Framingham to consider leaf blower ban:
By Danielle Amede, MetrWest Daily News April 22, 2012
What worries John Cunningham is the cloud of dust that leaf blowers inevitably create while whooshing away leaves and other yard debris.
“These machines raise the chemicals from automobiles, animal feces from people that walk their dogs,” as well as dirt and dust, “all into one toxic cloud and we can be subjected to it,” said Cunningham, who suffers from asthma.
“Children can be subjected to it, women walking baby carriages.”
Concerned about the health effects of leaf blowers, the Framingham man is asking a question that’s come up in cities and towns around the country: Why don’t we ban them?
“Initially (bans) began in some of the wealthier communities in California,” said Les Blomberg, director of Vermont-based Noise Pollution Clearinghouse. He said many restrictions went into effect in the 1990s.
“I think it slowed down in part because the industry got pretty organized and figured out what to do whenever these happened,” Blomberg said. “People are now having the strength to just push through that industry pushback.”
To the dismay of local landscapers and the leaf blower lobby, Framingham is one of the latest communities taking up the debate.
Cunningham is proposing a bylaw flat-out prohibiting the town and commercial landscapers from using leaf blowers.
It’s the same idea that Wellesley Town Meeting rejected earlier this month.
Delmar Martins, who owns D&M Landscape and Construction of Framingham, said the ban would be bad for anyone who hires landscapers.
“It would just drive the cost up significantly,” Martins said. “Something that would cost $100 would cost $200. Now it takes twice as long. … You’re going back to the Stone Age.”
Wellesley Planning Board member Sara Preston, who proposed the commercial ban in her town, said she doubts that it will cost crews more to use rakes instead. She said residents should think back to when landscapers first switched to using leaf blowers.
“Did their landscaping bills go down dramatically?” she asked. “We were not able to get a landscaper to do an honest-to-goodness cost analysis. They just didn’t want to.”
Framingham’s Annual Town Meeting, which starts Tuesday, will consider Cunningham’s citizen petition as of one 44 articles on the warrant.
“If it’s passed, it’s passed,” said Daniel Nau, highway director for the Framingham Department of Public Works.
DPW crews use leaf blowers for routine maintenance, from cleaning sidewalks to cleaning up sawdust and leaves.
“We find them a useful tool,” Nau said. “It helps to expedite the work that we’re doing.”
Brookline Town Meeting passed a seasonal ban last fall that the state Attorney General’s Office hasn’t yet OK’d. It would prohibit the use of leaf blowers except between March 15 and May 15, and Sept. 15 and Dec. 15. The regulations do not apply to town departments.
“A shill for the industry has complained, misstating the law, claiming that we are trying to step on the toes of federal regulators,” said Andrew Fischer, the Brookline Town Meeting member who came up with the bylaw.
Larry Will, a consultant and retired employee of leading leaf blower manufacturer Echo Inc., argues the bylaw is illegal since the Clean Air Act doesn’t allow local government to regulate carbon emissions.
Brookline town counsel Jennifer Dopazo Gilbert said that’s a good argument, but she’s still confident the bylaw will pass attorney general muster.
“Local communities need to focus on the health issues and the noise issues to get around that Clean Air Act preemption issue,” she said.
Will sent a seven-page letter to the Framingham Board of Selectmen discussing the issues around leaf blower restrictions.
Selectmen voted 5-0 last week to not take a position.
“This is a very controversial and emotional issue for some people and requires careful thought before acting,” Will wrote, noting that he has “helped more than 100 communities understand the facts after which reasonable and effective ordinances have been enacted.”
As far as the noise argument, Will argued there are now “quiet” models that aren’t a nuisance to neighbors. He wrote that the claim that leaf blowers are bad for human health “has no merit.”
Cunningham plans to make his case to the contrary.
“I consider it a public nuisance,” he said. “After silently cursing these things … (I thought) why does this have to be?”
Marblehead Town Meeting is also about to consider banning leaf blowers.
Cambridge is among the communities with an ordinance that prohibits the use of gas-powered leaf blowers during certain hours and during six months of the year.
“There’s some that ban them only on Sunday,” Blomberg said.
Preston said Wellesley Town Meeting isn’t ready for change now, but she isn’t giving up.
She said the scientific data on the health effects is clear.
“Imagine dusting your home with a leaf blower,” Blomberg said. “What you’d do is just be breathing in all this dust and then it would settle back down and then you’d do it again next week.”
Martins said his crew of 12 uses leaf blowers every workday, for spring and fall cleanups and to blow off grass clippings after mowing lawns.
“Most landscapers when they’re using it, they’re not creating that much dust,” he said.
Cunningham admitted he has a small, electric leaf blower that he uses sometimes in his backyard. But he said a rake works just as well.
“They’re a lazy man’s way out,” he said of the machines. “They pollute your lungs, They’re a hearing detriment to the people who use them. They’re a hearing nuisance to the people in the neighborhood. ... The more I think about it, the angrier I get.”