My first world problem: My neighbor is addicted to his gas-powered leaf blower.
It’s now high pollen season in central Texas. Yellow tree pollen dust is covering every outdoor surface. My neighbor, who is perfectly nice otherwise, revs up his leaf blower several times a week to move the pollen off his paved driveway. I hear the reverberating sound even through my closed office window. It drives me crazy. It’s amazing that those tiny gas-powered engines can make that much obnoxious noise.
My neighbor and other people who use leaf blowers seem to get mesmerized by the equipment. Maybe they get numb from the noise from the two-stroke engines? Sweeping the blower hose back and forth, back and forth, in a trance. He finishes with his driveway and proceeds into the street, moving the dust from one side to the other. I clench my teeth, try to ignore it, and wait out the 20 minute annoyance. His leaf blower addiction satisfies some need that I don’t understand.
I know that my disdain for leaf blowers is shared by others. I’ve learned that the writer James Fallows is a “noted leaf-lower opponent.” He’s commented on the topic in The Atlantic’s Notes and last month he pointed readers to Quiet Clean DC. It’s a neighborhood advocacy group of Washington DC resident who want “cleaner, quieter, and more sustainable practices in landscaping and yard care.” They are pressing the DC City Council to take up a measure that would prohibit the sale or use of gasoline-powered leaf blowers in the District beginning in 2022.
My complaint about gasoline leaf blowers has always been about the noise. But more appropriately, communities and public health groups pay attention to the air contaminants they emit. An analysis by the City of Long Beach, CA identified more than 80 cities, including 31 outside of California, with full or partial bans on gasoline leaf blowers, largely because of air quality concerns. Rightfully so.
Stuart Silverstein and Anna Boiko-Weyrauch at Fair Warning published a piece a few months back called “Noisy, but that’s not all.” They reported the findings of emissions testing on 15 different gas-powered blowers while the equipment was being worn by landscaping workers. The workers’ exposure to ultrafine particulate matter (0.1 micron or less) was tens of times higher than some of the busiest intersections in southern California. The Fair Warning reporters noted that California’s Air Resources Board (CARB) has found similar results in preliminary testing. CARB is now conducting a more robust study on air contaminants from gasoline leaf blowers.
Tomorrow morning, I’m likely to hear again my neighbor’s leaf blower. I’ll cringe while it’s operating, think about the air and noise pollution from it, and accept that his addiction to his noisy leaf blower makes his day.