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Let's make Lake Oswego a leaf-blower-free city


Nature’s delivered Lake Oswego a long, warm summer and residents are relishing the outdoor life.

But quiet has not come with summer days. Leaf blowers have revved up with a vengeance. In both public and private places in the downtown area and elsewhere, leaf blowers have transmitted ear-splitting noise, fumes and polluting dust during an especially dry summer. There are few days when leaf blowers aren’t in action.

“Hello LO’s” monthly newsletter article, “Blowers, Mowers and Other Noise” says the city has received many noise complaints, a number of which resulted in police responses. The article points to the city ordinance on specific prohibitive noise which, in part, states: “The use of any mechanical device, operated by compressed air, steam, gasoline or otherwise, unless the noise created thereby is effectively muffled.”

Of all modern contrivances we’ve learned to live with in this noisy world we’ve created, gasoline-powered leaf blowers rank at the top of anti-nature devices. They originated in Japan in the 1960s to disperse pesticides on fields and trees. That led to their modified use as a tool for eliminating garden debris.

When leaf blowers arrived in California, Carmel-by-the-Sea and Beverly Hills were the first to ban them as noise polluters in 1975 and 1978. Currently, 20 California cities have banned leaf blowers while another 80 cities in the United States have ordinances restricting usage and/or noise level.

Complaints have circulated in our Lake Oswego condo complex about the use and abuse of leaf blowers. Their loud noise has disturbed some daytime meetings and workers in home offices have been unable to use their phones. Dirt, dust and debris have been blown onto lower-level condos. Residents have observed workers who let blowers continue to run as they walked from place to place, blowing debris back and forth at each other, and returning to places they had been already. Those with breathing problems have suffered from fumes that have entered living quarters, even with windows shut.

Leaf blowers are hazardous to our health. Wikipedia explores the environmental fallout of leaf blowers, stating the adverse health effects of carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, hydrocarbons and particulates generated in the exhaust gas of gasoline-powered engines. These raise dust clouds that contain harmful substances such as pesticides, mold and animal fecal matter, leading to irritation, allergies and disease. Noise levels — well above required — can cause hearing loss to operators and those nearby.

When I approached one landscape service on the problem of leaf blowers, its owner shared the same concerns with guys overusing blowers. “It’s something we all deal with in this industry. It comes down to training ... in the past I have even removed blowers from trucks to force guys to not overuse them.”

He went on to say that “blowers are a useful and necessary tool especially in the fall, but I have witnessed firsthand too much blower use.”

It’s a general consensus with landscapers that the use of leaf blowers allows them to pass on savings to clients. However, it’s been reported that in cities that have banned their use, no landscape businesses have gone out of business.

Lake Oswego has sometimes been compared to Carmel, Calif. Do we have the courage and will here to ban gasoline-operated leaf blowers and follow in that California city’s progressive footsteps?

Syd Kanitz is a writer in and resident of Lake Oswego.