During the spring cleanup this month, annoying and frankly unhealthy practices of suburban leaf and lawn management prevailed — in particular, the ear-splitting buzz and the harmful pollution from gas-powered leaf blowers. There’s good news, though, because the village of Scarsdale last month enacted new restrictions to ban the use of gas-powered leaf blowers (GLBs) between May 1 and Sept. 30 and, according to village officials, the ban will be rigorously enforced.

That’s all well and good, but as the Scarsdale Forum, our local think tank, said in a groundbreaking report on the topic this week: The seasonal ban doesn’t go far enough.

Citing a host of studies about public health and environmental science, the Forum’s 46-page report delivers a clear argument for an immediate and full ban on GLBs. It also makes a case for programs to teach the public about sustainable alternatives so we can get everyone on board for a shift to healthier landscaping practices. 

Let’s revisit the facts. Gas-powered blowers emit toxic and carcinogenic exhaust that can be harmful to health, and a leaf blower operating for one hour fills the air with much more carbon monoxide, nitrous oxides and hydrocarbons than a large car traveling for one hour. Those emissions can contribute to ground-level ozone, which in high concentrations can cause serious respiratory and cardiovascular problems.

Furthermore, leaf blowers propel 5 pounds of particulates per hour into the air. That particulate matter — dirt, dust, pollen, fecal matter, mold, pesticides and herbicides — is easily absorbed into the lungs. It can increase the number and severity of asthma attacks, bronchitis and other lung diseases, and reduce the ability to fight infection. Think about the health hazard you’re imposing on the people you hire to care for your property. Then there’s the noise. Recent studies have documented that noise exposure negatively affects health by contributing to many conditions, including cardiovascular diseases and developmental delay, and reduces job and academic performance. Take note, all you suburban learners/workers.

We support the Forum’s call for tighter GLB restrictions, including an outright ban, especially if the changes are coupled with a plan for public education about the advantages of greener options, such as onsite mulching of leaves and grass clippings. Residents who are reluctant to alter their lawn care practices argue that the changes might not work, or might be too costly, or might cause other problems. But they need to learn that the status quo is even more detrimental.

The Forum also recommended ending Scarsdale’s outdated village leaf management system. Since 1967, the village has vacuumed residents’ leaves piled curbside and has taken them by truck to a transfer site from which the leaves are carted out of the village for composting. Given the usefulness of leaves as compost, it doesn’t make sense to completely remove them. Many municipalities, including the village of Scarsdale, have recognized that it’s much more efficient to let the leaves fall and then mulch mow to chop them into pieces that will naturally fertilize the soil and flower beds in public green spaces. That greener approach avoids the pollution, expense and labor associated with trucking leaves and grass clippings away.

Mulch mowing not only leads to healthier soil, it also leads to less flooding by improving the capacity of soil to absorb water while reducing phosphate runoff, and it keeps leaves from clogging storm drains. Mulch mowing helps protect fauna as well;. a layer of leaves, including those that are mulch-mowed, is essential for many critters that hibernate or lay their eggs in leaf litter, including moths, butterflies and bumblebees.

If you mow your own yard, you can mulch mow by adding mulching blades that sell for about $30. If you employ a landscaping service, you should talk to the manager about sustainable options. If we all get on board, the village could avoid spending the $674,727 it budgets for leaf collection and disposal, and taxpayers could benefit. Leaf collection clearly doesn’t make fiscal or environmental sense. So ask yourself, why are we continuing to use inefficient landscaping practices that are a threat to public health and a detriment to the environment instead of promoting environmentally friendly options?

Let’s retire the leaf vacuum trucks, as Greenburgh and New Rochelle have done. And let’s get Scarsdale to follow Larchmont’s example by totally banning gas-powered blowers year round. If we work together to transition our properties to greener lawn care, it will be a win-win for people, plants and animals, providing sustenance for a new generation and healthier living for all.

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