Two-stroke engines are some of the most polluting gas engines in the world, spewing out as much as one third of their fuel as an unburned aerosol. These emissions include an inordinate amount of the hydrocarbons that are responsible for global climate change.
The risks to landscape workers are clear. While protective equipment can reduce some of these risks, they are rarely used and there are no laws or regulations mandating such protections.
We need to ask ourselves if we want someone to risk their health and well being for a job that can otherwise be done safely.
For the many residents who work from home, the noise often interrupts an otherwise productive day.
It cannot be overstated that noise hurts. We all know from our own experience that noise is associated with psychological stress. Noise travels and it affects everyone, which is why noise ordinances are universal.
In a 2000 study published in Environmental Health Perspectives, it was estimated that more than 100 million Americans are at risk for noise-related health problems including hypertension and increased risk of heart attacks.
In 2010, pediatricians from Mount Sinai Hospital issued a letter to the Town of Eastchester urging their local government to restrict gasoline leaf blowers. The doctors wrote, “The ears of infants and young children are especially vulnerable to the high intensity noise that leaf blowers produce because their auditory systems are undergoing rapid growth and development, and these developmental processes are easily disrupted.”
In a 2017 study for the Journal of Environmental Toxicology, researchers showed what kind of noise bystanders are exposed to at varying distances of 50, 100, 200, 400, and 800 feet, from a two-stroke leaf blower. The study produced two key findings.
First, even at 800 feet away, bystanders were exposed to levels of noise that exceeded the World Health Organization’s recommended community outdoor daytime sound standards of 55 dBs. At 50 feet, bystanders were exposed to levels above 80dBs, sound loud enough to cause hearing damage.
The second key finding was the dominance of low-frequency sound waves in two-stroke engine noise which penetrates walls and windows.
Gas blowers also create noise levels upwards of 100 decibels for the operator. The CDC guidelines state any noise above 70 decibels begins to cause hearing damage. They list gas powered leaf blowers as a frequent cause of hearing loss. Workers are exposed to toxic levels of noise several hours a day.
The worst effects of gas blowers fall on the workers who use them. But the inefficiency of these two stroke engines spews an inordinate amount of highly toxic pollutants into the air we all breathe.
In 2010 doctors from Mount Sinai wrote, “Other potential pollutants from leaf blowers and internal combustion power tools are carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, hydrocarbons, and even ozone, formed from some of these other pollutants. Even lower-level exposures have been associated with respiratory and central nervous system effects.”
Confirming that assessment was a 2015 study by Dr. Jamie L Banks, a PhD in Health Economics, together with Robert McConnell, an EPA environmental engineer:
“Extensive evidence exists on the adverse health effects of exhaust emissions and other fine particulates which include cardiovascular disease, stroke, respiratory disease, cancer, neurological conditions, premature death…”.
Their sources: the American Heart Association, American Lung Association, the United States EPA, World Health Organization, as well as peer-reviewed scientific journal articles.
In a 2017 article in Science magazine, Emily Underwood wrote, “Evidence builds that dirty air causes reduced cognitive functioning. That is, fine-particulate pollution, of which there are many sources, and that two-stroke engines create to a disproportionate degree, is associated with mental problems in addition to its other known health effects. A growing body of evidence suggests that inhaling fine and ultra-fine particles can also harm the brain, accelerating cognitive aging, and may even increase risk of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.”
The use of leaf blowers is universally acknowledged by environmentalists and ecologists to be detrimental to the health and biodiversity of plant and animal life.
The 200 mph toxic air coming from gas blowers kills beneficial insects and other small creatures.
This is especially important in light of recent warnings that our insect population is rapidly declining, threatening global biodiversity and our food supply. One report has referred to it as a coming insect armageddon.
Backyards and gardens are habitat for wildlife, including in the winter when many species of insects hibernate among fallen leaves. Leaf blowers kill butterflies, moths, fireflies, and scores of species of native bees and other pollinators.
All of those creatures are also food for small mammals and birds. A 2019 report in Science demonstrated that over the last 50 years, North America has lost one-third of its birds — there are 3 billion fewer birds now than in 1970.
Protecting and increasing their food supply is one way among many of protecting those birds.