Letter to the Editor: Maplewood Township Committee Should Ban Gas Powered Leaf Blowers Year-Round

by Dan Segal
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April 5, 2021

To the Township Committee:

Here is a question:  Why would certain members of the Township Committee knowingly enable harm to the health of workers, residents and the environment when a simple revision to an existing ordinance would minimize that harm and place Maplewood in the company of many other forward looking municipalities?

Specifically, a growing number of communities have banned the use of gas powered leaf blowers due to the harm done to workers, residents and the environment.

In fact, Maplewood residents are fortunate that under Committeewoman Nancy Adams’ leadership a few years ago, a ban on gas powered leaf blowers was passed and is in effect from May 15 – Sept 30 for commercial lawn maintenance companies. The ban has been very successful for those months.

The issue is obvious though; the spring and fall are the months that these leaf blowers are used constantly by lawn maintenance companies and that is when the ordinance is of no help.  In fact, in Maplewood, the leaf blowers are explicitly permitted from 8 am to 6 pm weekdays from Sept 15 until May 15.  The noise ordinance in Maplewood (which is quite broad) is rendered useless.  So commercial lawn maintenance companies are permitted to show up with three leaf blowers on a property and run all of them at full throttle in one yard for as long as they like when the ban is not in effect.

At best, it is an oversight of the Township Committee and at worst it is an example of misguided and ill-informed policy making.  How can an acknowledged harm done from May to September be ignored the rest of the year?  Why would you not revise the ordinance to recognize that the harm is done all year long?

In fact, if you look closely at local ordinances, there are several that regulate the practices of businesses to minimize the harm to residents and to improve the quality of life. All of these ordinances are in effect all year long.  Examples:

  • Painters must use special equipment when sanding exteriors to minimize the dispersal of lead paint dust.
  • There are explicit prohibitions on getting rid of harmful pollutants into waterways.
  • There is even an ordinance that says that auto repair businesses cannot make excessive noise or have lighting that would bother nearby residents.

All of these ordinances are in effect all year long.

There is lots of science readily available which demonstrates the harm is real from gas powered leaf blowers in terms of air and noise pollution and it is a completely avoidable source of emissions contributing to climate change.  No one is saying that people can not do what they want to their yards.  The demand is simply to replace the use of gas powered leaf blowers with one or all of the alternatives. Using a rake or letting the leaves decompose in place, or mulching them with the lawn mower are all easy alternatives.

There is an economic side to all this. Lawn maintenance companies have an incentive to show up often and do something to justify their fees even if it is moving leaves around every week.  However, if you went to a dentist and they told you must come in every other week for a cleaning and they used a high pressure garden hose to clean your teeth, would you continue to use that dentist?  Would you consider that the dentist’s need to collect fees is in conflict with best practices?  Would you ask your dentist about the level of cleanliness that needs to be achieved and whether they would perhaps consider using a different piece of equipment?  Doesn’t it seem likely that level of cleanliness is in fact doing more harm than good?

I don’t know why some members of the TC seem unable to make this easy revision to the existing ban on gas powered leaf blowers.  Here is an excerpt from an email from one member of the TC who does not support a complete ban all year long:

“I also think there are people who need landscaping done because of the size of their properties, the available time they have to devote to yard work, and age and health limitations. My role as an elected official is to try to understand all these factors when making any kind of a decision that will impact the lives and properties of people in our community.”

So the implication from that response is that those of us in favor of extending the ban want old people with big yards to get out there and rake leaves themselves until they collapse. In reality, the demand is to revise the ordinance to be in effect all year long, as is the case with all other ordinances, and to compel lawn maintenance companies to use best practices, and to protect the health of workers, residents and the environment.

Why wouldn’t the Township Committee jump at an opportunity to achieve that with a simple revision to an existing ordinance?

Sincerely,

Dan Segal
Maplewood, NJ

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