Gas lawn equipment is a danger to health and climate

Quiet Clean Heights—a grassroots advocacy campaign that seeks to raise awareness of the health, hearing and environmental impacts of gas leaf blowers in residential communities—applauds Cleveland Heights Mayor Kahlil Seren’s support for Air Quality Awareness Week (May 6–9), as well as the city’s Lawnmower Exchange Program, in which 90 Dewalt electric mowers will replace residents’ gas mowers.

Gas-powered lawn equipment is a significant source of greenhouse gas. Our biggest source of direct, local emissions are natural gas furnaces, water heaters, and stoves. With warm weather, lawn maintenance equipment emissions take over. Gas leaf blowers, or blowers of any kind, used to be rare. Commercial lawn care services with large, powerful and loud gas-powered equipment have become increasingly common in our neighborhoods over just a few years.

Communitywide firing up of gas lawn equipment coincides with warm, sunny weather—conditions in which ground-level ozone is formed—and warm seasons are getting longer. Ground-level ozone is a powerful respiratory irritant that also affects vegetation and climate. Coupled with carcinogenic hydrocarbons and all manner of other pollutants stirred up by powerful blowers, it’s a real health hazard for the crews, neighbors, postal workers, bicyclists and pedestrians exposed to invisible air contaminants. Two-stroke engines used in gas leaf blowers are many times more polluting than gas mowers, and dramatically more polluting than passenger vehicles equipped with air-pollution controls. Gas leaf blowers affect our quality of life and right to clean air in and around our homes.

Air quality is regulated at the regional level, and there are no EPA monitors in Cleveland Heights. But pollutants from gasoline combustion can be released undetected and in relatively high concentrations in local hotspots. Air contaminants are regulated nationally to protect human health and the environment. Regulated compounds, including carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide and volatile organic compounds (VOCs), can be emitted as very fine PM2.5 particle sizes. This tiny particle size allows them deep into the respiratory system, evading body defenses, to enter cells and the blood stream. Research is clear: PM2.5 contaminants are responsible for serious cardiovascular and respiratory disease, and are a major cause of death worldwide.

Cuyahoga County is not meeting EPA’s standard for ground-level ozone. Our Air Quality region is likely to be put in “serious non-attainment” status this August. EPA also tightened the standard for PM2.5 in March of this year. Other communities, counties and states have enacted restrictions or bans to reduce or eliminate gas leaf blowers.

This relates to global climate change and our community Climate Action and Resiliency Plan.

Gas leaf blowers are not essential to lawn maintenance. Throughout the summer, crews use them to blow grass clippings and edging dirt out to streets and storm sewers. There is no excuse.

Alice Jeresko

Alice Jeresko is an environmental advocate who started Quiet Clean Heights to raise awareness of the health, hearing and environmental impacts of gas leaf blowers in residential neighborhoods.

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Volume 17, Issue 6, Posted 8:49 AM, 05.29.2024