– a Community Website
Tuesday February 20th 2018

Neighbors Raise Leaf Blower Issue (click to learn more)

fall leaves photoSome of our neighbors are concerned about Leaf Blowers and have asked that the following information be placed on this website so that it can be available to others. This topic was discussed at the ANC3D meeting on November 4th and the Commission voted to ask Mary Cheh to introduce legislation leading to a phase out of 2-stroke gasoline powered leaf blowers.
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Here is an article that appeared in the Northwest Current:

Noisy dispute on leaf blowers reaches council
ANC urges council attention
By Brady Holt, Current Staff Writer

As autumn ramps up the use of leaf blowers on D.C. yards, the Palisades/Wesley Heights/Spring Valley advisory neighborhood commission is also making some noise — asking for a ban on versions of the machines with two-stroke gasoline engines.

At their Nov. 4 meeting, commissioners said these leaf blowers are not only too loud but also emit disproportionate amounts of pollution and send unhealthy dust and small debris flying into the air. By an 8-1 vote, they asked Ward 3 D.C. Council member Mary Cheh to introduce legislation prohibiting them.

“We all get complaints from time to time about leaf blowers and we just throw up our hands — ‘What can we do?’” said commission chair Tom Smith. But this month, commissioners were armed with research by a group of Wesley Heights residents, who attended the meeting with leaves pinned to their chests as they discussed their review of health effects and alternatives to two-stroke engines.

In pressing Cheh, the commission and community members are presenting these leaf blowers not as a trivial annoyance to well-heeled silence-seekers, but as a hazard to both the environment and the low-paid landscaping crews that handle them.

“Whenever I discuss this issue, the phrase ‘first-world problems’ comes up: ‘Those people in Wesley Heights are just sissies,’” said Dexter Street resident James Fallows. “Actually, the first-world attitude is, ‘We don’t care about these leaf blower people.’ … I think it actually is part of a correct consciousness of the social contract to think about the people who are doing this work.”

The risks crews face include hearing loss and inhalation of exhaust fumes and debris kicked up by the leaf blowers, the residents said. Switching to electric, battery or more advanced four-stroke gas engines would resolve or mitigate these issues, they said — and it would make life more pleasant for neighbors.

A half-dozen local landscaping companies and several leading manufacturers of leaf blowers either did not respond to requests for comment from The Current or declined to answer questions. But as the same debate has raged in communities across the country landscapers have said that stiff regulations drive up costs and limit their ability to meet customer expectations.

In an interview, Cheh said another hurdle is that the District isn’t authorized to regulate emissions — just noise. (Federal standards have become steadily stricter for newly manufactured leaf blowers, but not for existing machines.)

Chex said she is open to the idea of a ban—with a lead-in period of perhaps five years — but that she’d need to see more details first on how it’s working elsewhere and whether D.C. agencies could handle the policy. “I don’t want to throw something in there just to look like I’m doing something or to have regulations that are unenforceable,” said Cheh.

D.C. leaf blowers already have their noise level legally capped at 70 decibels, measured from 50 feet away. But critics say this measure is unenforceable. They must call the police, and an officer must arrive in time to document the violation.

Cheh said new legislation should grant enforcement authority to an agency other than the Metropolitan Police Department. “It would be a waste of MPD resources when they have a whole lot more serious matters to attend to,” she said. “I don’t want them running after leaf blowers.”

Conrad DeWitte, the neighborhood commissioner who opposed a leaf blower ban, told The Current that the best remedy is to address the issue using existing noise laws. He said homeowners should have a right to use a full variety of lawncare machines, from chainsaws to weed whackers to leaf blowers.

“All of these machines create noise,” DeWitte wrote in an email. “But, they are also very useful in helping homeowners (and/or their contractors) perform routine yard maintenance conveniently, quickly, and cheaply. I think the utility of these modern conveniences outweighs any annoyance from noise produced during the occasional use of these machines.”

Although Cheh said leaf blower concerns always reach her ears at this time of year, 44th Street resident Haskell Small, a musician and composer, said landscaping crews have begun using them more frequently in the last few years.

“This began as a minor fall-time nuisance and has become a pretty much year-round, almost daily experience for me, which I have obviously found an obstacle to my work as well as being able to take a walk in peace,” said Small.

Residents initially encouraged Cheh to hold a hearing on the leaf blower issue in her council Committee on Transportation and the Environment, but she said the noise issue was more appropriate for at-large member Vincent Orange’s Committee on Business, Consumer and Regulatory Affairs. A spokesperson for Orange didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Here is a message from neighbors:

As District residents, we share gratitude and good fortune in the beauty of our city. As neighbors in an urban space, we all affect each others’ quality of life. We are writing now about a relatively recent change in landscaping practices that is affecting all of our daily lives.

This change is the increasing all-seasons use of gas-powered leafblowers, at noise levels beyond those allowed by District ordinances. We are hoping to get your cooperation in guiding these companies toward less intrusive approaches, and toward complying with District law.

The main facts:

• Gas-powered leafblowers, rarely used in this area until the early 1990s, are now standard for maintenance crews, on most visits, most weeks of the year.

• Those of us who work at downtown offices during the day may be unaware of the increased frequency of use. Those who work at home, or are retired or disabled, or care for children are increasingly affected by it.

• Gas-powered leaf blowers emit air at speeds that can exceed 200 mph, with consequent very loud noise, regularly exceeding by ten times the maximum permitted DC noise level of 70 decibels at a distance of 50 feet. In addition, blowers frequently start before 8 AM, violating the 8 AM – 8:30 PM legal hours of use.

• A 2015 EPA study documented the harmful pollutants, such as fine-particulate matter, as well as toxic and carcinogenic exhaust, produced by two-stroke engines used in most gas-powered blowers. A 2011 Edmunds.com study found that using a leaf blower for 30 minutes created pollutants equal to those of driving a pickup truck for 3,887 miles. These studies and related material are available on the Wesley Heights Neighbors website: www.wesleyheightsneighbors.org/?p=1168

• The high-speed wind out of the blower disturbs topsoil and disperses spores, fungi, pollen, microbes, and particles of animal feces. Along with engine emissions, these create health risks for workers and neighbors.

Fortunately, there are alternatives:

• Improved battery-powered leafblowers are on the market, which can do much the same job as the gas-powered blowers with much less noise and dramatically lower pollution.

• Landscaping companies in this region, such as Contact AIR (www.contactair.today), are highlighting their commitment to less-polluting, lower-noise maintenance practices at competitive prices.

Actions we can all take:

• We ask your help in working with your landscaping company to make sure they are licensed to operate in DC, and to be aware of and adjust their practices to comply with existing DC laws.

• We encourage you to ask your landscaping company to consider purchasing the more environmentally-friendly battery-powered blowers, as other companies are increasingly doing.

• We will be working with DC officials to enforce the existing limits on leafblower noise and use.

• We will also be working with DC officials to consider the step already taken by a growing number of cities around the country: prohibiting gas-powered leafblowers, in favor of battery-powered systems and other alternatives.

For more information on the issue, or to join us in our efforts, please visit Wesley Heights Neighbors: www.wesleyheightsneighbors.org

Please consider attending the next ANC 3D meeting on Wednesday, November 4, at 7 PM at Sibley Memorial Hospital Medical Building, 1st Floor, Conference Room 2, where we will be presenting more information about the leafblower issue.

We hope Washington DC, as the nation’s capital, can become a model for healthy living.

Thank you.

Haskell Small
Concerned Wesley Heights Neighbors
Here is a link to an article written by Jim Fallows on his Atlantic Magazine blog about this issue:

Click Here
Here’s the link to the report entitled “National Lawn and Garden Equipment Emissions,” co-authored by Jamie Banks, Ph.D., M.S., of Quiet Communities, Inc., and Robert McConnell of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Region 1, dated April 16, 2015 and submitted to the 2015 International Emissions Inventory Conference in San Diego. That report concludes, inter alia, that gas-powered lawn and garden equipment (“GLGE”) is an important source of fine-particulate matter, as well as toxic and carcinogenic exhaust; that fine-particulate pollution is expected to increase over the next three years, even as ozone precursors are expected to decrease; that workers and other vulnerable populations are exposed when close to the emitting sources; that short-term as well as long-term exposure to GLGE pollutants close to the emitting source are public-health concerns; and that communities, environmental, and public health officials should create policies and programs to protect the public from GLGE air pollutants and promote non-polluting alternatives.

Here’s the link to the article on the lab tests by edmunds.com that established that an Echo PB-500T two-stroke backpack-style gas-powered leaf blower generates twice the level of oxides of nitrogen, 23 times the levels of carbon monoxide, and nearly 300 times the levels of non-methane hydrocarbons emitted by the 6,200-pound, 411-horsepower, 6.2-liter V-8 engine 2011 Ford F-150 SVT Raptor truck, and that a half-hour of yard work with the two-stroke gas-powered leaf blower produces the same hydrocarbon output as driving the Ford truck 3,887 miles (the equivalent of driving from Northern Texas to Anchorage, Alaska):

Here’s the link to Section 20-2808 of the District of Columbia Municipal Regulations (incidentally, to answer one of the open questions below, the ordinance prohibits the use of leaf blowers between the hours of 8:30 PM and 8:00 AM):

Here’s a copy of the regulation in question:


2808.1 Except as provided under § 2808.2, no person shall sell, offer for sale, or use, at any time, a leaf blower in the District of Columbia that has an average sound level exceeding seventy (70) dB(A) at a distance of fifty feet (50 ft.) from the leaf blower as measured in accordance with § 2808.5 of this section. A leaf blower shall not be used at nighttime, between the hours of 8:30 p.m. and 8:00 a.m. in the District of Columbia.

2808.2 Upon the effective date of the District of Columbia Noise Control Amendment Act of 1992 (“1992 Act”), a person who sells, at retail, a leaf blower in the District of Columbia that exceeds the maximum sound level established in § 2808.1 of this section must provide conspicuous notice to the consumer that the leaf blower may not be used in the District.

2808.3 A person who purchased a leaf blower prior to the effective date of the 1992 act, or who can demonstrate that the leaf blower was manufactured prior to the effective date of the 1992 Act, may use that leaf blower for the next five (5) years, even though its average sound level exceeds the standard established in § 2808.1 of this section, if its use is otherwise permitted by the Act.

2808.4 In addition to any other enforcement measure authorized under this act, the Mayor may inspect and, upon request, require a person to produce any leaf blower that is sold, offered for sale, or used, in order to determine compliance with this act. The Mayor shall use, to the extent possible, a manufacturer’s written sound level representations, design and use specifications, and approximate manufacture date, as appropriate, as aids to determine compliance. A person who in good faith relies on a manufacturer’s written sound level representation is not subject to penalties under § 13 for violation of the Act.

2808.5 Compliance with sound level requirements of this act shall be determined in accordance with a sound measurement testing standard for leaf blowers that has been deemed by the Mayor to be acceptable and adopted by regulation.

SOURCE: Section 2 of the District of Columbia Noise Control Amendment Act of 1992, D.C. Law 9-135, 39 DCR 4079 (June 12, 1992).

7 Comments for “Neighbors Raise Leaf Blower Issue (click to learn more)”

  • Erica says:

    Thank you for doing this. Leaf blowers are the devil.

  • Sharon Belliveau says:

    Could not allowing leaf blowers on Sundays by landscape companies be considered? We hear leaf blowers as early as 7 am on Sunday mornings.

  • mojimo says:

    thank you for spearheading this project with solid facts.
    I’m wondering how other neighborhoods can get equally as involved, and is there a form letter we can send – as community members – to all the various building management companies? (Daro, Equity, Avalon etc) we live in? I believe homeowners have an easier job of addressing landscape companies directly. What about the hundreds of thousands of us in residential apartment buildings all over the city ?

  • sandi says:

    I agree that the noise level is a big problem that interferes greatly with our peaceful community.

Leave a Comment

More On This Topic

Historical Report on Wesley Heights
Historical Report on Wesley Heights

WesleyHeightsPhase1Reportjune1990 This is a report from 1990 report on the historical nature of Wesley Heights [Read More]

Mini-Summit for Neighborhood on June 20th dealing with “tear downs”
Mini-Summit for Neighborhood on June 20th dealing with “tear downs”

A group of neighbors has organized a “mini-summit” on June 20th to discuss the tearing down of houses in [Read More]