Atlanta neighbors push to ban ‘noisy’, ‘pollution-spewing’ gas-powered leaf blowers

ATLANTA — Atlanta is a city in a forest, which means right now tons of leaves are falling from trees, but some Atlanta residents want to ban noisy, pollution-spewing gas-powered leaf blowers.

Many professional landscapers agree, but want more time to make the switch to electric.

“Now it’s practically every day for up to six hours a day,” said Buckhead resident Peter Bahouth

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The nearly constant drone of gas-powered leaf blowers often keeps Bahouth enjoying the peaceful sanctuary of a treehouse he built in his yard.

“Leaves aren’t litter, and we shouldn’t treat them as if they’re criminals that have to be hunted down and removed as soon as they hit the ground,” Bahouth said

Bahouth says the craziest thing he’s seen is leaf blowers blasting the topsoil off a yard, killing the grass.

“They were so loud, they set off his car alarm,” Bahouth said

It’s not just about the noise, however. There’s also the pollution.

“You can’t use a two-stroke engine that they use in a gas leaf blower on a lake or on the street, but you can use it in the backyard,” Bahouth said.

That type of engine only burns 60% of its fuel. The rest goes into the air we breathe, which is especially harmful for people with asthma.

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Leslie Inman created a native plant garden in her Morningside backyard. She’s concerned gas-powered leaf blowers are a threat to kill wildlife, such as the pollinators that hide in the leaves during the winter.

“Underneath that you’ll find bumblebees you’ll find butterflies, there are beautiful moths like the luna moth, fireflies that everybody loves,” Inman said

Instead of blowing leaves, she lets them decompose, enriching the soil in her yard.

Pam Dooley, owner of Plants Creative Landscapes, says leaf blower noise complaints skyrocketed during the pandemic as many people stayed home and spent more time in their yards.

“We hear complaints daily,” Dooley said.

Noise complaints prompted the Atlanta City Council to pass a resolution in February to look into what can be done about the problem.

California went even further by passing a law in October that could ban the sale of new gas-powered leaf blowers as early as 2024.

“I’m in full support, but I say not yet. I say give us time. Give us time for technology to continue advancing,” Dooley said.

Dooley said right now electric leaf blower batteries only last about two hours and cost more than twice as much.

“You can pick up a very nice gas-powered blower for $700, and really the cost of a top-quality, reputable-manufacturer electric piece of equipment is going to be closer to $1,500,” she said.

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For the past three years, Dooley’s business has been transitioning to electric, even putting solar panels on the roof of a truck to help charge equipment.

“Our industry is anxious to transition to battery power,” she said.

Britt Wood from the National Association of Landscape Professionals acknowledges the pros of going electric but says there is one big con.

“We certainly appreciate the quietness that it brings, as well as the, you know, potential efficiency, I will say that at this point in time the equipment just isn’t powerful enough for commercial use,” Wood said.

For now, Peter Bahouth is encouraging his neighbors to pick up a rake.

“I hand them a little golden rake I make in a gift card to a coffee shop or something, just to kind of try to give an incentive and be positive when people are trying to make changes,” Bahouth said.

Just how much pollution do gas-powered leaf blowers create? A study by the car company Edmonds in 2011 found the emissions from a half-hour’s use of a gas leaf blower is about the same as driving in a Ford F-150 Texas to Alaska, about 3,900 miles.

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