Guest post by Kathryn Gallien

Last year, a newspaper photographer stopped and asked to take a photo while my husband and I were raking our yard. She said she drove around and we were the only ones she could find raking.

We don’t mind doing yard work. It gets us outside, gives us some exercise, and is quiet.

When the yard services are at work in the neighborhood, leaves are gathered up with big machines and high-powered leaf blowers, and the noise is so penetrating that “I can’t hear myself think,” as my Mom would say. There have been times when I almost became that crazy lady who runs out and screams “Please stop! I can’t take it anymore.”

Turns out gas-powered leaf blowers are a hazard not only to one’s sanity but to one’s physical health as well.

The small two-stroke engines burn a dirtier mix of fuel than cars, churning out in one hour the equivalent pollution to that of a car driven 1000 miles. It is particularly damaging to the person using the machine. Little wonder that the American Lung Association recommends hand-powered or electric lawn care equipment.

Municipalities and even states around the country are starting to place limits on—and even ban—the use of gas-fueled leaf blowers. Google it and you’ll see a growing movement. Pleasantville, NY, for instance, prohibits fuel-powered leaf blowers from May 15 to September 30 and also specifies quiet hours. California has banned the gas-powered leaf blowers and provided funds to help businesses make the transition to electric.

Closer to home, Niskayuna recently joined the national Quiet Communities movement with its Quiet City initiative, educating citizens about all the ways gas leaf blowers pollute our cities and endanger health. On their website, they explain the stakes: “The typical gas-powered leaf blower is so loud that it damages the hearing of the user and emits a shockingly large amount of pollutants, much of which is breathed in by the operator. Electric leaf blowers are much quieter, do not emit any pollutants and can be powered by green, renewable energy sources. They are as available and comparably powerful and affordable.” They also point out that there are bills before the New York State Senate and Assembly to prohibit the use of gas-powered leaf blowers from May 1—September 30: Assembly Bill A705 and Senate Bill S2132.

Isn’t it time for the “City in the Country” to limit or ban this harmful equipment?

Leaf blowers aren’t mentioned specifically in the City ordinances, but Section 148 of the City Code does address unreasonable noises, restricting sounds above 90 decibels during certain hours. Gas-powered leaf blowers typically range from 70-110 decibels—the high end of which can cause hearing damage—while electric ones range from 50-85. Is this being enforced?

Does Saratoga Springs have the will to start limiting the use of these super-polluters?

Those using yard services can talk to them about making the switch to electric. As for the rest of us, we can make the switch ourselves. Or better yet, pick up a rake and a broom. We’ll be healthier in the long run. So will the planet. And our neighbors might be a little less crazy.