterways, affecting drinking water and pollluting rivers, lakes, and oceans.