Saturday, September 1, 2012

Leaf Blowers: Satan's Tool

Okay, maybe that's a slight exaggeration.  No, not really.

And this guy is doing... what exactly?  Blowing leaves back
onto the grass?  Into the water?
I hate leaf blowers.  Really, really hate them.  It's not just that a leaf blower sounds like a jumbo jet landing on your front lawn, but also that so much noise and pollution comes from so little.  It just blows leaves around for Crissake.  You would think for all that noise, it could at least vacuum the leaves up and turn them into easily disposed-of mulch.  But no.*  Most of the time, the people that use leaf blowers aren't even blowing around big leaves, but tiny little leaves that no one notices, except for those who think it is their job to make the yard look as sterile as possible.  Half the time, the end result is not forming a neat pile of leaves that can be easily scooped into a bucket for disposal.  It is blowing the offending leaves into the street... or onto a neighbor's property.

Why this doesn't bother more people, I don't know.  Maybe because when most mow-and-blow companies come around, the property owners are at work?  Maybe because most property owners have a superhuman ability to tune out prolonged, incredibly harsh sounds?  The most likely explanation is multi-fold.  Most property owners probably think that it is simply a normal part of "modern" America to have technologies that make such noise.  If they or their gardener couldn't use a leaf blower to dispose of those nasty, offending leaves, then they might have to resort to raking, and it's not as if people can rake leaves just as fast as they can blow 'em away.    

I think also that a lot of people are bothered by noise from leaf blowers and other property care equipment, but they are concerned about offending their neighbors, about looking "abnormal" and "overly sensitive" if they complain.  Because if no one else is complaining, then no one else must be bothered.  On a previous occasion, those concerned might have been intimidated by that one neighbor everyone has, the one who must make as much noise as he wants, when he wants, or freedom is under siege and this is no longer America!  Yeah, that neighbor.  That neighbor will try to make you think that noisemaking is a God-given right, and those who like peace and quiet -- and respect for other people's peace and quiet -- are crazy commies out to enslave the human race.  

The final reason is more sensitive: a lot of people who object to leaf blowers may be afraid of looking racist.  Many of the mow-and-blow workers are nonwhite, and those who would complain about leaf blowers fear that they will look as if they (a) don't appreciate the workers' hard work and (b) want to add to their burden by making them rake instead of blow.  Certainly understandable, although given the damage that leaf blowers cause to the body, and the fact that many mow-and-blow workers operate without masks or ear protectors, you might think it worth the risk if it could help them avoid lung cancer and deafness.

Oh, did I forget to mention the other "benefit" of leaf blowers?  They are toxin-spewing monsters.  Leaf blower engines produce smog levels equivalent to that of 80 cars driven 12,500 miles per year.  Even the supposedly less-offensive electric blowers kick up dust laced with pesticides, molds, bacterial spores, and toxic metals such as mercury and arsenic.  The dust particles hover in the air, where they are breathed in by anyone who passes by.  These particles can embed themselves deep in the lungs, leading to various lung diseases, including cancer.  Children are considered to be especially vulnerable.  But hey, as long as leaf blowers keep the lawn looking pretty, what's the problem?

I've been focused on leaf blowers' impact on suburban neighborhoods, but they are no less obnoxious in an urban environment.  On my way to work, I've passed by maintenance workers, employing blowers as loud as super sonic jet engines, who are literally blowing nothing.  Nothing.  No leaves, not even dust.  They just have the blower aimed at the ground and blowing nothing.  Maybe because they want to look like they are doing something.  Maybe because it's what they were taught to do.  Maybe it's because they like that ear-splitting, blood-pressure rising sound.  Nothing.

While dozens of cities across the United States have banned or restricted leaf blowers, most communities give them free rein.  So they blow from dawn until dusk, on holidays and weekends.  While children are playing.  While people take walks.  While you are on an important conference call.  While you are sick in bed.  After you just put the baby down for its nap.  While you are trying to have a quiet conversation with a friend in your backyard.  They blow and blow and blow.  And you don't complain, because Goliath next door made you believe that endless noise was "normal" and you will turn yourself into an outcast if you complain.  Maybe Goliath wants to get lung cancer.            

* I realize that many leaf blowers do have a vacuum function, but I have yet to see it used.

Image was taken by Bobak Ha'Eri and uploaded to Wikimedia Commons in February 2006.  The image is not meant to suggest that its author endorses the views in this blogpost.


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