More and more brave towns are putting a stop to the tyranny of leaf blowers

Image: AP Photo/Ted S. Warren
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Fall smells like apple and cinnamon; feels like leaves crunching underfoot; tastes like a pumpkin spice latte on the first frosty morning of the year. As dreamlike as that all may be, fall sounds like a nightmare—and that’s because of leaf blowers.

Popular in the US since the early 1990s, leaf blowers are loud enough to be heard many homes away. The loudest models may have noise levels of up to 112 decibels—louder than a plane taking off, a freight train, or a live rock concert. Living in a noisy environment stresses the body, causing mental and physical health problems. (It’s also a nuisance for people trying to work, put a baby to sleep, or stave off a migraine.) There were more than 11 million leaf blowers blasting away nationwide as of 2018.

Leaf blower enthusiasts might argue that the garden tool is efficient, and much more fun than getting out a rake. But that efficiency comes at a significant environmental cost. An inexpensive two-stroke leaf blower emits more pollutants than a 6,200-pound pickup truck. In one hour, it may put out the same amount of pollutants as a Toyota Camry driven from New York to Iowa.

In most American towns, an individual may blow leaves pretty much whenever the mood strikes, often to the irritation of neighbors. But a (relatively) quiet movement to reduce the hours of unfettered blowing is growing. In California alone, gas-powered leaf blowers are no longer welcome in around 20 different cities, including Palm Springs, Palo Alto, and Santa Barbara.

Recently, more towns in the US, including in Long Island, New York, have weighed restrictions of their own. Most of these are not absolute—they might ban them over only the summer months, or before 8am, for instance—but it’s a start. Check if your own city has leaf blower regulations here.

Elon Musk was widely ridiculed after he promised in April to make a quiet, electric leaf blower. But if the machines aren’t kept in check, they and other small gas engines will create more ozone pollution than all of the passenger cars in the state of California combined next year. Compared to some other Musk projects, at least, making a quieter leaf blower seems a deeply sensible idea.