I am writing to applaud our Montclair Township Council for its first vote to strengthen regulation of gas-powered leaf blowers and in hopes that the council will approve the law on Feb. 16.
I have lived here for 13 years and am excited that we have the opportunity to promote the health of Montclair residents by prohibiting gas-powered leaf blowers for eight months of the year.
I am a professor of Family and Social Medicine and of Epidemiology and Population Health at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx. For a decade, I was principal investigator for a grant from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences that studied the relationship of adult and childhood asthma with both stationary and mobile sources of air pollution. I have lectured widely about my research findings and the clear role air pollutants play in exacerbating asthma.
Gas-powered leaf blowers pose a severe threat to community health because of their emissions. We can hear that these machines are deafening, but they are also invisibly toxic. Leaf blowers generate copious amounts of fine and ultrafine particulate matter, both through their exhaust and dust blown into the air, which can linger for days.
The two-stroke engines of gas-powered leaf blowers run on a combination of gasoline and oil, so they produce an especially toxic exhaust. These emissions include large amounts of unburned fuel, carbon monoxide, cancer-causing hydrocarbons (including benzene, butadiene, and formaldehyde), asthma-inducing ozone and nitrous oxides, and asthma-aggravating fine particulate matter. The smaller the particulate size, the farther into the lungs they penetrate, generating inflammation, exacerbating asthma and emphysema, and potentially causing lung cancer. Using epidemiological methods, fine particulate matter has been linked to increased pulmonary, cardiovascular, cancer, overall, and COVID-19 mortality rates.
Independent laboratories have measured the air pollution generated by these two-stroke engines and found their hydrocarbons, nitrous oxides and carbon monoxide dramatically exceeded regulated cars and pick-up trucks. California air quality officials estimated that in 2020 leaf blowers and other small two-stroke engines produced more hydrocarbon-based ozone pollution than all of the passenger cars in the state.
Unlike emissions from smoke stack industries and power plants or along major highways, this source of air pollution is close to the humans who operate the leaf blowers. Because these aerosols linger near the ground for up to a week, they also expose children and residents long after the lawn care workers have packed up their machines.
At the request of NYC Mayor David Dinkins, I once wrote a paper called “What’s a Mayor to Do About Health?” addressing the limited municipal authority in regulating health. Municipalities cannot regulate vehicle or smokestack emissions. One thing municipalities can do to powerfully improve human health is to limit gas-powered leaf blowers as much as possible. Today, cleaner, safer, effective alternatives are readily available. The council can help protect those of us who live here from these invisibly toxic machines.
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