The following letter to the village board is reprinted at the writer’s request.
Dear Mayor Samwick and Board of Trustees,
Our President-elect, Joe Biden, has announced his intention to rejoin the Paris Climate Accord on Day 1 of his term, recognizing climate change as “an existential threat to humanity.” He has vowed a national transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy, putting us on a path to zero carbon pollution from the electricity sector by 2035 and net-zero emissions thereafter. Scientists endorse the plan as necessary to avoid the most catastrophic consequences of climate change. Record-setting wildfires in the West and devastating Atlantic hurricanes are just the beginning of more extreme environmental impacts in our country if we do not markedly curtail our production of greenhouse gases by reducing the burning of oil, gas and coal.
Scarsdale can be part of the solution rather than the problem. We can stop using gas-powered leaf blowers and stop vacuuming fall leaves. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that 1.2 billion gallons of gasoline are consumed annually to maintain our lawns and gardens. Hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide and carcinogenic toxic contaminants like benzene are in the fumes that gas blowers emit. Their highly inefficient two-stroke engines emit 23 times the noxious carbon monoxide and nearly 300 times more nonmethane hydrocarbons than a Ford F-150 SVT Raptor crew cab.
With their deafening noise, gas blowers blast these harmful fumes up to 185 mph, dispersing 5 pounds of particulate matter per leaf blower per hour. These particulates remain suspended in the air for hours before settling. They include pesticides, heavy metals, spores, dog feces and other toxic substances that are easily absorbed in our lungs as we breathe, potentially causing adverse health effects. Given these facts, how can we continue this practice?
Yet, the village spends more than half a million dollars annually to vacuum piles of leaves which often, in violation of village regulations, contain added “yard waste.” Vacuuming the piles causes millions of mold spores and toxic particulate matter to become airborne once again. Leaf piles are often intentionally and illegally blown onto our streets, creating dangerous conditions for pedestrians, cyclists and cars. This wasteful and hazardous practice is not only irrational, since leaves are actually valuable as compost, but it is environmentally destructive. Adding insult to injury, the combustion of additional fossil fuels and generation of greenhouse gases are part of the process of vacuuming and transporting these leaves many miles to Goshen, New York. Couldn’t the money be better spent?
Let’s join our many neighboring municipalities that have successfully eliminated and/or curtailed these costly, destructive and hazardous practices of leaf vacuuming and gas-powered blowing. The village’s recommendation to mulch-mow (https://www.scarsdale.com/454/Fall-Leaf-Collection) has not succeeded in effecting change. We should require year-round bagging or containerizing of leaves that are not mulch-mowed into compost, just as we do with other organic garden material. Let us stop wasting our village’s resources on this needless assault on our health and the environment. “Leave the leaves” is long overdue and a win-win for everyone.
DARLENE LEFRANCOIS-HABER, M.D.