Is it not time to ban leaf blowers?

Here in the Puget Sound area leaf blowers have become one of the expected elements of daily life for many of us. They are commonly seen blowing dirt off sidewalks (and at passing cars), “cleaning” parking lots and roofs, and redistributing debris around residences. While some people may be unbothered by their presence, their ubiquity means that few people choosing to participate in typical daily activities will be, practically speaking, free to avoid them — a drawback for people living here who don’t want to be around them, perhaps because of breathing difficulties or other health concerns.

“It’s a dirty job but somebody has to do it,” may have been used to describe tasks considered essential to modern life. Arguably, there are alternatives to leaf blowers, such as brooms and vacuums. I recently swept out the garage, and when I was finished I had fairly substantial pile of dirt and other debris which I collected in a dust pan and disposed of. Had I used a leaf blower, I might have blown most of that debris into the air expecting the wind to carry it elsewhere, without regard to other people who might be adversely affected by it.

Have you ever thought about what leaf blowers might be launching into the air you breath? Substances and organisms that might otherwise remain harmlessly on the ground are launched into the air by leaf blowers, essentially forcing bystanders to breath them. These substances might include viruses, animal feces, microorganisms, allergens, wear from automotive components such as brakes and tires, pesticides, and various toxic substances that have accumulated on the ground due to human, or other, action. This seems to be a sort of experiment whose health consequences are yet to be determined, and appears at odds with other things we have done to improve air quality.

Perhaps blowers are a cheap and easy way to make things look neat with the expense being chronic exposure to dust and noise. If this trade-off is acceptable to those who use or employ those who use blowers, it might be regarded as a kind of personal choice if it affected only them. But other people downwind and within hearing distance are affected, and therefore those employing blowers have asserted a kind of dominion over our lives — making a significant choice for the rest of us about air quality and noise levels whether we agree or not.

I propose that Northwest cities consider joining other progressive municipalities that have banned leaf blowers, both to promote air quality and to allow people choosing to participate in “normal” daily activities freedom from the insult of someone upwind blowing street dust into the air.

David Giaconi


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