Palo Alto's ordinance banning gas blowers in residential areas isn't enforced. And a new state law banning all SOREs produced on or after Jan. 1, 2024, may only be enough to slowly solve the problem. My other proposal: Go electric now. If you use gas, make the switch; if you or your neighbors have a gardener who uses gas, get him/her to make the switch. And if gardeners really can't afford it, help them out.
Anti-gas blower laws and the push for electric are often accused of being "anti-immigrant" because in many places the majority of gas users are Hispanic gardeners who use them to make a living. In fact, these laws are not just no-brainer good for the planet, they are "pro" environmental justice for gardeners. Two-stroke gas engines, which inefficiently burn a mixture of gas and oil, are distinctive in the high benzene concentration in their fumes. According to the U.S Environmental Protection Agency, gas blower users are highly exposed to "benzene, 1,3-butadiene, and other possible toxic compounds," (including formaldehyde, acetaldehyde, particulates, and poly-aromatic hydrocarbons. This kind of exposure to known carcinogens poses a serious risk of lung or other disease.
Hearing loss is another health risk. From most gas blowers, homeowners are exposed to about 70 decibels, which is "moderate." But a gas blower user gets about 100 decibels, which is about 1000 times greater (for every 3 decibel increase, the ear gets twice as much exposure and damage). Sustained exposure to 80-90 decibels can cause hearing loss.
Gas defenders say the cost of switching to electric is a burden, for blower users and their customers. Remember, however, the California grape boycott of the 1960s? Two of the United Farm Workers' central demands were related to the danger that pesticides posed to workers. The "just" choice then was not to buy the least-expensive, shiniest grapes if that meant putting workers' health at risk. Is it a "just" choice now to risk gardeners' health by their using, and homeowners tolerating, supposedly less-expensive gas blowers?
In fact, there is good reason to believe that gas blowers are not, in the long term, less expensive to operate. A fairly recent, credible analysis estimated the two-year cost of operating a gas blower at five hours a day to be $5,445; the estimated cost of a backpack battery blower (with batteries and charger) was $2,925. (See www.quietcleanpdx.org; "Facts Dangers Solutions.") Gas prices rise, and battery technology is getting progressively cheaper and better; batteries are lasting longer, and rapid chargers are now available. Gardeners can easily swap batteries in and out.
I urge you, your gardener and your neighbor's gardener to make the switch to electric. I believe many gardeners are financially able to do it. If they can't afford it, I propose you help them; if you can't do this on your own, find like-minded neighbors and pool your resources.
I recently circulated on my entire block a flier politely noting how polluting gas blowers are and offered a cash incentive to any gardener who would give me a gas blower and a receipt for a purchased electric. One of my neighbors then let me know he would join me in the offer. (How about the city and/or Acterra doing something like this? It would be cheaper than code enforcement.)
So go electric. Better than benzene or a few neutrons coming your way.
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