To ban or not to ban – leaf blowers – That is the question

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Beaconsfield, Rhonda Massad, Leaf Blowers, West Island Blog, West Island News, Environment

By Rhonda Massad

While I hate the sound of leaf blowers that are set to be banned at the July 8th public council meeting in Beaconsfield, I have to wonder if banning is the only way to quiet things down both outside, where the blowing takes place, and inside amongst the neighbours who are butting heads over it.

The issue was set aside by the council two years ago (2016) after pushback from residents and landscapers in the area expressed they were against a ban. Apparently, the noise complaints have continued to rise motivating council to review the issue again. A ban from June 1 to September 30 appears to be the only way the municipality can deal with the noisy machine. The city performed a survey that they have refused to share with residents, adding flame to the fire. Neighbours are signing petitions along with access to information requests and sending emails to express their displeasure.

The American Lung Association recommends avoiding gasoline-powered lawn equipment in their ten suggestions to improve air quality. The report also suggests avoiding exercising near high-traffic areas, reducing exposure to school bus emissions, eliminating burning firewood which is among the major sources of particle pollution and the list goes on. Should council ban these as well?

According to Dr. Allen J. Dozor, chief of pediatric pulmonology at the Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital at Westchester Medical Center (New York), said that poor air quality is a major concern, but that there are many causes in addition to leaf blowers.

“Leaf blowers can trigger asthma attacks, but so can cars, trucks and pollution,” said Dr. Dozor, who is also director of the hospital’s center for pediatric environmental health (New York Times). “It’s smog and soot and anything in the air. The children are the canaries in the coal mine — the most sensitive and the most likely to suffer.”

We can all agree the sound of leaf blowers is unpleasant at best. As the council has stated they are concern for our health when the blower moves particles into the air. Other machinery cause the same health issues; lawn mowers, street sweepers, pressurized washers etc…. Will they be banned also?

Is there no way to compromise? How do we ban everything that is not good for us?

The flip side is that leaf blowers are efficient and easy to use compared to raking and sweeping. Not everyone wants to spend countless hours on lawn maintenance. Shouldn’t that be our choice to make?

Leaf blowers also speed things up for landscape companies and gutter cleaners keeping prices down. We all want that.

There is also the pesky issue of rights and freedoms that creeps up when anything is banned. What gives any municipal government the right to ban anything? Would that not be something that Health Canada should handle if health is the reason for the ban? Health Canada banned a model of leaf blower in March, 2017 due to faulty blades but no mention of health issues. If health is the issue should the council be obliged to provide health reports to back up their claim? Should they not have the support of higher levels of government? Did you really intend to hand over the power to ban things to your neighbour when you voted for her/him to represent you in municipal affairs? What qualifies them to make these decisions on our behalf?

Here are few options that may be a halfway point so neighbours, including the neighbours on councils everywhere, can back to enjoying the short summer:

1. Electric Leaf Blowers: By replacing the use of gas, electric leaf blowers preserve air quality by reducing toxic pollutants that result from gas exhaust. They are also somewhat quieter. Keep debris away from neighbors’ yards, the street, vehicles, people or pets. Don’t use leaf blowers to move large debris piles from one spot to another.

2. Electric Leaf Vacuum/Mulchers: The air blow from some leaf blowers is directional and can be reversed to become a vacuum, instead. The vacuum has an attachment that catches and mulches leaves as they are sucked up. It gives great control over placement of leaves, eliminates exhaust and particulate air pollution problems, and is reportedly 50-70% quieter than gas-powered leaf blowers. It still uses electricity, however, so is difficult to use for larger landscapes. (Dengarden)

3. Use hand-powered or electric lawn care equipment rather than gasoline-powered. Old two-stroke engines like lawnmowers and leaf or snow blowers often have no pollution control devices. They can pollute the air even more than cars, though engines sold since 2011 are cleaner.  (Dengarden)

4. Restrict but don’t ban. Banning the noisemakers puts into question our freedom to make choices. In order to respect all members of the community, those for and against the ban, restrict the hours that a noise-maker can be used. In all fairness, leaf blowers are not the only noisy particle lifters out there, chainsaws, mowers, pressurized washers also disturb the peace and our health.

Find hours that suit your community and start by reducing noise at critical hours and on holidays but more importantly find a way to respect our right to make choices. As residents, we have a responsibility to respect those restrictions.

There are valid points to both sides of the argument. It may be time to put down the leaf blower, uhh sword, and look for a solution that does not compromise one side over the other. A compromise needs to be found to provide a harmonious state in any community.

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