December 16, 2020

Ordinance Banning Two-Stroke Leaf Blowers Should Be Goal For Coming Year

To the Editor:

On December 16 and January 9, the Princeton Environmental Commission and Princeton Council will meet to prioritize their goals for the coming year. In the interests of public health, an ordinance banning or severely restricting the use of two-stroke leaf blowers in our community should be among next year’s town goals.

The shortcomings of these instruments of torture are widely reported and have appeared in our local news sources as well as national magazines (see, for example, Atlantic, April 2019).

It is not simply a matter of their being annoying, noisy and smelly — they are extremely so and do serious damage to our health and well-being. We all know that cars and trucks emit damaging pollutants, but the two-stroke engine is far worse than any other. A recent study found that up to a third of its fuel, including highly carcinogenic benzine, is unburned in the firing process and is let loose into our air and into our lungs. On average these emissions are an incredible 124 times higher than a car. Note that cars and trucks use much cleaner four-stroke engines.

Similarly, they are damaging to our hearing and to any sense of tranquility. As a person who researches and writes, I can say that when the leaf blowers are nearby, I cannot read, write, or think until they have gone away. An acoustic study showed that a two-stroke blower rated at 75db can affect the hearing of up to 15 times more households as a battery-powered blower of the same rating.  Note that many landscapers use larger and noisier equipment more suitable for clearing the lawns of corporate headquarters rather than the quarter-acre lots common in our town.

If this is not bad enough, we should consider the health of our yard workers who must work with these nasty machines only a foot or so from their heads.

Some of us have talked to our landscapers directly to negotiate quieter alternatives. In my own case, I have outright banned leaf-blowing on my property, but those around me are not obliged to follow suit. For this reason, a town-wide mandate of some sort is necessary. 

It is arguable that hand raking has a lot to recommend it, but the more acceptable solution to the health problems caused by two-stroke leaf blowers is to require the replacement of these ghastly contraptions with their battery-powered equivalents.

Robert Hebditch
Hickory Court