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Gas leaf blowers are terrible and should be banned

When you smell your neighbor’s fumes, you are breathing in emissions that can contribute to asthma, cardiovascular disease, and other respiratory illnesses.

In the late 1990s, Los Angeles banned gas-powered leaf blowers. Philadelphia should do the same, write Seth Lieberman and Anne Dicker.
In the late 1990s, Los Angeles banned gas-powered leaf blowers. Philadelphia should do the same, write Seth Lieberman and Anne Dicker.Read moreBogdan Hoda / MCT

It’s almost impossible to enjoy a quiet moment in many of Philadelphia’s neighborhoods without hearing leaf blowers. The engines alternate between bone-shaking rumbles and high-pitched whines that assault our ears.

But these machines are far worse than an annoyance. Gas-powered leaf blowers are dangerous to our neighbors, the workers who use them, and the planet. City Council and the Mayor’s Office must ban them.

Other cities and states have already recognized and addressed this problem. Starting in 2024, California will ban the sale of new gas leaf blowers as an effort to stem their negative impact on the environment and human health. The volunteer-led nonprofit organization Quiet Clean D.C. led a successful campaign to ban gas leaf blowers in Washington, which took effect on Jan. 1. Seattle’s City Council voted to phase out gas-powered blowers for city departments and contractors by 2025, and for businesses and residents by 2027.

The danger of gas leaf blowers has been well documented. According to James Fallows, a former writer for the Atlantic who was born in Philadelphia, gas leaf blowers are “vastly the dirtiest and most polluting kind of machinery still in legal use.” He adds that the engine is powered by “a slosh of oil and gas that spews up to one-third of its fuels as unburned aerosols into the environment.”

When you smell your neighbor’s fumes, you are inhaling a toxic brew of carcinogens and particulates, including carbon monoxide, smog-forming nitrous oxides, carcinogenic hydrocarbons, and ultrafine particles that are roughly one-thousandth the width of a human hair. In addition to increasing the risk of lung cancer, breathing in these emissions can contribute to asthma, cardiovascular disease, and other respiratory illnesses.

Noise from gas leaf blowers disturbs the peace of autumn, but the auditory harms are more troubling. Chris Pollock, an acoustic engineer for the sustainability consulting firm Arup, conducted a study comparing gas- and battery-operated blowers. He testified that low-frequency noise from gas engines penetrates solid walls whereas electric blowers do not. In densely populated areas like Philadelphia, a gas-powered blower affects up to 15 times as many households as a battery-powered blower.

As disturbing as health and noise issues are for neighbors, harms to landscape workers are exponentially more severe. Many landscaping laborers are immigrants with limited employment choices and workplace protections. They face alarming risks to their health, including cancer, asthma, cardiovascular conditions, and irreversible hearing loss.

The damage to workers who strap these machines on their backs is at the heart of our call to action. Given the demographic makeup of landscape workers — who are often recently arrived immigrants — leaf blowers are not just a neighborhood nuisance; they also contribute to racial and social inequality. Transitioning to battery-powered leaf blowers immediately reduces the harms incurred through regular landscaping work.

In addition to harming vulnerable people, gas leaf blowers contribute significantly to climate change. A 2011 study by the car review company Edmunds showed that using a single gas leaf blower for just 30 minutes generated more hydrocarbon emissions than driving a heavy Ford Raptor pickup truck from Philadelphia to Juneau, Alaska. The California Air Resources Board also found that emissions from gardening equipment contributed more to climate change than all of the state’s cars combined.

While we support people who prefer to rake their leaves, the fastest solution is to transition to electric leaf blowers. We are now accustomed to seeing electric cars, and anyone who has driven one can attest to their power. Because 170 municipalities have banned gas leaf blowers, there is already a market for electric blowers.

Electric blowers are immensely quieter than gas ones, and their engines generate zero emissions. Passing a ban with a phaseout period would allow landscapers and others to plan for upfront costs, which can be recouped in a couple of years. Other cities — such as Washington, through its DC Sustainable Energy Utility — offer rebates to residents and commercial gardeners to ease the transition.

We ask you to support our campaign by signing the petition at, requesting that City Council and the Mayor’s Office phase out gas leaf blowers. Together we can make Philadelphia quieter and cleaner, eliminate a major source of climate change, and protect laborers who bear the brunt of the harms.

Seth Lieberman is a member of the Germantown Jewish Centre’s Green Team and runs Leadership Breakthroughs, a firm developing scientific and medical leaders. Anne Dicker is a board member of West Mount Airy Neighbors and the coleader of Mount Airy Tree Tenders. Both are cofounders of QuietCleanPhilly.