Gas Leaf Blowers: It’s Time for Greenwich to Protect Resident Health

Submitted by Monica Prihoda, Greenwich

To the Editor,

How many times on a beautiful day have you been unable to enjoy your own backyard because the sound and fumes from gas leaf blowers (GLBs) drove you indoors? And how many times has the noise and particulates spewed out from GLBs pursued you indoors, penetrating through walls and windows?

Did you know that two states and over 200 towns nationwide have already banned or restricted the use of GLBs?  Our neighbors in Bedford, Larchmont, Bronxville and Westport all enjoy quiet summers free from the noise and fumes of GLBs. 

Greenwich, however, appears to be stuck in the past when it comes to protecting the health of its residents from toxic fumes and excessive noise, especially when there are modern solutions that benefit all stakeholders working in towns and cities across the US.  For the third time in 30 years, residents, community groups and our First Selectmen have appealed to the Board of Health to enact these moderate seasonal limits to the use of GLBs, and each time they have been rebuffed.

The last effort in 2012 was strenuously opposed by the Chair of the  Board of Health.  He insisted that gas powered leaf blowers were a “lifestyle issue” not a health issue, even though Chapter 6 Sec. 6B-1 of the Town Municipal Code states, “The policy of the Board of Health is to promote an environment free from noise that jeopardizes the health and welfare of persons within the Town of Greenwich.”There are cases where the Town does protect your health with limits on items such as boat engine noise.  I ask: is this a serious public health issue?  But there remains no action on ubiquitous GLB engine noise despite decades of complaints about this much more pervasive noise that impacts the whole Town. Why does Greenwich exempt a machine with an engine type that is banned in other countries for its noise and fumes?  Do landscaping conveniences outweigh safeguarding resident health?  Or should Greenwich follow the duties set forth in our town codes and re-write this product endorsement?
And it’s not just the noise.  Whether you live in backcountry or downtown Greenwich, we all breathe the toxic particulate matter created by GLBs.  Did you know the benzene, butadiene and formaldehyde that gas leaf blowers emit are listed among the four top-ranking carcinogens in the US?  Did you know that aerosols emitted by gas leaf blowers produce smog adding to the failing grade that Fairfield County receives from the American Lung Association and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)?
Yet, our Town charter tasks Greenwich Health with protecting residents from pollution.  Their duties include “protecting and improving air resources of the Town, so as to promote health, safety, comfort and welfare, prevent injury or detriment to human health, and to foster the comfort and conveniences of the Town’s inhabitants.”  Is Greenwich enforcing these duties by exempting gas powered leaf blowers?I listened via zoom to the Board of Health meeting last week and heard more of the same “kick the can down the road” while they were reviewing a common sense proposal suggesting a seasonal limit for warmer months; a modest, well-researched request for partial relief offered by the community group Quiet Yards Greenwich.  Greenwich residents support their proposals.

We ask that once and for all, when it comes to gas powered leaf blowers, please consider our health instead of an unhealthful machine.

Monica Prihoda