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Council considers banning ‘unhealthy’ gas-powered leaf blowers

Sarah Evans of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai speaks to the Norwalk Common Council Ordinance Committee, Nov. 15 on Zoom.

NORWALK, Conn. — The Common Council is considering a ban on gas-powered leaf blowers and looking for ways to ease the potential economic impact on professional landscapers, should it go ahead.

With everyone staying home due to the pandemic, “We all became acutely aware of the constant drone of leaf blowers from early spring to the late fall months,” Ordinance Committee Chairwoman Lisa Shanahan (D-District E) said. “I began to hear from our constituents, asking me if there was anything we could do about this disruptive and irritating state of affairs. So I started to research leaf blowers. They’re affecting gardens, our environment and our own health. And I was surprised at what I found.”

When Shanahan invited four ban-supporting speakers to the Nov. 15 Ordinance Committee meeting, seven Norwalk citizens pitched in with comments.

 

Sarah Evans of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai speaks to the Norwalk Common Council Ordinance Committee, Nov. 15 on Zoom.

“The blasting air injures and kills insects and other wildlife and disturbs and removes the shelter that insects rely on to overwinter the leaves. We need insects to both pollinate plants and our food supply and we need them also for the health of our soil,” Audrey Cozzarin said, quoting a 2011 Edmonds study a saying, “a commercial gas-powered leaf blower spews many times more toxic pollutants than a 6200-pound high performance Ford pickup truck.”

Recent projections show the rate of insect decline is 9% per year, Kevin Tepas said. “That means that every year we have only 91% of the insects that we had the year before. These are the insects that allow the food chain to exist.”

 

Sarah Evans of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai speaks to the Norwalk Common Council Ordinance Committee, Nov. 15 on Zoom.

Flax Hill Road was quiet when she moved there in 1996 but now the leaf blower noise is “literally unbearable,” Tracey Dinkin said. Locals seem to love wildlife but “blowing hot desert air” onto the leaves doesn’t help. “It’s sucking the moisture out. And we already have a situation with the environment where it doesn’t rain as much as we need it to.”

Betsy Wrenn called it a mental health issue. “I just feel like life isn’t worth living. Why do we even have suburbs? … I might as well go live at the airport, at LaGuardia, it’s just as loud.” And it’s not just the landscapers sending “filth and stench” into her yard, it’s the neighbors, she said. “It’s like a male hobby is to go out and just blast everything for hours.”

 

Sarah Evans of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai speaks to the Norwalk Common Council Ordinance Committee, Nov. 15 on Zoom.

Sarah Evans of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, one of the invited experts, said the particulate matter a gas-powered leaf blower produces contains “known carcinogens, hydrocarbons and gases that contribute to climate change, and also form secondary pollutants like ozone.” Two-stroke non-road engines are “a major source of air pollutants” and a study done by the California Air Resources Board “estimated that using a gas-powered leaf blower for one hour is the equivalent of 15 hours of driving a Toyota Camry.”

She’s concerned about her small children when “all of this yard equipment is running outside,” but also for elderly neighbors. “We’re particularly concerned about this type of air pollution, because it penetrates deep into the lungs,” Evans said. “It’s not only associated with increased respiratory illnesses, and asthma and lung cancer, we also see some evidence that particulate matter from air pollution exposure was associated with increased COVID-19 severity during the pandemic.”

But there’s also the noise, as the low-frequency gas-powered leaf blower sound “can impact neighbors at a pretty far distance,” and “noise pollution is “characterized by the Environmental Protection Agency as a pollutant and regulated as a pollutant,” she said.

 

Alice Ely, a University of Connecticut Advanced Master Gardener and Master Composter, speaks to the Norwalk Common Council Ordinance Committee, Nov. 15 on Zoom.

“This is about rethinking leaf removal,” said Alice Ely, a University of Connecticut Advanced Master Gardener and Master Composter. “…We need to rethink yard cleanup for the sake of all creatures, and sterile gardens make for silent springs; think of them as food deserts for all the creatures who make up the ecosystem that we depend on.”

Many people have noticed that there aren’t as many fireflies around as there used to be and the leaf blowing is one of the reasons why, Ely said.

The level of particulate matter around the operator of a gas leaf blower “has been found to be 54 times higher than at one of the busiest intersections in Los Angeles,” Valerie Seiling Jacobs said in a statement read to the Committee by Norwalk River Watershed Association President Louise Washer.

According to Jacobs, the use of lawn equipment results in an estimated 17 million gallons of fuel being spilled into American soil every year due, making its way to water supplies.

 

Jeff Cordulack, owner of Organic Ways and Means LLC, presents leaf blower cost comparisons to the Norwalk Common Council Ordinance Committee, Nov. 15 on Zoom.

Jeff Cordulack said he started an organic landscaping company four years ago and has found he can handle properties large and small with electric equipment. While blowers are helpful and needed at certain times of the year, “using them extensively every day all year long is just ridiculous. It’s not needed.”

He encouraged Norwalk to join New York towns Bedford, Dobbs Ferry and Scarsdale, and other municipalities and “Slap a ban on the gas,” maybe by phasing it in.

Council member Tom Livingston (D-District E) asked for a cost comparison, gas versus electric.

The electric machinery holds up “just fine compared to gas equipment. And I don’t need to do an annual tune up,” a $200-300 expense for big mowers, Cordulack replied. “I don’t ever have breakdowns with my blowers or trimmers. My mower doesn’t really break down. I mean, any more than any other.” And although electric does cost more, it doesn’t have the side effects gas does.

“It’s hard to keep good guys around, right? So having this equipment makes them happy…They go home at the end of the day without a carbon monoxide headache, which they told me what standard,” he said.

There are savings on gas expenses and the laborers aren’t getting paid to go fuel up, he said, adding that although the batteries occassionally die, “I’m going to call it a wash on the equipment,” he said.

Michelle Sorensen, speaking at the beginning of the meeting as a member of the public, said she does landscaping and can service properties up to an acre without using gas-powered equipment.

“I am 72 years old, and gas-powered machines make me feel sick,” she said.

 

Norwalk River Watershed Association President Louise Washer presents information from Valerie Seiling Jacobs to the Norwalk Common Council Ordinance Committee, Nov. 15 on Zoom.

Council member Nora Niedzielski-Eichner (D-At Large) suggested that Kiva, a crowdsource-funded loan program the City partnered with about a year ago, might help landscapers buy electric equipment via low- or zero-cost loans.

Council member Bryan Meek (R-District D) linked the issue to the City’s leaf dump. It’s open an average 30 hours a week and closes randomly, he said.

“The idea is that it’s better to leave the leaves on your yard than haul them,” Shanahan said.

Meek sent the press an email after the meeting.

“What I didn’t expect was the lengthy discussion aimed at banning certain lawn equipment, supported by Westport residents,” Meek said. “Who knew these lawn care machines were such an existential threat to humanity?  The next time I unwrap my paper straw from its plastic wrapper and put it in my plastic drink cup, I’m going to think long and hard about taking care of my yard again.”

Reminder: NancyOnNorwalk requires full names from commenters. For more information, go here.

 

Norwalk River Watershed Association President Louise Washer presents information from Valerie Seiling Jacobs to the Norwalk Common Council Ordinance Committee, Nov. 15 on Zoom.

30 comments

Drew Todd November 28, 2022 at 7:10 am

This is coming from a committee that almost 3 years removed from the pandemic as the fossil in the WH said is over. Let that sink in. We are not California but maybe we are in the way we will kill business again. Are the blowers a little loud? Yepp for a few minutes whoppie! It’s a little disturbance you will survive. Further that BS the Electric Ones operate as well is the biggest bunch of BS I’ve ever heard. Let’s say you’re a big land scalper and have many big properties to do like in Rowayton, West Norwalk how many environmental killer batteries will you need for the day?! 100 at least!? Maybe even more. And how will they charge all of these hundreds actually thousands of batteries at night!? On the grid that can’t even support A/c’s in our schools!? I mean we have many many more serious issues in this City to deal with! The ordinances we have now don’t get enforced as it is. So please give this one a rest and work on real issues. The 5 minutes of noise we will survive and so will business.

Sharon Dressler November 28, 2022 at 7:37 am

I think Norwalk should do like other towns do. Residents get their leaves to curb and the town comes by and vacuum them up. No more needing to buy bags.

Bryan Meek November 28, 2022 at 9:48 am

More solutions looking for more problems.

While we can’t figure out how to stop dumping raw sewage into the river nor ever discuss real environmental impacts of over development, it feels good and looks important to go after little things like plastic bags and straws since we can’t figure out how to recycle them like others have.

This however is a little more involved. Now we are going after 100s of companies that employ 1000s of people when we can’t even enforce the noise ordinance we have on the books right now.

As a bonus we can enjoy an uptick in asthma and allergy problems thanks to moldy leaves rotting on everyone’s lawn. Wet leaves are also an excellent way to clog drains and make roads more hazardous for drivers and pedestrians. (Maybe the flooding will help the empty reservoir?). And for the icing on the cake we can finally put that pesky golf course out of business.

In all seriousness, cherry picking “scientific” data in an attempt to dictate how everyone else lives sends a chill up my spine. 9% decay rate in insect population? How are there any bugs left? And tying this to mental health issues? If a leaf pack blower is going to destroy your mental health, you might want to rethink the whole living in civilization thing. Meanwhile, mums the word on DOT blasting, drilling, jackhammering, all night long for the last 10 years on the Merritt.

John O'Neill November 28, 2022 at 9:55 am

Some interesting points which certainly make me pause:
1) Somone comparing their yard to Laguardia Airport. I had the privilege of growing up 5 minutes from Laguardia. I also live 5 minutes from Weed Avenue. In fact, I walk Weed Avenue every day. To use a quote from a great Democrat from the 80’s ” I’ve known Laguardia for a long time and Weed Ave is no Laguardia”.
2) One commenter above talked about the “kill off” of insects. Maybe, just maybe the over-development in Norwalk has something to do with it? Hell, I use a gas lawn mower, and gas leaf blower and I have more insects than I know what to do with. Many of the above might want to look at reducing crowding..Now that I think about it, one of the above fought affordable housng in Westport not too long ago…Liberal Hypocrisy? No such thing, right? Just not in my backyard, right?
3) A few of the above participated in No Mow May — Of course, by late May those same lawns were looking spectacular for the June Social Scene. (Of course, once they were cut and fertilized.) Again, I walk a lot and notice these things. Walk the Walk and we’ll take you seriously.
4) I looked up one of the expert landscapers only to find they’ve only owned their landscaping business for less than 2 years. Far from an expert, although some may think they are basis their testimony.
5) My wife actually bought me an electric leaf blower for Christmas 2 years ago. If anyone is interested, it’s still in the box. Please don’t tell my wife.
6) How about “real” testimony from Real Landscapers.
7) Some would argue that this push to rid Norwalk of Gas-powered landscaping tools is racist. I’d agree.

Johnny cardamone November 28, 2022 at 9:56 am

I also hate the noise pollution, 😩Having become an organic gardener over 50 years ago in 1970 actually agree with this article is a👍🏼🦔😇 we began composting leaves back then when I was a kid and we used to drive around and pick up black plastic bags of leaves in the neighborhood and bring them to our yard💪🏼, everybody should have their own compost pile where they rake the leaves. Yea💩 and all of our lawns don’t have to look like a country club golf course where all the grass has been blown off into the street or into your neighbors yard which is basically what these backpack blowers do.🥵👎🏽

Tysen Canevari November 28, 2022 at 10:53 am

Boy oh boy is this a topic close to home Nancy. I own and operate a landscape business with my wife Maria and would have loved an invite to this zoom meeting. Isnt it ironic how they only invite people on their side? My first shock is that this is such a pressing topic with our council and they have nothing else of substance that could better occupy their time? How about the sewage treatment plant over flowing into long island sound down on Smith street. The Norwalk Hour was kind enough to interview a few of us landscapers in regards to this topic. I would love to ask the 72 year old landscaper that doesnt need gas powered machines to see her revenue numbers. No offense, but i guess she doesnt do that much. We do some properties in the area that have as many as 30 homes. Could you imagine if they had to pay to have us rake all the leaves and then leave them in their beds? Dont think that would work. Imagine Ken Hughes and his city employees raking Vets Park, Cranbury Park, and the beach? They might finish by next fall! What do we do with all the gas machinery when you ban its use? Return them to home depot? LOL Any idea how much fossil fuel is used to make all of the batteries? Tons. Our electric grid is over burdened now. Could you imagine us all trying to charge our gadgets at the same time? What do we do with all of the batteries when they are no good? At the end of the day it is nothing but a make yourself feel good topic for people to jump on the band wagon. It would never pass anyway so why waste the energy? This is clearly an example of the council pushing their agenda with little opposition. I would happily organize a group of landscapers in Norwalk who would be willing to come address the topic with the council. Attached is the link with an article referencing this.

https://www.thehour.com/news/article/Norwalk-landscapers-gas-leaf-blower-ban-17606601.php?src=nwkhplocal

Patrick Cooper November 28, 2022 at 12:24 pm

The dumbing down of the common council is complete.

Next – ban the use of chainsaws. Then – rock-crushing – then – back-up signals on trucks.

Next – ban diesel powered vehicles on I-95 between exit 13 – 17. Fine & jail any offender that happens to be stuck in traffic.

Next – ban boats – especially those that use diesel powered engines. Further – get them out of the water entirely – save the sound you know, and the little ducks and fish.

Next – ban the single worst contributor to toxic hot air spewed into the atmosphere: ceremonial event speeches by politicians.

We can’t fix the raw sewage spills into the harbor – because – we just pretend that isn’t happening. We can’t fix the pay-to-play redevelopment – because – we just pretend that isn’t happening. We can’t fix the illegal apartments popping up in every neighborhood in Norwalk – because – that’s not “on-brand” for woke Norwalk.

When the bottom falls out of this town – will anyone remember they repeatedly voted for the very people who were the instruments of the destruction?

No – we’ll just pretend it isn’t happening.

David Muccigrosso November 28, 2022 at 1:04 pm

I’ll admit, I find both the odor and noise pretty obnoxious. But I’m also skeptical of just banning things left and right merely because they annoy me.

So I’m curious what the actual policy proposal is here.

If we’re sending cops out on QOL calls, that’s just more busywork. But I don’t see why at least having a method of registering complaints etc. would hurt. And we’ll need a buyback: If the cops have to go confiscating every gas-powered blower on Flax Hill, that’s going to piss off a lot of voters.

The most room for progress is probably with contractors and hardware stores. Get the landscaping contractors to buy in, and stop the Home Depot from selling any more gas blowers.

Ben Hanpeter November 28, 2022 at 1:54 pm

A ban is the way to go here. The pollution and noise alone are reason enough to justify one; it’s a significant quality of life issue for anyone unlucky enough to live around a regular user of such equipment. I support looking into methods of making the transition less onerous for landscapers, but even if this does pass additional costs along to customers a ban is still the right thing to do. People ought to pay the full costs of caring for their lawns, instead of passing off the negative externalities onto others.

Bill Wrenn November 28, 2022 at 3:38 pm

In the last few years leaf blowers have become more than a nuisance that comes around every fall. Gas belching blowers are now being used nearly all year round, producing unacceptable noise and pollution in Norwalk and most other suburban towns. If a total ban on gas powered blowers is not enacted, we residents would be grateful to get a break from blowers at least for the summer months of the year.

Priscilla Feral November 28, 2022 at 4:05 pm

Histrionics aside, restrictions, a phase-out and a ban of gas-driven leaf blowers is sensible, timely, and a boon to the environment — curbing toxic emissions and noise pollution.

If humans can continue to evolve, that means adapting , not conquering Nature. Also, recognition of heating the Earth, and polluting the air is a topic worthy of debate. Especially given the vulnerability of children. When the Ordinance Committee had a hearing, anyone could have attended; I did. And I listened to convincing expert testimony, not bravado.

At our home, we mulch and compost leaves and their nutrients are returned to garden beds and the lawn. We also have one electric leaf blower rarely used . Change is possible, and it’s time to be less noisy, more consciously aware neighbors.

Frank Wainwright November 28, 2022 at 10:08 pm

Everytime I read these idiotic stories it confirms I did the right thing moving to South Carolina 8 years ago. Noise aside, Perhaps you should consider the upcoming onerous 85% increase in electric rates and its potential impact on the landscaping industry should you pass this ban. Btw, our rate here in SC will not change in January.

Audrey Cozzarin November 28, 2022 at 10:33 pm

I applaud the Common Council taking up a matter that involves both quality of life in our community and human impact on the nature. It might not seem like a hugely pressing issue, but I am both tired of listening to these unnecessarily loud machines as well as fed up with the denial of the damage they do coupled with the general lack of understanding of/regard for the natural world.

We depend upon the balance of nature for life to exist. Businesses that have become dependent on these sorts of damaging practices will have to find a new way, and we need our leaders (both governmental and civic) to help out with that transition. As a community. There need not be winners and losers.

Tysen Canevari November 29, 2022 at 7:37 am

@ Nancy. Please advertise when the meeting will be if you find out. Seems no one knew about this but the people on the far left side. If a homeowner chooses to not use them I can appreciate that but dont waste public meetings trying to set a rule that would never be enforced or adhered to. They let the grass grow so high at the library in the spring that they had to have DPW come in with machines to cut it back down. Just curious why these people arent down at smith street watching the sewage overflow into the sound that we all swim and eat from? Have they not found an expert to testify on its good use? Maybe Norwalk can institute leaf pick up and use the leaves to turn it into compost like New Canaan does. They allow residents to use it at their house and they sell it privately to stock their budget line every year. Good management in city hall should look into that instead of how many BURNS construction trucks we should see digging up our roads to support all the high rises Mayor Harry wants to put in. Do those trucks and backhoes run on electric? Doubt it. Its a shame our town council has a street named after it; ONE WAY!

Drew Todd November 29, 2022 at 7:38 am

The issue should be DOA period! We have so many many many other pressing issues to be dealt with in this City. And just picture Park & DPW using Electric ya know FOSSIL biting Batteries to make amusing the electric loud and some of them are louder , I have one. And by 12:00 Noon well that’s it no more for the day because the millions we just spent on them and extra batteries and charging stations still isn’t enough! Plus it’s a heatwave and we need to conserve energy so no more charging! This has to be the dumbest thing to be taken up by this committee. Which BTW , STILL doesn’t enforce regulations already on the books! But please add more stupidity it fits the narrative.

Michael McGuire November 29, 2022 at 9:48 am

Noise aside there are very good resources out there regarding climate change which should be a consideration of the ordinance committee since it is a major lever point in this argument.

Professor (of physics) Willian Happer of Princton is worthwhile listening to. Spoiler alert the science does not support the climate hysteria. Attached is a good summery which recently (past several weeks) came out on YouTube. For those who don’t trust clicking on links just type in ‘BizNewsTV Happer’ in the YouTube search bar.

This should be required homework for the ordinance committee.

Lisa Brinton November 29, 2022 at 10:24 am

Who knew this was Norwalk’s most pressing issue?

On the other hand, what do you expect from a council that realizes it has actually NO power, other than to rubber stamp the ‘mayor’s capitulation to a density’ or not be allowed to run for office again, should they challenge Hartford’s agenda.

So, well meaning individuals busy themselves with fussy, feel good ‘environmental or quality of life policy’ while turning a blind eye to 1) illegal apartments and cars overcrowding our streets, leaving them virtually impassable or ignoring the 2) increasing litter and nips bottles cluttering our parks, or remain oblivious to 3) a parking authority that installs multiple confusing parking signs on a single post, so tickets are almost a fait accompli.

And today, we read that the council unanimously approved to ‘allow’ Eversource to bury a high voltage cable under the city dock🤣

Environmental and quality of life issues? Control? The common council has control over nothing, except possibly a few landscapers, just trying to make a living.

Michael Foley November 29, 2022 at 4:33 pm

Wow ! Why stop with just Leaf blowers lets include Lawn Mowers and Hedge trimmers, Chainsaws . Fix all the other problems in our city first like Crime, Hunger, affordable housing, roads, traffic. Come on man ! This is insane .

eduardo sanchez November 30, 2022 at 9:47 am

I find it funny that citizens of a sanctuary city are complaining about the pollution coming from leaf blowers. The corona bottles full of urine, empty shooters everywhere, take out food wrappers and containers thrown about. Banda music blasting until 3am. All of that doesn’t deserve addressing. I guess until you’re living in the middle of it, why else would you care? Virtue signaling at its best.

Tysen Canevari November 30, 2022 at 9:21 pm

NEWS FLASH. The Norwalk Council is holding a meeting to discuss if driving a car on asphalt is harmful to the earth underneath.

Audrey Cozzarin December 1, 2022 at 9:30 am

This entire line of commenting is very ugly, has me considering not reading this publication altogether, and strengthens my desire to move away from Norwalk.

Reading these comments is very disheartening for any sort of meaningful or mature dialogue. Nothing gets solved this way, just a lot of arguing. What about creating working groups of citizens? Join me and I’ll start one.

Tysen b Canevari December 1, 2022 at 1:35 pm

Audrey, do you not believe that there is anything more pressing for our common council to do? Do you believe that for a second people would follow this insane thought? Go down to Smith Street and watch the unprocessed sewage overflow into our harbor. Maybe they should try to fix that first. NoN is for dialogue. Not just what you would like to hear or not hear. This is a heavily populated town. If you like quiet then Vermont, maine, and new Hampshire has a lot to offer you and you can let the leaves sit on your property all you like. Just saying

eduardo sanchez December 1, 2022 at 2:40 pm

Audrey, walk down Main street. Observe year round litter. Chicken wing bones on the sidewalk. Vomit. Urine filled bottles. Some guy sleeping in flower bed outside of Paella at 12 in the afternoon, others working off a day buzz at Freese park. Stroll down Bouton St or Ely ave. Woodward ave. Heck, rent an apartment and live there for a few months. I think you need a hard dose of reality.

Audrey Cozzarin December 5, 2022 at 9:10 am

Tysen and Eduardo, I am living in reality. Humans are a challenging species (or, as the martian says in the Looney Tunes cartoons, “Humans are such IN-TER-EST-ING creatures…”). The issues you bring up are certainly some of the worst traits of humanity. The leaf blower matter is one that obviously touches off a big response. It is an example of how we treat the earth and one another. Yes, there are MANY pressing matters, nearly unfathomable in their number. Where do we start?

I take it back: The comments to this article are very helpful in framing what is important. What is important is how we treat the earth and one another. If leaf blowers are a catalyst for bringing us together to resolve the many matters present in our community, then I see it as a positive. “Us,” meaning all of us, all of Norwalk. And you both.

What if we can engage in dialogue that unleashes the power of our imaginations to create the future we want?

Tysen Canevari December 6, 2022 at 11:11 pm

I think it is the future that you want. Unfortunately for you it is the minority. This will never pass. Just ask the mayor. He lives in a condo. Do you think his association would be willing to double or triple their common fees to cover the difference? NOPE. We have one or two tree huggers on the council who like to appeal to their friends. Wasted energy

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