More municipalities blowing off noisy landscaping tools

Leaf blowers are one of the loudest, and for many, most annoying sounds of spring and summer. Now they're being banned in some Canadian and American municipalities and landscaping companies are seeing the impact.

But company owners are not happy about it


Spring and summer bring some of the most peaceful sounds of the season: the chirping of birds, the rustling of leaves and the sound of wind blowing through tall grass. Unfortunately, these seasons also bring some of the most abrasive sounds—namely, leaf blowers.

"I would sometimes have six leaf blowers going at the same time, it was just deafening," said Janice Carr, a resident of Beaconsfield, Quebec, just outside Montreal. "The noise was unbelievable. Even inside the house it was too much."

Not only is the sound bothersome but, for Carr, there are health consequences too.

"I have symptoms that I experience each and every time I'm exposed to the dust from leaf blowers," said Carr.

She is a medical writer and licensed pharmacist who has researched the health effects of leaf blowers. She says the blowers break down dust and dirt particles into microscopic bits that not only get into our lungs but our bloodstream too.

"I want them banned altogether," said Carr. "There's no rationale for having them at all."

Janice Carr is a medical writer and licensed pharmacist who has researched the health effects of leaf blowers. (Janice Carr)

Widespread bans on the blower

New research published in the Journal of Environmental and Toxicological Studies says the devices run at a lower sound frequency that allows the noise to not only travel further than other noises but also penetrate thick walls.

Carr has lobbied her local government for the last decade to do something about it and she's getting closer to her goal. Beaconsfield City Council recently polled residents on whether they'd like blowers banned and will vote on the issue in mid-June.

It would follow a recent ban in Westmount, Montreal, which only permits leaf blowers use in April, October and the first half of November. South of the border, there are now hundreds of municipalities doing the same from Nevada to New Jersey.

Reducing noise at the expense of landscaping companies

"The negative to a ban would be that it will negatively impact the people who are maintaining these landscapes," said Jonas Spring.

Spring runs a residential landscaping and gardening business called Ecoman. His company doesn't use leaf blowers, but as President of the Toronto chapter of the Landscape Ontario Horticultural Trades Association, he understands that leaf blowers can be a necessity to meet clients' needs and expectations.

"We get angry calls if there's one leaf out of place and so you're dealing with people's values and how they see what a landscape should be," he said.

According to Spring, the healthiest thing for a lawn is to allow leaves and grass clippings to decompose on top.

"A lot of people have a hard time seeing the beauty of decay or the beauty of the cycle of life," said Spring. "They want to see a green grass with not a leaf on it and so changing those expectations becomes part of the process."

Lawn care industry must 'be proactive'

Spring says as leaf blowers fall out of favour and bans begin to take hold, the landscaping industry needs to join the conversation.

"We also need to look in the mirror as an industry, as a trade, and ask ourselves 'is there something more that we could be doing?'" said Spring. "Before these bans come, so that we can be proactive so that we can get ahead of the game and that's good for business."

Spring says while the gas-powered leaf blowers remain the most powerful, he expects quieter, electric and battery-powered models to become viable alternatives.

That's not good enough for Carr, who will always prefer a rake or broom over a leaf blower.

"The companies will say that it takes them more time, but that's really not true," said Carr. "For them to use a rake or a broom doesn't take them more time. It takes more effort, perhaps, but not more time."


Jason Osler is the national 'trends' columnist for CBC Radio.