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December 7, 2020

Reduce noise and air pollution in Arlington: Ban Gas Leaf Blowers and Mowers in Arlington

Uncategorized — @ 4:04 pm

Reduce noise and air pollution in Arlington:  Ban Gas Power Blowers and Mowers and Lawn equipment

With the fall season of dropping leaves, the scourge of loud gas powered leaf blowers has returned to disturb the peace, and worsen the air quality of Arlington neighborhoods.  While many Arlington residents may accept this as just a necessary but largely harmless nuisance, research on noise and air quality indicate that gas-powered mowers and blowers pose a significant health risk to people. Many U.S. cities, and the District of Columbia (starting in 2022) ban the gas-fired equipment and require the use of quiet and clean electric models.

The development of electric blowers, mowers and other lawn equipment and reliable batteries now provides homeowners and lawn service companies with a 21st Century advance that can radically cut the harmful noise and air pollution of gas engines. The noise level of electric motors is very quiet and there is no generation of air pollution.  With climate change, eventually all gas engines will need to be eliminated in vehicles and appliances, so changing to only electric lawn equipment is a needed step for climate change mitigation and reduces harmful greenhouse gases.

About 100 U.S. cities have banned or restricted use of gas-fired blowers.[1]  According to a January 2020 article in Electrek,[2] the State of California is looking to ban all gas powered lawn equipment while 16 California and 3 Colorado cities and the District of Columbia (beginning in 2022) already ban these fossil fuel nuisances.  The advent of reliable battery-operated electric models and their modest cost and reliability make gasoline model a harmful anachronism.  Electric models are cheaper to run than gasoline fired ones.[3]

The two-stroke gasoline motor in lawn equipment is very inefficient in burning gasoline, as compared to automobile 4 stroke engines, and thus emit high levels of harmful pollutants.   One hour of operation of a gas-fired blower generates as much pollutants as a Toyota Camry driving 1,100 miles, according to the California Air Resources Board.   Gasoline itself is highly toxic and flammable, and causes many fires in homes or garages.  The EPA estimated that 17 million gallons of gasoline are spilled annually just filling up lawn mowers.

Lawn mowers and blowers worsen allergies and asthma, and irritate the lungs by propelling clouds of dust, and dirt and chemical into the air.  Blowers remove beneficial soil mulch and harm living plants.  As to noise, gas powered blowers noise level are often over 100 decibels (dB).  A jet plane take off generates 100 dB of noise; any noise level above 85 dB is considered harmful to human health.  The CDC indicates that two hours of 91 dB noise for 15 minutes daily can result in permanent hearing loss.[4]

Gas blowers also have a unique and low penetrating frequency that makes them much louder than electric models even with the same rated decibel level.  Most electric blowers are rated at or below 70 decibels, and gas blowers at the operator level at 100 or more decibels.  The decibel level measure is logarithmic function rather than proportionate, and thus, a gas blower at 90 dB is 100 times noisier than an electric blower at 70 dB.   Electric lawn mowers are similarly quieter than gas fired mowers which generally operate at above 80 db. 

The Arlington noise ordinance is out of data and unenforceable

Some may say that the solution to this environmental problem is the Arlington County Noise ordinance[5] that was enacted in 2014; it provides a maximum noise level in residential neighborhoods of 90 dB.   The basic problem with the ordinance is that the 90 dB level is too harmfully high, but more importantly there is no enforcement of the ordinance today as it applies to excessive lawn equipment noise. 

An Arlington noise inspector indicated in December 2020 that no enforcement action is taken until generally 5-7 business days after a complaint is filed, and by the time the inspector arrives, the noise violation is most likely over.[6]   The county will not accept as evidence citizen-recorded noise and videos of the noise complaint.   Therefore, even if the maximum level were lowered to 70 dB, the lack of enforcement means the ordinance is useless in most cases for lawn equipment.

The only practical solution to the environmental problem of gas-fired lawn equipment is their ban.  Limiting their hours or limiting the maximum noise level is insufficient since there is no enforcement of even the current ordinance.

Replacement of current gas-powered blowers and mowers is practical and not costly

A proposed three-year phase out of current gas-powered models will allow landscaping companies and homeowners time to replace these with battery-powered models;  most gas-fired models wear out within three years and have costly maintenance.  Electric blowers and mowers have little or no maintenance cost and last years if not decades.  In addition, electric models have lower operating costs of fuel than gas models, so that the cost of an electric can be lower than today’s polluting gas models.

In Arlington, most yard maintenance is done by landscaping companies rather than homeowners.  So, most of the capital cost will be absorbed by the companies rather than homeowners.  


[1] James Fallows, “Politics:  Get of my lawn, how a small group of activists got leaf blowers banned in the nation’s capital,” the Atlantic, April 2019.

[2] Charles Benoit, “California looking to ban gas-powered lawnmower, leaf blowers,” Jan. 9, 2020,  Electrek,  https://electrek.co/2020/01/09

[3] “Myth 4,” Facts and myths about leaf blowers, Quiet DC, Dec. 4, 2020.  Facts & Myths — Quiet Clean D.C.  http://www.quietcleandc.com/factsmyths

[4] Facts and myths about leaf blowers, Quiet DC, Dec. 4, 2020.  Facts & Myths — Quiet Clean D.C.

[5] Chapter 5 of the Arlington Code,  https://building.arlingtonva.us/codes-ordinances/noise/

[6]  Phone conversation with Arlington Noise code inspector, Nov. 27, 2020.

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