Sounding Off About Leaf Blowers on Mount Washington

A neighbor expresses concern about the health hazards of leaf blowers.

My neighbor Edeltraut recently sent an email expressing concern that “allergy sufferers and asthmatics” who are already feeling the pain from weather-related pollens, are also suffering because of leaf blowers.

According to Edeltraut, the blowers “cause havoc with dust, dust, dust.”

I agree and so, I think, do most people.

Not Just Our Block

The subject line of Edeltraut’s email was: “problem on the hill? everywhere!”

Edeltraut and her dog walk about four hours a day.  I’m exaggerating, but not by a lot.  So when she says the problem is everywhere on the Hill, I believe her.

Other dog walkers, as well as joggers, cyclists, and parents walking with babies and children can attest to the fact that when there’s a dirt blower nearby, crossing the street doesn’t help.

Not Just That House

Actually, according to this statistic from the award-winning website Zero Air Pollution, Los Angeles, all of the aforementioned parties would have to cross to the next street over to avoid the ill effects of what ZAPLA calls “dirt blowers”

“Use of a dirt blower at one residence may impact eight-to-fourteen neighboring properties with noise and air pollution," one report on the web-site states. 

And what kind of air pollution?

Not Just Dust

You may not want to read the following while eating.

According to ZAPLA, here’s what the dirt blowers stir up (Italics mine):

“Leaf” blowers distribute debris and Particulate Matter (“PM”) for long distances.  PM consists, in part, of fine dust particles, dried bird and other animal feces, pesticides, insecticides and other chemicals, street dirt that can contain lead and carbon, and allergens such as molds, pollen, and animal dander.”

And considering the number of families who move to Mount Washington for a better quality of life for their children, it’s distressing to learn that, “PM is particularly harmful to children," not to mention the elderly and individuals with heart or lung problems, including asthma.

Not Enforced

“Wasn’t there an injunction against blowers?” wondered Edeltraut.

Not that it seems to have done much good, but according to Los Angeles Municipal (LAMC) Section 112. 04 (c), "No gas powered blower shall be used within 500 feet of a residence at any time.” The ordinance became effective on February 13, 1998 and both users and the contractors who hire them can be fined.

So why are the leaf blowers still in use?

Not So Easy

The City of Los Angeles website (lacity.org) informs that: “Investigators may cite individuals that are observed using leafblowers [sic], If they are able to catch them in the act.”

The operative word here is “if."

Here’s what ZAPLA advises:

To report violations of the gas leaf blower ban in the City of Los Angeles:

1. Dial 311

2. That operator will connect you to the Report Line.

3. Report repeat violations in the future. If an LAPD car is in the vicinity, they may be able to respond. If not, your report(s) will be followed-up at a later date. 

4. Be prepared to report the day of the week, the date, the time, the address, and the license plate on the gardener's vehicle, if any.
Persistence may make a difference with shutting down illegal gas blowers in the neighborhood.  However, there’s still the problem of electric leaf blowers, which are legal but create just as much particulate matter.

Not Just Advice for Edeltraut

Edeltraut also asked if I had any thoughts about what to do.

For more information about the problems caused by leaf blowers, a good place to start would be the extremely comprehensive Zero Air Pollution, Los Angeles website, which has far more information than can be conveyed in one short column, including pages on the effects of blowers on soil health and the (surprising!) economics of blowers vs. brooms.

Armed with knowledge, talk with the neighbors who are hiring the landscaping companies.  Express your concerns about the health hazards caused by the blowers.

If your neighbors leave for work before the gardeners come, they may not know that dirt blowers are being used. They may be unaware of the quality of life problems caused by blowers. They may be unaware that blowers are illegal. They may be unaware that the leaf blowers are bothering you.

Finally, suggest the “leaf blower issue” as an informational/educational topic for neighborhood associations.

Edeltraut and Mount Washingtonians, there’s nothing to lose but the havoc of dust, dust, dust.

Dennis March 15, 2012 at 08:26 PM
i had no idea those things are illegal... and yet you see them used everywhere throughout the city.
Shawn Richardson March 15, 2012 at 10:29 PM
I hate fearmongering websites like that one. They take studies that generally deal with long term and consistent exposure and then extrapolate the worst possible harms to intermittent and limited exposure. For instance they claim the noise pollution is linked to heart problems. I'm pretty sure I'm familiar with that particular study from England in which they looked at heart disease rates around noisy freeways and found a correlation, not causation mind you. But it is a big leap to go from a constant loud drone is correlated to heart disease to any noise regardless of duration and magnitude can cause heart disease. But saying noise pollution has been linked to heart disease avoids people jumping on they correlation does not equal causation bandwagon. They just let the reader make that assumption on their own. Or how about the claim that particulate is the most deadly air pollution. Well maybe, is asbestos a particulate air pollutant? Ok but are the blowers blowing asbestos around? How deadly is clay dust and sand? I eat insect feces every day. You know what else blows dust around? The 50-60 mph winds we get all the time. Or how about the 5-10 mph thermal winds that we get almost daily just because of being on a hill? Now I'm not a fan of blowers, especially in the morning, but this strains credulity.
Susan R March 16, 2012 at 06:15 AM
Shawn, you obviously know nothing about noise pollution. There are thousands of laws across the country, city, state and federal noise laws. They protect us. Do some research. Noise is noise. Noise is unhealthy.
Susan R March 16, 2012 at 06:18 AM
The leaf blower law may have been revised in 1998 but it has been on the books for more than 50 years. Actor Peter Graves from the old television show Mission Impossible pushed for the law to be passed. http://www.metroactive.com/papers/cruz/12.03.98/leaf-blowers-9848.html
Shawn Richardson March 16, 2012 at 03:27 PM
Yeah yeah Susan, we all know you can't stand noise and have a personal vendetta against churchbell recordings. Why do you live in a city in a location surrounded by freeways and rail lines? Now if you want to germanely utilize the noise study, lobby for Caltrans to top the 110, 5, and the 2 with noise reducing asphalt.
Shawn Richardson March 16, 2012 at 03:38 PM
And that link just says the noise causes an orienting response. Cut edits on TV cause orienting responses. Open doors cause orienting responses. A bird flying overhead causes an orienting response. Also, could you please try to refrain from resorting to logical fallacies like the ignorance ad hominem and the ridiculous appeal to authority. You could say there were thousands laws against interracial marriage so it must be bad. Now it may be true the noise is dangerous but the mere existence of laws proves nothing.
Shawn Richardson March 16, 2012 at 05:38 PM
My bad it says it causes a defensive response.
Susan R March 16, 2012 at 07:15 PM
Do your own research. I am not going to do the work for you. Your showing your ignorance.
Shawn Richardson March 16, 2012 at 08:11 PM
Your name calling and rhetorical avoidance tells me you've got nothing. Even the WHO only found a weak correlation between long term exposure to noise and hypertension. But I'm not trying to argue that noise pollution is not a problem. I'm saying that when I encounter a website such as the linked one and they literally resort to the gross emotional manipulation of the "and no one will hear you scream" argument (along with the other fear manipulations like drawing causality from weak correlations that apply to vastly different scenarios) my BS meter starts flashing violently, and so should everyone else's. But go ahead Susan keep calling everyone that disagrees with you ignorant. That is sure to foster a ration discourse. C.c
Shawn Richardson March 16, 2012 at 08:12 PM
DYAC *rational
Susan R March 17, 2012 at 05:50 AM
The word igorant is not a put down. It only means you have no knowledge of something. There is nothing wrong with that. There are lot of subjects that many people are ignorant about. They just do not know anything about a certain subject. That is why I suggest that you research the subject. There is so much information about noise. Even though I know many websites I can refer you to I feel it is much better for people to do their own research. And, if they choose not to they can just remain ignorant (unknowable) about the subject.
Monica Schober March 19, 2012 at 04:28 AM
Allergy symptoms were manageable without medication until the dirt began to be blown about in concentrated bursts and blasts at the houses around me - 4 separate times in one week, twice for more than 10 minutes - kicking up visible dust with re-introduced pollens billowing 3 stories high. I first thought there was a fire, the dust was that thick - but no. Eyes watering, choking on my own fluids, eyes scratchy and red, roof of the mouth itching, hacking deep in the lung coughs - these were only partially mitigated by medication and an industrial air purifier over the last week. I wasn't the only person having this experience. I'd like a rational explanation why I must take medications and dust the house 4 times a week, (yes I close my windows) because I'm enveloped in a human-made, and therefore avoidable, concentrated dust cloud 4 times a week? Granted, using a broom may take a little more time. I use one and when properly used the dust goes about 1 to 2 feet off the ground, not 30 feet into the air (I exaggerate not). At 1 to 2 feet above the ground, that dust settles back down pretty quickly. I know one person who has asked his gardener not to use the blower. He says he has no control over what the gardener does when he's not there to supervise. I'm not for punishment here. I'd like to see awareness raised, and perhaps neighborly courtesies observed. Thanks for "listening".
kc March 25, 2012 at 03:27 PM
Thank you! Neighbors, if you hire a landscape company please request that leaf blowers not be used on a regular basis. rakes and brooms take a short while longer of course, but it is much more respectful to your neighbor than blowing dirt and noise every week.
Susan R March 30, 2012 at 02:32 AM
Yes, your right no one wants blowing dirty or NOISE!!
Kim Axelrod Ohanneson April 01, 2012 at 08:55 PM
Shawn, you're an environmental designer, correct? Speaking as a professional in the field, can you talk about why you don't like leaf blowers? Also, can you recommend a site that you feel offers more of a balanced approach to the issue? Thanks.
Susan R April 09, 2012 at 01:26 AM
Well, Kim, it looks like you never did get the balance you were looking for on the other side of the issue. How in the world could this be hateful? And, WHO is not the only organization around that is against the gas leaf blowers. That is why I said do your own research. Obviously, Shawn didn't.


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