Air and noise pollution generated by gas leaf blowers (GLBs) pose multiple hazards to human health
Children are highly susceptible to these hazards because they breathe more air per pound of body weight per day than adults and thus inhale more of any pollutants that are thrown into the air by this equipment. Children’s vulnerability is further magnified by the fact that their lungs, ears, eyes, and other organ systems are still developing, making them inherently more sensitive to environmental hazards than the organs of adults.
In addition, workers who operate GLBs for as many as 8 or more hours per day are at high risk of health impacts.
Gas Leaf Blowers and Airborne Pollutants
GLBs are a major source of air pollutants that impact health both directly when inhaled and indirectly through acceleration of climate change. GLB combustion engines are extremely low efficiency; 30% of the gas and oil that they use is unburned and released directly to the atmosphere. The California Air Resources Board (CARB) estimates that operation of a GLB for one hour releases emissions equivalent to driving a car for 15 hours or 1100 miles.
GLB emissions include carbon monoxide, formaldehyde, benzene, nitrogen oxides, hydrocarbons, and particulate matter. In addition to impacting respiratory health and increasing asthma risk and severity, these pollutants are associated with numerous health outcomes including autism, cancer, heart disease, and dementia.
A Butterfly Effect of Gas Leaf Blowers
The air released from GLBs can reach speeds of 200 mph, sending dust, pollen, pesticides, mold, and heavy metals in soil into the air where they can be breathed in. Lastly, exposure to fine particulates like those emitted from GLBs was associated with an increase in COVID-related deaths. For these reasons, the American Lung Association recommends using hand-powered or electric lawn care equipment instead of gas-powered.
Gas Leaf Blowers and Noise Pollution
GLBs can expose users to greater than 100 decibels (dB), the equivalent to a jackhammer or a jet taking off, and well above the level at which chronic noise exposure leads to irreparable hearing loss. The low frequency sound produced by GLBs travels long distances and can penetrate walls and windows. The World Health Organization recommends general daytime outdoor noise levels of 55 dB or less, but some manufacturers estimate noise exposure from GLBs for bystanders as far as 50 feet away at around 70 dB. In addition to damaging hearing, noise affects quality of life by impairing communication and learning, reducing ability to accurately complete complex tasks, and increasing stress.
The high intensity noise that GLBs produce is particularly harmful to the developing ears of infants and young children because their auditory systems are undergoing rapid growth and development, and these developmental processes are easily disrupted. Studies have also shown that exposure to excessive noise during pregnancy is associated with preterm birth and high-frequency hearing loss in the child.
Safer Alternatives to Gas Leaf Blowers
- Leave the leaves! Leaves are food and habitat for overwintering butterflies and other pollinators and insects.
- Rake leaves into piles and use them as mulch around trees, shrubs, or garden beds. Leaves are nutrient rich and an attractive way to build healthy soil in your garden beds!
- Replace turf grass with native plantings that allow leaves to become a natural part of your landscape.
- Use an electric or battery powered leaf blower or lawn sweeper.
- Support lawn care companies that don’t use gas leaf blowers. Educate companies that do use them about the harms to health and the environment.
- Ask your local officials to join over 100 other municipalities in banning or restricting gas leaf blowers.
What are we doing at Mount Sinai?
Since Mount Sinai researchers and clinicians began speaking out on this issue over more than a decade ago, restrictions on the use of gas leaf blowers have been passed in hundreds of municipalities across the country. Our scientists continue to provide testimony and participate in public hearings throughout New York and surrounding communities.