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GUEST OPINION: Banning leaf blowers


"During the countless hours I've spent at city parks with my four children," Lisa Summers of Sonoma recently wrote to her City Council, "nothing in my mind stands out as a more constant and insidious disruption to the quality of life in the valley than the ever-increasing use of leaf blowers."

Summers requested that the blowers – also know as debris blowers, since they kick up much more than leaves – be banned. The council is scheduled to discuss blowers at its Wednesday meeting.

"In light of the ongoing BP oil spill," Summers wrote her elected officials, "I ask you to take a hard look at the frivolous use of gas-powered tools where safe, quiet and environmentally friendly alternatives exist." She apparently had brooms and rakes in mind.

On the other side of the county, in Sebastopol, Councilman Guy Wilson brought the idea of a blower ban before the council, at the request of residents, in November. The city manager is currently drafting alternative options for the council to consider.

"Sebastopol should ask itself why we allow these blowers in the first place," Wilson said in a recent interview. "What reasonable purpose do they serve? It's kind of like a bad habit that has gone on and on. We need to look at their use in a critical way."

Another Sebastopol resident has posted various informative videos and links on leaf blowers at www.tv1.com/vlogs/167/posts/246.

Various Marin County cities already ban blowers, as do dozens of California cities and many U.S. cities, both large and small. In l975, Carmel was the first to ban blowers.

"Leaf blowers erode top soil," Summers said in a recent telephone interview. "They de-hydrate the soil and blow away the protective covering of leaves, exposing plants to all kinds of pathogens, which is also bad for the roots. They are like a tornado blast that injures plants and opens the way for disease."

Summers also expressed concerns about "the long-term risk of exposure to noise and airborne contaminants by the workers who use them – who are often subordinate to large landscaping companies or even municipalities."

"Noise pollution has a serious impact on health," according to Sonoma resident Georgia Kelly of the Praxis Peace Institute. "Stress, hypertension, hearing loss and heart attacks can be associated with high noise levels. For people who work at home and older retired residents, neighborhood noise pollution is especially disturbing."

The editor of the Sonoma Index-Tribune, Dave Bolling, recently wrote an editorial titled "Banishing the mechanical banshee." He describes the blowers as "shrieking, mega-decibel, hydrocarbon-spewing, two-stroke tornadoes."

"There is a movement emerging from the lawns and gardens and landscapes of America," Bolling notes, "a voice of protest that is gathering itself together from small, polite complaints, merging into louder, irritated grumbles and ascending into angry exclamations that is beginning to demand an end to a cultural phenomenon that seemed to arrive, uninvited, from some other, non-human dimension."

A No Blow coalition had its first meeting in Orinda on June 26, at the invitation of the group Quiet Orinda (www.quietorinda.com). More than a dozen persons heard reports from a member of Zero Air Pollution (www.zeroairpollution.com), which successfully persuaded the city of Los Angeles to pass a ban in l997. A health scientist with the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District also presented, followed by a physician. They both spoke about the deadly health consequences of kicking up particulate matter, especially to vulnerable children. Reports on that meeting are available by an internet search of No Blow.

These experts documented facts similar to those communicated by Summers to her representatives: "In addition to the noise pollution they generate, leaf blowers are associated with a wide range of impacts to human health and the environment, including but not limited to respiratory illness and distress, air pollution from unburned fuel, redistribution of pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, dust particles and animal feces into the air we breathe."

Summers described air as a resource and commons that we all use that should be protected from contamination. She continued, "In a Valley full of allergy and asthma sufferers, banning leaf blowers seems justified for air quality impacts alone."

The early days of the campaign against the hazards of second-hand cigarette smoke came to mind. Though this idea was originally dismissed, laws eventually were passed against such deadly smoke. No one has the right to blow hazardous smoke into our faces, or hazardous toxins into our common air and our ears. People have the right to make a fist, but they do not have the right to put it in someone's face.

<i>Shepherd Bliss has owned and operated an organic farm in Sebastopol since l992 and also teaches at Sonoma State University. E-mail him at sb3@pon.net. </i>