Government Maplewood

Maplewood Leaders: Leaf Blower Ban Not ‘Capricious,’ But Based on Science & Precedent

On Tuesday, April 4, the Maplewood Township Committee voted unanimously (5-0) to approve an ordinance to ban the use of gas-powered leaf blowers by commercial landscapers between May 15 and Sept. 30, 2017. (Read our report of the hearing and vote here.)

In discussing the ordinance, Deputy Mayor Nancy Adams pointedly referred to a letter by James Nathenson published by Village Green, and countered Nathenson’s stated opinion that the Town and the subcommittee upon which he had served had offered no proof of the detrimental effects of leaf blowers.

In refuting Nathenson’s claims, Adams referred to the work of the subcommittee, a report from which she had read a into the record at a Township Committee meeting in February. The report cited scientific research and model programs in other towns and cities around the country. “Greg Lembrich and I worked on it together and shared it with the committee,” Adams wrote on a Facebook thread on Village Green News & Views. “The recommendations listed were voted on by the committee and majority ruled.”

Dean Dafis, a member of the Maplewood Green Team Advisory Committee and candidate for Township Committee, forwarded the report to Village Green. Dafis asked that it be published so that residents “can read it for themselves and see that our restricted use ordinance isn’t capricious. Not everyone is going to agree with it, and that’s okay, disagreement is democratic, but at least it will show people that there was a process here based on science and modeled after other similar ordinances around the country/world.”

Read the report here:

Report on Leaf Blowers

Following a pilot program banning the use of gas powered leaf blowers during the summer months, the Township Committee tasked its colleagues Nancy Adams and Greg Lembrich to co-chair a committee to research the issue and interview commercial landscapers who do work in Maplewood. Originally, the committee was looking into pesticide use also, but the committee deemed that, for now, other than educating the public about the negative impacts on using pesticides, the use of specific ones was well-regulated by the state and federal agencies and requirements of users being licensed addressed issues regarding local use to a satisfactory degree; and the leaf blower issue dominated the conversations and discussions leaving little opportunity for pesticide research and discussion. We as chairs decided not to continue that discussion at this time because it was being overwhelmed by the other topic.

There is a LOT of information on leaf blowers we found, most of it about what’s wrong with them. This concerned a couple of committee members who don’t agree with the ban. However, when asked to find information that supported the use of leaf blowers as being good for anyone other than expediting the work of gathering lawn debris for the contractors who use them, there was nothing positive found nor shared with the committee. There is no environmental reason that leaf blowers are good. There is no support that the leaf blowers are positive in any way other than the ease with which they blow debris and the fact that contractors can do their work more quickly and easily by using them. There are threats that contractors will have to charge more to clients if they are not permitted to use leaf blowers, but there was no evidence gathered to support this premise in places where leaf blowers have been banned. The reality is that there is plenty of competition to keep prices from rising too much if at all, and there is substantial savings in fuel that mitigates extra labor costs involved with sweeping.

Landscaper Interviews:

The committee brought seven landscapers in to meet individually with them to hear their thoughts on leaf blowers and the summer ban as well as the possibility of an annual ban on the use of leaf blowers. We also interviewed the Executive Director of the NJ Landscapers’ Association. Overall, the landscapers agreed that the leaf blowers they use are annoyingly loud but, they said, a necessary part of their work. The majority of them also said that they don’t really need them in the summer other than the demands of their customers wanting their properties left more clean and neat. Landscapers reported that some of their clients would rather their landscaper use the leaf blowers in defiance of the law banning them in the summer and said they would pay any fine levied on the landscaper. Landscapers asked that we allow the lower-powered (65 dba) leaf blowers in the summer, but admitted others would still use the stronger ones regardless of any law banning them or limiting their use. Overall the landscapers would be in favor of restricting the hours of operation more and not permitting leaf blowers on Sundays, several would favor a ban on them on Saturdays as well.

The main theme amongst the landscapers interviewed was the importance of a level playing field with their competitors. If we were to have an annual ban, they said, they’d prefer stricter enforcement and higher fines for those breaking the law because the cleanliness of properties maintained using blowers was better than where they didn’t use them. They also favored a complete ban in the summer to include residents, but if that wasn’t possible, at least be consistent in banning them for other professionals such as gutter cleaning companies.

Committee members suggested landscapers offer a menu of services, but most said they only offer a package that includes mowing, trimming and blowing to all their residential customers. Most do the same thing every week even though in the summer all lawns don’t need to be mowed every week, but they have employees who need to be paid and some admitted to making work they wouldn’t ordinarily do because of this.

Research:

The committee members spent a lot of time on their own gathering information and research about leaf blowers, their effects on people and the environment, other bans, and more. Here is some of what was found:

  • Several municipalities and even states have considered leaf blower bans across the country. Over 400 towns in California have either partial (usually summer bans) or full bans, several towns in Colorado, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, Florida, Illinois, New York, Oregon, New Hampshire, and Arizona have full or partial bans. The reasons stated for the bans are mainly that the machines are extremely damaging to topsoil, trees, flowerbeds and vital soil-dwelling organisms; the amount of noise pollution created by these machines is disruptive to the workers as well as people in the surrounding area; the air pollution created the gas-powered blowers emit carbon monoxide and nitrous oxide, which are toxic to humans.
  • Two-stroke engines were originally manufactured for motorcycles until they were no longer permitted on motorcycles because the engines were too dirty to pass the emissions tests required for road vehicles in the country. So apparently the manufacturers found another way to sell these engines, one that has become much more profitable for them than motorcycles because there is no regular emissions testing on lawn maintenance equipment like there is for motor vehicles. With no annual inspection required, once the piece of equipment is made with the 2-stroke engine, it is not inspected again. That equipment is predominately gas-powered leaf blowers. And it’s fair to say that there are far more leaf blowers running everyday than motorcycles.
  • From the EPA:

Particulate pollution is released from yard equipment during the combustion of gasoline. It can lodge deep in the lungs and cause respiratory problems, cardiac arrhythmia, & heart attacks. It can impact children, the elderly and people with emphysema, bronchitis, & asthma. Volatile Organic Compound (VOC) emissions are also released during the combustion of gasoline while using yard equipment. The chemicals in VOC can form ground-level ozone (smog) which can cause breathing difficulties especially in children, the elderly and people with existing respiratory problems like asthma.

  • Blower engines generate high noise levels. Gasoline-powered leaf blower noise is a danger to the health of the blower operator and an annoyance to the non-consenting citizens in the area of usage.

The two-stroke engine has several attributes that are advantageous for applications such as leaf blowers. Two-stroke engines are lightweight in comparison to the power they generate, and operate in any position, allowing for great flexibility in equipment applications. Multi-positional operation is made possible by mixing the lubricating oil with the fuel; the engine is, thus, properly lubricated when operated at a steep angle or even upside down.

A major disadvantage of two-stroke engines is high exhaust emissions. Typical two-stroke designs feed more of the fuel/oil mixture than is necessary into the combustion chamber. Through a process known as scavenging, the incoming fuel enters the combustion chamber as the exhaust is leaving. This timing overlap of intake and exhaust can result in as much as 30% of the fuel/oil mixture being exhausted unburned. Thus, exhaust emissions consist of both unburned fuel and products of incomplete combustion. The major pollutants from a two-stroke engine are, therefore, oil-based particulates, a mixture of hydrocarbons, and carbon monoxide. A two-stroke engine forms relatively little oxides of nitrogen emissions, because the extra fuel absorbs the heat and keeps peak combustion temperatures low.

A small percentage of blowers utilize four-stroke engines. These blowers are typically “walk-behind” models, used to clean large parking lots and industrial facilities, rather than lawns and driveways. Overall, the engines used in these blowers emit significantly lower emissions than their two-stroke counterparts, with significantly lower levels of hydrocarbons and particulate matter. These four-stroke blower engines have a considerably lower population than the traditional two-stroke blowers and only peripherally fit the definition or commonly-accepted meaning of the term “leaf blower.” They are mentioned here only for completeness, but are not otherwise separately addressed in this report.

The effects of sound on the ear are determined by its quality, which consists of the duration, intensity, frequency, and overtone structure, and the psychoacoustic variables of pitch, loudness, and tone quality or timbre, of the sound. Long duration, high intensity sounds are the most damaging and usually perceived as the most annoying. High frequency sounds, up to the limit of hearing, tend to be more annoying and potentially more hazardous than low frequency sounds. Intermittent sounds appear to be less damaging than continuous noise because the ear appears to be able to recover, or heal, during intervening quiet periods. Random, intermittent sounds, however, may be more annoying, although not necessarily hazardous, because of their unpredictability

The nonprofit organization, Quiet Communities states, “Regulation of leaf blowers or other gas-powered equipment by local or regional authorities may be implemented through a general regulation, such as a noise or pollution ordinance, or an equipment-specific regulation, such as a leaf blower ban.” They recommend proactive use by municipalities of non-fossil fuel powered maintenance equipment where possible and also encourage regular education to the public.

Summary:

There were many discussions about whether or not a ban on leaf blowers, whether partial or full, was necessary in Maplewood. Several members spoke about the daily interruption of their days by the regular visits of landscaping companies to their neighborhoods. Most of the complaints were about the noise and the smell and especially about the interruption in the work of at-home workers and the sleep of young children and babies. Others disagreed and stated that while they don’t like the sound, the impact was a couple of times/week for 20 minutes or so at a time. The committee decided, after many impassioned discussions, that where one lived and how often they are at home had the most to do with how they were affected or how they perceived the impact on their lives.

Many discussions were also had on how to enforce any law passed on leaf blowers and whether or not it was possible to do so. The conclusion of most was that difficulty of enforcement should not keep Maplewood from developing laws on leaf blowers.

There was extensive discussion on the negative impact the use of leaf blowers has on the quality of soil, water, trees, shrubs, plants; in other words, on a healthy yard. The negative impacts on birds, wildlife and pets were also discussed and have been documented in research.

The committee’s majority recommended restrictions on leaf blowers for the good of its residents, for quality of life reasons, and for the health and well-being of residents, our water and our air. The committee recommended the following Amendments to the existing ordinance to include:

  • Annual Summer ban on gas (not electric) commercial leaf blowers from May 15 – October 15. This would lift the current 65 dba restrictions by simply banning all blowers during the summer; then all decibel blowers are permitted for spring cleanup and fall.
  • Restrict the number of commercial blowers being used at one time on one piece of property. Recommendation was maximum of 2 blowers at a time. TC should discuss possibility of limiting all equipment used on one lot at a time to maximum of 2 or 3, or if it just wants to limit the blowers.
  • More restrictive hours of operation of commercial leaf blowers: Monday – Friday 8AM – 6 PM; Saturdays 9AM – 5 PM; Sundays no permitted hours.
  • Leaves should not be left for more than SEVEN days before regular DPW pickup.
  • Require workers to wear safety equipment for both hearing and breathing.
  • Increase fines dramatically; suggested minimum of $500 – $1,000 for first offense.
  • No ban on residential use leaf blowers except outside of the hours permitted above, but possibly permitted on Sundays.
  • No ban on electric leaf blowers, commercial or residential.
  • Request more regular and comprehensive educational information distributed to the public on a regular basis by the Green Team and Environmental Commission.

See the actual ordinance adopted here:

Download (PDF, 56KB)

 

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