Gas-burning leafblowers have become an increasingly important issue in a lot of American communities, some of which have responded by limiting their times of use and / or volume levels — or banning them altogether.1
The primary problems with gas leafblowers are the noise and other air pollution produced by their inefficient two-stroke engines,2 which are also found in lawnmowers, weed trimmers, and other landscaping equipment, as well as many go-karts, mini-bikes, and scooters.
The noise generated by gas-fueled leafblowers can be extremely loud (80+ dB), and is unhealthy for both those nearby and the operators themselves, even when the latter are wearing industrial-grade hearing-protection. Prolonged exposure to excessive noise permanently damages people‘s hearing and causes other health problems. Gas leafblower exhaust also contains a variety of toxic and carcinogenic components, including carbon monoxide, ozone-forming chemicals, dangerously small particulates (known as PM2.5), and greenhouse gases in the form of carbon dioxide.
For more information, visit our Leafblower Resources page.
Leafblowers in Providence
Providence residents frequently cite gas leafblowers as a recurrent source of noise in their neighborhoods through our Community Noise Survey and Contact page. In 2021, City Council members John Goncalves, Helen Anthony,3 and Nirva LaFortune proposed amendments to the current noise-control ordinance (Sec. 16–97) to remove leafblowers from a general category of noise-generating equipment and put them in a separate section of the city’s municipal code:
Sec. 16-100. Leaf Blowers
(a) It shall be unlawful for any person to use, at any time, a leafblower within any residential zone that has an average sound level exceeding seventy (70) dBA measured at or within the real property boundary of a receiving land use or when the same is audible to a person of reasonably sensitive hearing at a distance of two hundred (200) feet from its source.
(b) Leafblowers shall not be operated within the city between the hours of 6:00 p.m. and 9:00 a.m.
In their communications with the Noise Project, Providence residents have also suggested other ways to address gas leafblower noise and pollution, including:
- Limiting days and seasons that gas-powered leafblowers and similar equipment can be used, such as prohibiting their use on Sundays and during summer and winter months.4
- Requiring the city itself and any contractors it hires to use only electric-powered equipment
- Creating a directory of sustainable landscaping companies that use electric equipment instead of gas-burning tools, to help residents use quieter and healthier lawncare services
- Developing an incentive program to encourage homeowners and landscaping companies to transition from gas-fueled leafblowers to electric ones, potentially including a city / state / industry volume-purchase discount, subsidy, or equipment exchange
- Banning the sale and eventually the use of gas-fueled leafblowers and other landscaping equipment — or all two-stroke engines completely, as some U.S. jurisdictions have done.
Leafblowers in RI
Several leafblower-related bills were introduced in the RI House and Senate in 2022, and a state-wide grassroots organization called Quiet Clean Rhode Island (QCRI) was created to coordinate public support for them. The Noise Project was a founding member of QCRI.
We urge PVD residents who want to reduce noise and other air pollution to contact the City Council, their specific ward representative, and state policymakers to tell them you support efforts to limit the use of gas leafblowers, and urge them to do so as well. Among potential reasons you can cite:
- You care about public health and / or landscaping workers — Gas leafblowers produce toxic gases, particulates, and levels of noise that are unhealthy for their operators and those living or working nearby. Most landscaping workers either don’t have proper masks or hearing protection or aren’t sufficiently trained to use them, and can suffer permanent health effects from their jobs. These preventable, long-term effects increase state and local healthcare costs.
- You live on the planet Earth — The emissions from inefficient two-stroke leafblower engines are disproportionately more damaging to the environment than car and truck exhausts. If we’re serious about addressing climate change and avoiding its worst effects, small-engine emissions must be curtailed, and other cities and states are already taking steps to do so.
- You have ears and lungs — Excessive noise adversely affects people’s health, whether they’re aware of it or not. The sound levels produced by most gas leafblowers already violate Providence municipal code, and in some neighborhoods are one of the biggest sources of noise, though homeowners and landscaping companies that use them are rarely cited for it. City officials can’t claim they‘re working to reduce unhealthy noise levels while also ignoring recurrent and long-standing sources such as unnecessarily loud lawncare equipment.
- You care about the quality of life in Providence — Proposing limits on gas leafblowers is an opportunity to communicate to the mayor and City Council that residents want more decisive action to address noise levels they have endured for far too long, and are tired of being ignored by those responsible under city law for addressing them. There’s simply no point in passing new laws if city officials don’t even bother to implement existing ones.
If you’d like to show your support for state and / or local legislation to regulate gas leafblowers,
please add your name here. If you’d like to get involved in the Noise Project‘s work to address the
adverse effects of gas leafblowers, please contact us and include “leafblowers” in the subject line.
1 In 1975, the small northern California community of Carmel (where Clint Eastwood was mayor for two years in the mid-1980s) became the first U.S. municipality to ban leafblowers. Hundreds more have followed its example since then.
2 A two-stroke, gas-burning leafblower emits 23 times the amount of carbon monoxide and nearly 300 times the amount of non-methane hydrocarbons as a pickup truck, which has a catalytic converter. This disparity will only increase as more people switch to electric vehicles.
3 In her April 2021 newsletter, Councilmember Anthony cited leafblowers as one of the three top noise sources she receives the most complaints about. The other two were fireworks and ATVs, which the city is formally working to address.
4 Leafblower noise output is usually measured at a distance of 50 feet, but the density of housing in Providence means they are often much closer to adjacent property. Prohibiting leafblower use on Sundays would allow people to enjoy their homes and backyards for at least one day every weekend. And given that they’re used to gather leaves, they’re not needed in summer or winter.