Fall leaves blow as city debates leaf blower ban
By Winter Hawk
At their Oct. 18 meeting, some city councilmembers were hesitant to phase in a ban on gas-powered leaf blowers. The ban’s sponsor, Danny Schaible (Ward 2), hopes to permanently stop the use of these blowers by July 2023, in an aim to reduce noise and gas pollution in the city.
During the meeting, many conversations centered around the city’s efforts to preserve the local environment. More specifically, the council passed motions to plant trees, improve water quality and reduce stormwater runoff. However, some councilmembers raised concerns around the proposed city-wide ban on gas leaf blowers.
Gas-powered leaf blower ban
Councilmembers agreed with the ban in principle, supporting Schaible’s intent to reduce noise and chemical pollution, preserve wildlife and minimize health risks.
Because most gas-powered leaf blowers lack independent lubrication systems, fuel has to be mixed with oil, according to Washington University in St. Louis. Burning this mixture releases toxic pollutants that contribute to smog.
During the meeting, Schaible said that using a gas-powered blower for an hour was the equivalent of driving a Ford F-150 for 3,000 miles.
Schaible likely drew his comparison from a leaf blower emissions study from 2011, which found that using a leaf blower for a half-hour created about the same amount of pollution as driving a 2011 Ford F-150 SVT Raptor from Texas to Alaska.
He later added, “[A gas-powered leaf blower] can be as loud as 110 decibels, 115 decibels in the ear of an operator.”
Schaible said he has received several complaints about the noise from residents. He would like to see the city match the efforts of surrounding jurisdictions that have implemented similar bans.
Nearby and national bans
A ban was proposed in University Park, according to the Town of University Park Common Council Sept. 7 meeting agenda. If passed, the ban would prohibit the use of gas-powered leaf blowers by January 2023.
Officials in Montgomery County also plan to propose a countywide ban on gas leaf blowers, according to Bethesda Magazine.
At least two municipalities in Montgomery County, Chevy Chase Village and the Town of Chevy Chase, have already voted for similar bans that will go into effect starting Jan. 1, 2022. However, the Town of Chevy Chase will only ban leaf blowers during a certain portion of the year.
In Los Angeles, Ca., gas-powered leaf blowers were banned back in 1998. While Los Angeles County has trouble enforcing the ban, Schaible does not see that being an issue in Hyattsville.
“[Los Angeles is] banning everything: They’re banning gas-powered mowers, gas-powered chainsaws, string trimmers,” Schaible said during the meeting. “I think, proportionally, we’re funding this much better with our 20,000 residents. [It’s] one piece of equipment as opposed to the whole thing.”
Weighing the pros and cons
Schaible has collaborated with the city’s environmental committee to bring the ban before the council for the first time, he said. The environmental committee has already recommended the council pass the motion.
But some councilmembers are concerned about the cost of electric-powered yard equipment. Rommel Sandino (Ward 5) and Joanne Waszczak (Ward 1) worry the ban will disproportionately affect lower-income residents and business owners of color.
“Approximately 40% of Hyattsville households make less than $49,000 a year,” Sandino said during the council meeting. “A lot of these businesses [in the city] are owned by people of color.”
To offset financial losses for residents and local businesses, the proposal includes a city-run rebate program. Residents could trade in one gas-powered leaf blower for up to two-thirds of its cost. Contractors could trade in up to three blowers, and the city will rebate half of the equipment’s cost up to $900.
Councilmember Joseph Soloman (Ward 5) and Council President Robert Croslin (Ward 2) suggested giving residents more time to transition to electric leaf blowers. Both councilmembers advocated for educating residents and business owners about the ban and the proposed rebate program.
Once the ban is enacted, the city would issue citations to those still using gas-powered leaf blowers, according to Schaible. Councilmember Sam Denes (Ward 1), an underwater acoustician with professional expertise in noise pollution, suggested the city should educate everyone who uses gas-powered leaf blowers, regardless of whether the ban goes into effect.
“Noise-induced hearing loss, pollution, stress are also borne disproportionately by those who are using these pieces of equipment,” Denes said. “To my mind, [these issues] have far greater costs than the actual pieces of equipment.”
Councilmembers will continue to hash out the specifics of the ban before bringing an updated proposal back to the council. Schaible was unsure of exactly when the proposal will be reintroduced, but he plans to work with other councilmembers to address their concerns.
Winter Hawk is an intern with the Hyattsville Life & Times.