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Thursday, April 18, 2024

Blowing in the Wind

A 2011 study found that you’d have to drive a Ford F150 Raptor for 3,887 miles, or the distance from north Texas to Anchorage, Alaska to equal the amount of hydrocarbon emissions produced by a two-stroke gas-powered leaf blower operated for only 30 minutes.

Leaf blowers–sometimes it seems that everyone is foregoing the humble rake for these high-powered machines. People either love them for their efficiency or hate them for high-pitched noise they produce.  But did you know that gas-powered leaf blowers are also a major source of pollution and a health hazard?

As of January 1, 2022, the Leaf Blower Regulation Amendment Act of 2016 will prohibit the sale and use of gasoline-powered leaf blowers in DC. Residents and landscape companies alike will need to abide by this law or be subject to a fine of up to $500. To help make the transition to cleaner electric and battery-powered leaf blowers, the DC Sustainable Energy Utility (DCSEU) is offering $50 residential rebates for qualifying electric leaf blowers and $75 rebates for landscaping companies.  Rebates are limited to one per residential customer while any landscaping company licensed to work in DC will be eligible for rebates for up to five electric or battery powered machines under the DCSEU plan.

Why is this Legislation Necessary?
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), two-stroke gasoline-powered lawn and garden equipment (including leaf blowers) produce high levels of hazardous air pollutants and carbon dioxide (CO2). Two-stroke engines are lightweight as they combine oil and gas in a single chamber. But they are also very loud and inefficient with as much as a third of the fuel spewed into the air as unburned aerosol. As testimony to the inefficiency of these machines, a 2011 study found that you’d have to drive a Ford F150 Raptor for 3,887 miles, or the distance from north Texas to Anchorage, Alaska to equal the amount of hydrocarbon emissions produced by a two stroke gas-powered leaf blower operated for only 30 minutes. People who operate these leaf-blowers breathe these emissions while landscapers who operate these machines for hours each day are exposed to much higher levels. Over time, these emissions can lead to a host of health issues ranging from cardiovascular disease, to strokes, and respiratory diseases. The noise they produce can lead to permanent hearing loss.

Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3) and Chair of the DC Council’s Committee on Transportation and the Environment is happy to see these gas-powered machines abolished in DC, noting, “Gas-powered leaf blowers are noisy, toxic, and exceptionally polluting. The gas-powered leaf blower ban is an environmental and public health effort, and I enthusiastically welcome the launch of the DCSEU’s leaf blower rebate program to assist with the phasing-in of electric/battery alternatives. Not only will it lead to safer environments for landscapers, neighborhoods, and local wildlife, but the rebate program will also make the transition to cleaner, quieter alternatives more accessible for everyone.”

While electric and battery-powered leaf blowers are better for operator health and the environment, other technological advancements are also favoring electric leaf blowers. In addition to being quieter than gas-powered machines, a November 2021 New York Times article comparing types and brands of leaf blowers also notes that “the best corded models are on a par with or better than many gas blowers.”

At least some local landscaping companies are embracing the legislation and eager to see the switch to electric. Nancy Sainburg, owner of Enchanted Garden, a DC-based landscaping company notes, “We’ve been using only battery-operated blowers for the past five years. We’ve had no complaints from clients. In fact, several clients have come to us after hearing that we only use battery-powered blowers.”

To get the DCSEU rebate, visit the DCSEU website at https://www.dcseu.com/homes/electric-lawn-care. Residents will need a copy of their receipt that includes a model number of the leaf blower purchased. Rebate applications (limit one per utility account) can be submitted through the Online Rebate Center or through the mail-in application.  Commercial customers will need to submit a copy of their DC business license and can apply for the rebate online through on the DCSEU’s website.

Ted Trabue, Managing Director of the DCSEU urges people to act on this rebate now.  “Don’t wait until every leaf has fallen to take advantage of our rebate. Make the switch before January 1, 2022, to stay in compliance with the new District ordinance. Electric leaf blowers and lawn equipment are better for the environment and for the health, safety, and hearing of workers and residents, and we look forward to helping residents and businesses make the switch.”

And if you really want to be carbon neutral and even get some exercise, remember, that rake will still work, too!

Catherine Plume is a lifelong environmentalist, an urban homesteader, a writer, and blogger for the DC Recycler: www.DCRecycler.blogspot.com; Twitter: @DC_Recycler.  She is also the Chair of the DC Chapter of the Sierra Club, however, perspectives expressed are her own and do not necessarily represent the positions of that organization.

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