Front Page Talking Points


Noisy, polluting gas leaf blowers provoke bans, which the District of Columbia now has


1.gifShare two facts from coverage of another topic with environmental impact.

2.gifSummarize news about elected officials in your city or state.

3.gifLook for an effort to influence public policy. What's the issue?

A law that took effect this month in the District of Columbia earns attention beyond its 68 square miles. Gas-powered leaf blowers can't be sold or used there anymore under a ban passed in 2018 by council members. (Quieter, environmental-friendlier electric ones remain legal.) This "change on the local level [has] significant, positive implications for other parts of the country and beyond," prominent author and journalist James Fallows posted last week at his Substack blog. "These devices are the most polluting form of machinery still in legal use."

They'll also be banned in California in 2024 under a law the governor signed last October, which also prohibits gas-fueled mowers, weed trimmers, chain saws and even golf carts. These are the main arguments against the old-school equipment:

  • Emissions: Two-stroke engines inefficiently burn gas and oil, spewing out toxic fumes. They are vastly more polluting than cars, trucks or practically anything else.
  • Noise: The sound can lastingly harm the hearing of the work crews. It penetrates walls and windows nearby.
  • Dust: In addition to the exhaust, leaf blowers stir up dust that's a nuisance and potential danger to nearby walkers, parkgoers, the elderly, people with chronic asthma and people exercising. They're often used in parks and public spaces where many people are exposed to the dangers.
  • Outdated: Two-stroke engines are the technology of a century-plus ago and are being phased out around the world to be replaced by batteries.

These nasty machines, available in backpack-style designs, persist in American landscaping because they are cheap. But battery-powered equipment and rakes are safer alternatives, advocates say. "Someday soon, people will look back in disapproving wonder on the several-decade toleration of these two-stroke nuisances," writes Fallows, who lives in Washington, D.C., and has crusaded against gas blowers for years.

Crusader says: "The change will be gradual, then sudden—like the use of seatbelts in cars, or restrictions on second-hand smoke and then smoking itself." – James Fallows, blogger and journalist

U.S. agency says: "Laborers in the landscape industry frequently operate these devices for extended periods, thus exposing themselves to high concentrations of exhaust gases over a prolonged period." – Environmental Protection Agency, 2000 report

Columnist says: "They come in a deafening, surging swarm, blasting from lawn to lawn and filling the air with the stench of gasoline and death. . . . Gasoline-powered leaf blowers are invaders, the most maddening of all the maddening, environment-destroying tools of the American lawn-care industry." – Margaret Renkl, The New York Times last October

Front Page Talking Points is written by Alan Stamm for, Copyright 2022

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Common Core State Standard
SL.CCS.1/2/3/4 Grades 6-12: An essay of a current news event is provided for discussion to encourage participation, but also inspire the use of evidence to support logical claims using the main ideas of the article. Students must analyze background information provided about a current event within the news, draw out the main ideas and key details, and review different opinions on the issue. Then, students should present their own claims using facts and analysis for support.