Back ban on gas-powered leaf blowers in Pelham Manor

To the editor:

Necessity is the mother of invention and the impetus for change.

The time to eliminate the use of gas-powered leaf blowers in the Village of Pelham Manor should stand as currently proposed in Local Law 2 2021 Leaf Blowers: May 2022. Like many cities and towns in Westchester who responded to scientific data about the harmful effects of leaf blowers on human health and the environment, Pelham Manor first regulated the blowers’ use in 2006 with Local Law 1. Local Law 1 2006 restricted use between May 1 and October 14. In the ensuing decade and a half, landscapers, municipalities, schools and homeowners learned more about sustainable land care practices and adapted in response to the movement across the nation spurred collectively by local public health regulations, consumer demand, changing technologies and education for healthier alternatives to landscape care.

Pelham Manor is not new to ideas for ways to phase in sustainable land-care practices. Back in September 2014, I spoke in front of the village board of trustees on behalf of the Environmental Coalition of the Pelhams (EcoPel) to propose the village adopt and promote Love ‘em and Leave ‘em, the mulching campaign that promotes a sustainable alternative to carting leaves offsite and that adds valuable material back to lawns and gardens. Then-Trustee Louis Annunziata responded, If he left the leaves in place, he said he would have no lawn. He said he would have to replace his lawn every year. Some residents who took interest in the initiative and who inquired with their landscape contractors about applying this practice, also heard them dismiss the idea as being detrimental to the grass and planting beds. Practiced correctly, that is not the case.

During that same period, EcoPel, a grassroots 501(c)3 organization that provides environmental information and education to the Pelham community, held a leaf-mulching demonstration, provided printed resources and encouraged landscapers to attend the education sessions and in-the-field training offered by New Rochelle because they had recently eliminated the pick-up of loose curbside leaves. (This helps the environment by reducing the need for trucks, removes the danger leaf piles pose to cyclists and reduces the runoff of nitrogen and phosphorus into storm drains and Long Island Sound.) Many landscapers and homeowners across Westchester purchased the mulching blade and learned a new way of managing leaves using both mulching-in-place and electric technologies. Due to New Rochelle’s bold environmental action and education plan that supported the healthy, cost-effective initiative, it was adopted expeditiously and continues to be successful.

Seven years later, on July 20, during the public hearing for Local Law 2 Leaf Blower Use, in response to the proposed year-round-ban on blowers, except in emergencies, local landscaper Dominic Ragno presented his plan to incorporate leaf mulching-in-place to the Village of Pelham Manor board as a fresh idea, along with a suggestion to postpone Local Law 2 over the course of many years in order to phase in purchases of electric equipment to replace blowers and other tools he uses in his business.

Business owners rely on their professional organizations to remain abreast of changes to their industries. With the shift from conventional leaf-management practices that began more than a decade ago, many businesses and municipalities have already done the work and figured out ways for eliminating leaf-blower use through continuing education. Not simply by replacing the same conventional practices with electric tools as they become more affordable and technologically advanced, but in conjunction with other sustainable yard practices that help reduce their need.

During the public hearing, Ragno also said gas powered leaf blowers are necessary tools for efficiency and cost effectiveness. While it may be saving business owners (or homeowners) in the short run, it is absolutely clear that the costs associated with unnecessary pollution for avoiding, as he mentioned, “a landscape that isn’t as clean as we deserve” is much greater than these savings and are borne by society. Residents pay with real, compromised health and well-being, landscape workers endure harmful work conditions, and taxpayers are left having to foot the bill to repair the environmental damage that their use inevitably contributes.

I can’t help but repeat the purpose for Proposed Local Law 2 I read during the public hearing in response to scientific data showing how leaf blowers harm our health and environment and why it is right and good to regulate them to minimize and mitigate the harmful impacts of their use:

  • Leaf blowers represent a significant source of environmental pollution in the form of high- and low-frequency noise, carbon and non-carbon emissions and dust particulate, which represent a present and increasing threat to the public peace and to the health, safety and welfare of the residents.
  • Noise generated by leaf blowers has the effect of interfering with the psychological well-being of persons, as leaf blowers generate low-frequency noise at high-decibel levels, exposure to which is recognized to generate more severe adverse health effects when compared to high-frequency noises, including hearing loss, tinnitus, reduced cognitive performance, heart disease and hypertension.
  • Additionally, leaf blowers of both an internal combustion and electric design displace significant amounts of particulate matter, spreading pollen, mold, chemical pesticides and other fine particulates. Internal-combustion leaf blowers are also recognized as hyper-polluters, emitting significant carbon and non-carbon emissions in greater magnitudes than automobiles over similar operating periods. (Village of Larchmont Local Law 6 of 2020)

These descriptions are not what I understand to be clean, and living in a community that accepts them as normal is not what I believe Pelham residents deserve.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, we have found how resilient and innovative we are when faced with limitations. Small businesses across industries have reimagined and realigned themselves in short order to work within boundaries they could never have imagined themselves flourishing in. Local landscapers have already had many years to adjust their business models during the momentum that spurred introduction of Local Law 2 and have professional associations, government and grassroots resources at their fingertips to support them practically when they choose.

Proposed Local Law 2 of 2021 provides a reasonable timeline of May 2022 to eliminate gas-powered leaf blower use and is the necessary nudge for any landcare manager, whether big or small landscape professionals, municipalities or homeowners to make changes. The time is now to be informed and inventive in planning ways to implement effective, tried systems for a beautiful, healthier yard in spring.

Tai Montanarella

464 Esplanade