Abcarian: Things I Won’t Miss: The Gasoline Leaf Blower

If a genius gave me three wishes, I would swear I would ask for world peace, universal health care, and the end of gas-powered leaf blowers.

Like so many people, I work from home. I don’t have a gardener, but I am surrounded by neighbors who do. And every week, without fail, their men arrive armed with leaf blowers, swinging them like, uh, elephant trunks and tearing my nerves out.

On the neighboring property, an apartment building, there are exactly no leafy trees. The only “landscape”, if you can call it that, consists of a carpet of small white rocks with a few slender palm trees bordered by a low hedge. There are no leaves to speak of, so every Monday the gardener vacuums upside down in the downstairs parking lot, blowing out dust, sand, cigarette butts and other debris towards my house. God help me if I forget to close the windows.

On the other side is a single family home with a front yard the size of a postage stamp. A few small trees line the fence between our houses, and there is a pretty bougainvillea on the other side. Every Friday, a two-man crew descends, carrying an ear-cutting blower. The men wear earphones and noise masks, and shout to be heard over the roar. Until they leave, I can’t speak on the phone, listen to the radio, or hear myself think.

Why are these things still used? Years ago, in the late 1990s, Los Angeles banned gasoline leaf blowers.

The original order – imposing fines of $ 1,000 and up to six months in prison, was so harsh it sparked a popular uprising among the city’s predominantly Latino gardeners. They formed the Assn. Latin American gardeners in Los Angeles to fight it. On the lawn of the Town Hall, more than a dozen gardeners began a seven-day hunger strike. They attracted hundreds of supporters, who chanted “Yes, puede!And carried signs saying “We have the right to earn our living!” ”

The hunger strike ended peacefully after city officials pledged in writing to help find legal substitutes for the ubiquitous energy-guzzling machines. And the city council agreed to weaken the sanctions.

“Our influence has grown,” said strike leader Adrian Alvarez. “We got what we wanted: to take us seriously and start a dialogue to find a better solution. “

Currently, the law provides for a maximum fine $ 100 for the gardener and the owner, although I have never heard of anyone having received such a ticket.

Gardeners had every right to be angry and to use their nascent but fleeting political power. By ethical standards, the law appeared to be an attack on the livelihoods of many of the city’s poorest workers. The conflict seemed to pit the struggles of the working poor against the callous desires of the wealthy and mildly inconvenienced landowners. Over the years, however, it became apparent that there was more to it than this simple reductive shot.

In view of environmental and health standards, the ban was a good policy.

Blowers, after all, are tremendous polluters.

“The two-stroke are among the dirtiest engines on the planet,” said a spokesperson for the The California Air Resources Board said in 2002.

“One hour of operation” says current council website, “Emits smog-forming pollution comparable to driving a 2017 Toyota Camry for approximately 1,100 miles, approximately the distance from Los Angeles to Denver. “

In 2019, James Fallows of the Atlantic noted that the gasoline leaf blower’s two-stroke engine is “an obsolete piece of machinery … It blasts a mixture of gasoline and oil together into the combustion chamber, then releases up to a third of this fuel as an unburned aerosol. This aerosol contains three main carcinogenic compounds: benzene, butadiene and formaldehyde. I haven’t found any research on the prevalence of asthma and lung disease among gardeners who use gas blowers, but I bet it’s relatively high.

Blowers also throw all kinds of coarse material into the air: mold, fungal spores, pollen, insect eggs, heavy metals, animal droppings and fertilizer products.

And, did I mention they’re incredibly loud?

Studies have shown that loud, low-frequency rumbling poses hearing hazards for workers and spreads over long distances.

Noise is known to have long term health effects. It increases the levels of stress hormones, which are implicated in high blood pressure, heart disease, hearing loss, and test results in children.

Los Angeles never enforced the ban. The police have more urgent things to do.

Rogelio Tapia, a Los Angeles gardener since 1980, told me he uses both gas and electric fans, depending on customer preferences.

“If you use a broom or a rake, it takes a long time,” he said. “I mean, most people are trying to save money; they don’t offer to pay more. As it stands, he added, “we are not making too much money. “


On October 9, among the hundreds of bills signed by Governor Gavin Newsom, there was one that will phase out the sale of “small all-terrain engines” by 2024. This category includes not only leaf blowers gasoline, but also high pressure cleaners, chainsaws and generators.

Once again, our state is at the forefront of environmental reform.

“It’s time to phase out these super-polluters and help small landscaping companies switch to cleaner alternatives.” Democrat MP Lorena Gonzalez of San Diego said, who co-wrote the bill with MP Marc Berman (D-Menlo Park). They also got $ 30 million in the state budget to help gardeners switch to zero-emission equipment.

As soon as I read this news, I reached out to Pepper Edmiston, who has been fighting to ban all leaf blowers in LA since – I’m not kidding – 1977. At the time, she was living in Brentwood next door to a house where gardeners blew leaves around a tennis court twice a week. “I had all these screaming kids, dogs and ducks, but nothing bothered me like the sound of these blowers,” she said.

Edmiston, who founded Happy Trails, a camp for foster children, moved to Pacific Palisades in 1990, where she teamed up with two couples who were also leaf blowers, Peter and Joan Graves, and George and Diane Wolfberg. (Peter Graves was the famous actor; George Wolfberg was the town’s chief administrative analyst.)

At city council meetings, Edmiston said, if reporters were present, Graves would announce, “This is the mission. Possible! “

Once, she said, they brought a gardener into the council chamber and made him start his gas blower, after which then councilor Zev Yaroslavsky shouted, with a curse, “Get out this. … Thing from here! “

About 18 months ago, she and her husband Joe Edmiston, executive director of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, attended a Police Commission meeting to advocate for the enforcement of the leaf blower ban .

Roaming was the order of the day that day.

“Obviously,” said Edmiston, “we felt our issue was irrelevant in the face of the housing crisis. It was a sobering experience, for sure.

Fortunately, we don’t have to choose between housing our most vulnerable and protecting the health of gardeners and our city’s air quality.

Why can’t we do both?


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