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.

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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