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Leaf Blowers - yet another example of human stupidity?

January 7, 2015

I think it’s safe to say that everyone in modern society has experienced the interruption of a leaf blower. Personally, I’ve noticed how the noise they make affects my mood; I get cranky fast. I’ve also noticed how everyone around me reacts when hearing a leaf blower, even when several blocks away.


With the introduction of the internet I went from a somewhat inquisitive hobby researcher to a borderline research addict. We can all research just about anything our hearts desire right from the comfort of our laptop. So, with this amazing tool in hand, I started looking into the effects of leaf blowers and why, just why they make me so cranky. What I discovered is disturbing.


The first thing we notice about leaf blowers is the noise they make. Leaf blowers emit a high pitch beta wave that has been shown to cause aggressive and violent behavior in laboratory animals. (Hagler, MD) In some studies about acoustic weapons, scientists have even gone as far to remove the ear drums of monkey’s to discover they react the same way to high pitch beta waves as they did with their ear drums intact, suggesting that the sound waves permeate our entire biosphere. The leaf blower creates a pressure wave (sound) in the air outside. This pressure wave hits the outside wall (and window) of your house, and causes each to vibrate. (Olson, Ph.D) There’s no escaping it. A normal decibel level, considered acceptable in residential areas, is about 60 decibels (60dB). Every increase in decibels means noise that is 10 times louder. Leaf-blowers usually generate about 70-75 dB. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, this level of noise actually degrades your quality of life by interfering with communication and sleep, leads to reduced accuracy of work and increased levels of aggravation, which can linger hours after exposure. Could this explain the cramp in my jaw after hours of grinding my teeth? Perhaps.


The noise generated by these machines is hardly the most disturbing element of their contribution to your neighborhood. The Los Angeles chapter of the American Lung Association has produced research to illustrate how leaf blowers generate as much pollution in one hour as a car driven for 100 miles produces. Not only does a single gas-powered leaf blower waste precious fossil fuels and emit toxic Co2 into our fragile ecosystems but it blasts cancer causing asphalt particulates with 200 mph force into your windows, air filtration systems and beyond. Coal-tar-based sealcoat—the black, shiny substance sprayed or painted on many parking lots, driveways, and playgrounds—has been linked to elevated concentrations of the highly carcinogenic contaminants, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in house dust. (USGS) If breathing carcinogenic dust particulates ain’t bad enough for ya, consider this; the sticky film containing dust particulates from every parking lot in town now drools on your snazzy new solar panels, reducing their efficiency.


So if the money you lose on slimy solar panels and the CO2 pollution from the blowers combustion motors aren’t bad enough, consider the fun stuff laying on the ground, in the grass that’s been decomposing since it was left in a steaming pile or dying carcass. Yes, that’s right, consider all the decomposing squirrels on Elm Street, road kill from days lost can reinvent themselves in the lungs of a passenger in a baby buggy, but only with the help of a 200mph direct wind. Without a category 5 hurricane every week or a F3 tornado every weekend, all that nasty decomposing particulate matter will remain on the ground where it should. The dust particulates that are blasted in the air end up all over the place; on your picnic table, your car heating vents, in your open Budweiser can and even your shiny new solar panels.


Carcinogenetic particulate matter up your nose is bad enough but consider your neighbors seven cats who use your flower garden as a litter box. Did you know that cat feces has a very unique parasite? Toxoplasmosis ghondii is a parasite that is almost exclusive to feline feces. The eggs, or oocycst can live in the soil for years (Deaton) until they find a nice host; that being you and your warm and welcoming brain. Toxoplasmossiis infects the brain and scientists today believe over 60 million people, world wide are infected with this parasite. (CDC) Some anthropologists even believe this parasite may have helped shape human culture and civilization.

Grossed out yet? Are you going to tell your neighbor to stop using the leaf blower? Are you going to write a letter to the editor? Are you going to check my work cited? If toxoplasmosiss ghondii didn’t get your attention, “I don’t live near cats” then perhaps this will;

Raccoons have their own intestinal parasites that love to get into the brains of people! Yes, that’s right, Baylisascaris procyonis is a round worm that lives in the guts of your neighborhood raccoon. When raccoons go potty in your yard, under your forsythia or in the back of your barn they deposit the eggs of these remarkably clever parasites. According to the Centers for Disease Control, More than 90 species of wild and domesticated animals have been identified as infected with B. procyonis larvae. Not unlike the kitty cats parasites, raccoons parasites like to go airborne as well, with the help of a 200 mph direct wind, of course. When inhaled or ingested, you too become infected and can share in the thrill of having brain bugs like that crazy raccoon that keeps robbing your quoi pond.


Now consider having yourself a nice glass of ice tea at the family cook out. A breeze kicks in and just happens to blow from Neighbor Georges property where he’s been leaf blowing for the past hour. What are the chances that your party spread will be a landing zone for one of the many mold spores, parasite spores, fungus spores or carcinogens? Year after year, your chances are pretty high.

Over the years leaf blower opposition has put them to the challenge with rakes and brooms, tests have shown that when done properly, an equally good job, rakes are actually quicker than a leaf blower. In fighting the ban on gas powered leaf blowers gardeners have argued that it would take them twice as long to do jobs if they had to use rakes and brooms. But Diane Wolfberg, a Palisadian grandmother in her late 50s, proved them wrong in tests conducted by the Department of Water & Power Leafblower Task Force.

In three tests involving gas powered leaf blowers and battery powered leaf blowers, Diane cleaned the areas using rakes or brooms faster than any of the battery powered blowers and almost as fast as the gas powered leaf blowers and she did a better job in cleaning up the areas.(Kelts) Considering Americas obesity issues, I’d say getting your heart rate up and swinging a rake or broom is the best way to go.

Perhaps the only downside of a rake or broom is that you end up with a pile of stuff that then needs to be swept into a bag or composted. Unlike a leaf blower that just blows dirt around for everyone to inhale.


With the arrival of winter in New England one expects a reprieve from the hand held, gas powered acoustic weapons we all know as leaf blowers. I was horrified to hear, then see an army of men use these machines in my neighborhood at 6:30 in the morning, in 12 degree weather to remove what appeared to me to be a dusting of snow. With the convenience of using such devices to aid mans removal of snow flakes we all got a big bonus; our windows, doors, cars and gardens were blasted with a spray of salt, sand, ice and who knows what else that was resting dormant under the crunchy snow and ice. I'm sure the song birds snuggling in my forsythia were as excited about this as I was. 


Here’s a complete run down of why no one needs a leaf blower;

Air Pollution—A single leaf blower operating for an hour emits as much pollution as 40 cars idling during the same amount of time. (http://www.greenwichcalm.org/apps/blog/show/6583443-health-hazards-of-leaf-blowers)

Leaf blowers stir up over two pounds per hour per leaf blower of dangerous particulate matter including but not limited to cat, dog, and rodent feces, pesticides, and street dust which may include mercury, arsenic, lead, cadmium and nickel. (The American Lung Associate of Sacramento)

Leaf blowers spew a number of toxic chemicals including but not limited to carbon monoxide, benzene (a known carcinogen), 1,3 -butadiene, acetaldehyde, and formaldehyde (possible carcinogens).  (California Air Resources Board, “A Report to the California Legislature on the Potential Health and Environmental Impacts of Leaf Blowers,” http//www.epa.gov/oms/regs/nonroad/equip-Id/hhsfrm/f00007.htm)

Noise—Owners’ manuals warn that operators and anyone within 50 feet of an operating leaf blower should wear protective eye, ear, and respiratory gear. (http://www.nonoise.org/quietnet/cqs/leafblow.htm)

Leaf blowers exceed the World Health Organization’s acceptable ambient noise levels by 20 decibels at 50 feet! And, Leaf blowers exceed World Health Org noise levels by 50 decibels at the operator’s ear, a level sure to cause hearing loss and impact the operators’ health in general, particularly the cardiovascular system. (World Health Org and “Comments on Occupational Noise to the OSHA Standards Planning Committee,” Alice Sutter, PhD and www. nonoise.org)

Half the wearers of hearing protection don’t benefit because the fit is wrong or they don’t wear it consistently.  (“Noise, Ears & Hearing Protection,” the American Academy of Otolaryngology.)

Leaf blower noise is especially irritating for anyone within earshot because of its particular pitch, the changing amplitude, and the lack of control by the hearer. (Interview with Michael H.L. Hecker, a Los Altos psychoacoustician, et al. in The Sacramento Bee.)


Taken all together, just this small amount of evidence makes it clear that leaf blowers are not only STUPID HUMAN BEHAVIOR but, at best, detract from the quality of life and well-being of all life and, at worst, pose a serious health risk to residents and operators. 


A number of local communities in Massachusetts have taken measures to ban leaf blowers or limit their use, as have over 300 communities nationwide. With such a wonderful name as, Greenfield, I say we keep her as green as possible and not only let things grow, but stop the blow.



Reba Rasbury




Hagler, MD, Louis. "Noise Pollution: A Modern Plague."Citizens for a Quieter Sacramento. Southern Medical Journal , 03/2007. Web. 18 Jun 2012. <http://www.nonoise.org/library/smj/smj.htm>.


Olson, Ph.D, Andrew . "Frequency-Dependent Sound Absorption." http://www.sciencebuddies.org. Southern Medical Journal , 2003. Web. 18 Jun 2012. <http://www.sciencebuddies.org/science-fair-projects/project_ideas/Phys_p029.shtml>.


Kelts, Julie. "LEAF BLOWER FACTS." Citizens for a Quieter Sacramento. Citizens for a Quieter Sacramento, 1999. Web. 18 Jun 2012. <http://www.nonoise.org/quietnet/cqs/home.htm>.


Deaton, Erin. "Toxoplasmosis." http://www.austincc.edu. Austin Community College, 2007. Web. 18 Jun 2012. <http://www.austincc.edu/microbio/2704u/tg.htm>.

Koontz, Heidi. "Contaminated House Dust Linked to Parking Lots with Coal Tar Sealant." United States Geological Survey. the United States Geological Society, 1/12/2010. Web. 18 Jun 2012. <http://www.usgs.gov/newsroom/article.asp?ID=2380

CDC, . "Parasites - Toxoplasmosis (Toxoplasma infection)."Centers for Disease Control. Centers for Disease Control, 2012. Web. 18 Jun 2012. <http://www.cdc.gov/parasites/toxoplasmosis/>.


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