Sunday, December 20, 2020

Shut off the leaf blowers and restore peace to suburbia


By Peter Bahouth
8:01 AM on Dec 18, 2020 CST

My very first job was raking leaves in the fall. It was a good way to make a little money without leaving the neighborhood. The weather was cool, the leaves were trippy colors, and people were out and about before the coming semi-hibernation of winter. It was a beautiful season of red, orange and yellow, quiet but for the sound of kids jumping into huge piles of leaves.

Now, the simple and efficient rake has been replaced by the daily intrusion of loud and polluting gas-powered leaf blowers designed to blast away any leaf that dares land on a lawn. The mind-rattling racket of these machines has made being outside, working and going to school remotely, listening to someone or something, even thinking, nearly impossible. 

Operating a gas-powered leaf blower for one hour emits smog-forming pollution comparable to driving a 2017 Toyota Camry about 1,100 miles, or approximately the distance from Chicago to Houston. Particulate matter linked to cancers, heart disease, asthma and other serious ailments, lingers in the air for days in droplets so small that the body has no way to filter them from entering the lungs. Most affected are children, the elderly and, of course, the operators of these machines.


The low-frequency waves travel farthest and produce the worst health effects, but the high-frequency waves (think dentist drill) add a grating intrusion. Unlike eyes, ears can’t shut. Studies show that noise pollution heightens stress, disrupts sleep, leads to hypertension and impairs learning.

[Also increases the likelihood of deafness and dementia.]

There is no waste in nature, and leaves aren’t litter. When autumn leaves fall, many species of butterflies, bees, fireflies, moths, ladybugs and earthworms find their winter home. The Luna moth is one of the most beautiful wild creatures that still exists close to our homes. Wrapping their cocoons in leaves provides excellent camouflage and insulation from cold temperatures. The cocoons are bright lime green and as large as four and a half inches long, and finding one is always a delight. But weekly blowing of leaf cover has substantially destroyed Luna moth habitat as well as that for fireflies and many other species. When we treat leaves like trash, we’re tossing out something other species need to survive.


Nature is not someplace to visit, it’s all around us. Even the most urbanized places are home to countless populations of wild birds, butterflies, flowers and other species. Our surroundings have much to offer in an increasingly complicated and electronic world. Nature provides us a place to think, create and de-stress. Spending time outside is rejuvenating and important to our well-being, but the persistent noise of gas-powered blowers makes it tough to enjoy the simple act of being outside, and it’s loud enough to disrupt your day, even inside your own home, a place that has become more essential than ever.

Sanctuary is being lost to the sanctity of a well-groomed lawn. With a million new gas-powered blowers sold each year, and manufacturers pushing the year-round use of leaf blowers for a variety of purposes, including to dry off pavement, it’s only getting worse. We’re not only losing peace and quiet and the quality of our air, we’re losing a whole season.

It’s time to hit the reset button and take back autumn. Buy someone a rake for Christmas, and get out in the crisp clean air and jump in the leaves.

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