Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Code Red Air Quality Days: Ban Lawn Mowers, Leaf Blowers

Today is a Code Orange air quality day. Yesterday was Code Red. When the air quality level is Code Orange, "pollution levels are harmful to children, older adults and anyone with a respiratory or heart condition." When the air quality is Code Red, as it was yesterday, it's unhealthy for everyone and everyone should limit strenuous outdoor activities, according to the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments.

Frankly, the idea that the outside air is unhealthy to breathe blows my mind. It's unhealthy to breathe?  Imagine if DC Water announced that the water was unsafe for children to drink on multiple days during the summer, and occasionally unsafe for everyone to drink a few times a year. There would be an uproar (as there was when DC's water has excessive lead levels.) Air, like water, should always be safe.

So I have a simple plan. Nothing so radical as banning cars when the air quality index is in the unhealthy range. Ban gas powered lawn mowers and leaf blowers when the AQI is in the orange and red ranges. Gas powered leaf blowers produce a large number of pollutants close to the ground where they do the most damage, including carbon monoxide, nitrous oxide, and fine particles that attack the lungs. One leaf blower emits the same amount of pollution as 80 cars.

Gas powered lawn mowers are also a significant source of pollution. Mowing for an hour produces the same amount of organic pollutants as driving a car for 100 - 350 miles. (Annually, each gas powered lawn mower produces the equivalent level of air pollution as 43 cars being driven 12,000 miles, producing 80 pounds of CO2.)

Little things add up. And gas powered leaf blowers and lawn mowers aren't even little things as far as air pollution is concerned. Lawn mowers cause 5 percent of the nation's air pollution, and more than that in urban areas like Washington, DC.

Chances are that we'll never get everyone to voluntarily put aside their leaf blowers and lawn mowers on Code Orange and Code Red days. A law banning these machines when the air is unsafe to breathe is a very good idea.


  1. Thank you very much for the data, Bill, and as you suggest, banning leaf blowers on code red days is hardly radical. How about banning leaf blowers totally?! What a ridiculous waste of energy and jive effort to clear a space of a few leaves, which is what most of the blowers are used for.

    Okay, so I agree. Stop those idiotic leaf blowers on code red -- and orange and yellow days. Let them mess up those lovely code green days if they must, which are showing up less and less frequently anyway.

    Our air quality is in serious trouble, folks. As a biker, walker and formally infrequent driver, I know. Check it our air quality daily on From Baltimore to DC, we've got some dirty air.

  2. Personally, while I don't mind lawnmowers too much - the noise and pollution caused by the blowers drives me crazy. I can understand in during leaf season but why does every scrap of leaf and other debris need to be blown off of my neighbors yards, beds and wild areas every week? I'd really love a law that banned leaf blowers all together except for the fall!