By Reggie Ellis
On Oct. 18 Mural Committee President Brian Barton was leading a tour of Exeter's murals for a group of international attendees of the 2003 California Mural Symposium. "They thoroughly enjoyed the mural tour until we rounded a corner and were blasted with dust from a leaf blower," Barton told the Exeter City Council during the public comment period of its Oct. 28 meeting. "The number one question from those people was, 'Your city is beautiful, but how do you breathe this air?"
Barton said something needed to be done to help clean up the air. He said he knew that most pollution was caused by cars, but that something else could be reduced. He suggested banning leaf blowers, something that has been successful in several California cities.
"Exeter has been proactive in a city-wide recycling program, why not try something else," he said. "I know we can't get rid of our cars but that doesn't mean we shouldn't do something."
In February 2000, the state Air Resources Board gave a report to the state legislature regarding "the Potential Health and Environmental Impacts of Leaf Blowers."
The report stated that "soon after the leaf blower was introduced into the U.S., its use was banned as a noise nuisance in two California cities, Carmel-by-the-Sea in 1975 and Beverly Hills in 1978." In 1990, the number of California cities banning the use of leaf blowers was up to five and by 2000 increased to 20. In 1998, Los Angeles passed a city ordinance that stated "no gas powered blower shall be used within 500 feet of a residence at any time." Nationwide, seven other states have at least one city with similar bans on leaf blowers.
"I told my gardner to stop using his several months ago," Barton said. "Sure, he griped for a couple of weeks but eventually he got used to it and hasn't used it since."
The report's figures varied but did say that leaf blower emissions comprise between 2-5 percent of the overall PM-10 (particulate matter or fugitive dust) "air burden." The report concluded that any dust particulates in the air contribute to a "variety of negative health endpoints, including mortality, hospital admissions, respiratory symptoms and illness, and changes in lung function."
The report goes on to make the connection easier to swallow, "The Air Resources Board regularly publishes such emissions benchmarks. Thus, for the average 1999 leaf blower, we calculate that hydrocarbon emissions from one-half hour of leaf blower operation equal about 7,700 miles of driving, at 30 miles per hour average speed. The carbon monoxide emission benchmark is significantly different. For carbon monoxide, one-half hour of leaf blower usage would be equivalent to about 440 miles of automobile travel at 30 miles per hour average speed."
City employees would be at risk as well. According to the ARB report, "Leaf blower operators may be exposed to potentially hazardous concentrations of CO and PM intermittently throughout their work day, and noise exposures may be high enough that operators are at increased risk of developing hearing loss."
"There are more than 400,000 gasoline-powered leaf blowers, plus approximately 600,000 electric leaf blowers, that are operated an estimated 114,000 hours per day in California." In fact, "10 minutes of leaf blower usage could expose the operator to a significant, potentially harmful dose of CO, assuming a worst case exposure, in which there is no dispersion of pollutants out of the immediate area."
The report can be downloaded from www.arb.ca.gov/msprog/leafblow/leafblow.htm.
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