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Guest Opinion: No to Leaf Blowers & a Loud Call to Action for Realtors

leaf blowers Jonathan strikeout

In a guest opinion piece, Oakwood Avenue resident Brook Packard would like to pull the plug on the noise and toxins spewing from leaf blowers, and bring peace and quiet back to Rye neighborhoods.

Packard issues a loud call to action for local realtors “The time has come for realtors to lead the way. For the sake of children, and savvy prospective clients, here’s the reality: Stop promoting the aesthetic of the immaculate lawn.” Asked if she has a lawn, Packard tells MyRye.com “We don’t have a lawn. We have groundcover, rocks, and shrubs in the front yard. Groundcover and a small kitchen garden in the backyard. No maintenance! We get hummingbirds, butterflies, and fireflies in the summer. No noise or stench from lawn mowers or leaf blowers from our home.”

By Oakwood Avenue resident Brook Packard

On a beautiful, sunny November Saturday the leaf blowers began at 8:30 AM. There was exactly seven minutes of quiet out of eight hours of roaring leaf blowers.

Autumn used to be my favorite season. A time to savor family memories of outdoor activities. Now, to experience autumn’s uniqueness I drive hours away from my home. The pleasure of the crisp sound, musty scent, and colorful beauty of fallen leaves. There’s a lesson in this season. The affirmation of life’s cycles, knowing that as leaves compost, new life will come in the spring. Children today miss out on those sweet days. Their memories of autumn will have a background score that sounds like a landing field of B52’s.

The decibels from leaf blowers negatively impacts everyone in the neighborhood. The sound reduces productivity, disturbs napping children, and those who are at home recovering from illness. Constant loud noise causes rising blood pressure, heart rate, adrenaline, increasing stress responses. None of us need more stress right now.

Police, firefighters, EMS, healthcare workers, and others who work nights are trying to sleep while leaf blowers roar. All the front-porch clapping and banging of pots can’t compensate for respecting the rest of essential workers.

The noise from leaf blowers is bad enough. The biggest concern when it comes to all leaf blowers is that the dust and toxins they kick up linger in the atmosphere for hours. This cloud has a radius of 5 to 8 homes. Children walking home from school will inhale particulate matter composed of animal feces, molds, fungi, pesticides, and other carcinogenic material blown about earlier in the day.

These drifting particulates – particulate matter 2.5 (PM 2.5) are so small that once inhaled they remain in the body and bloodstream for life. Linked to PM 2.5 are cancer, dementia, erectile dysfunction, and the aggravation of asthma and chronic pulmonary issues.

A 2004 study in the New England Journal of Medicine provides definitive evidence that children exposed to dirty air leads to a permanent reduced ability to breathe.

This is not what anyone would call a safe environment for families. Would you buy a home in an area that offers children a lifetime of health problems?

“I feel as if the realtor pulled a bait-and-switch” said a young mom who moved from midtown Manhattan to Westchester. “I was promised a quiet, safe neighborhood for my family. But that’s not a reality. My baby can’t nap, I can’t have friends over, and we were never told about the health risks. I’m finding all that out the hard way.”

Another parent describes going to three different playgrounds with their children for some play time. They gave up as each playground was surrounded by leaf blowers. Those aren’t playgrounds. They’re lethal battlegrounds.

In the interest of “curb appeal” Westchester realtors encourage the pristine, green lawn. Often the maintenance of these lawns involves chemical fertilizers and weed killers. The residue from these toxins don’t break down. Ever. They seep into our groundwater and streams. When children or pets play on a chemically-treated lawn, that toxic residue carries into the home, remaining on couches, countertops, and in bedding.

The current generation of prospective homeowners from New York City are aware of this. They track articles and discuss the leaf blower situation in Facebook groups, investigating the real scoop on Westchester’s quality of life. And they’re considering buying elsewhere. This demographic does not want their children poisoned by the aesthetic of the lawn. They don’t want to buy a home in a neighborhood where the safety and health of others is the lowest priority. They want kind, considerate neighbors. The kind of community that practices the values that form kind, compassionate adults.

The tidy lawn aesthetic destroys soil quality while killing birds, the bugs they feed on, and beneficial insects. The kind of wildlife that make for happy childhood memories. There is an “insect apocalypse” happening right now. All leaf blowers – gas and electric – contribute to the demise of insects. And when the insects go, we all go.

During the time of corona virus, we are learning to pivot for the greater good. Cultivating different attitudes and skill sets is essential to facing the challenges ahead. We must value community and mutual respect. “I’ve got mine so who cares about you?” was always ugly. The realities revealed in 2020 makes that attitude both ugly and callous. The time has come for realtors to lead the way. For the sake of children, and savvy prospective clients, here’s the reality: Stop promoting the aesthetic of the immaculate lawn. Beauty and value in a home goes way beyond appearances.

The worst victims of the lawn aesthetic are those who operate the leaf blowers. These workers are the most likely to have lung damage, hearing loss, and the accompanying stress that comes from these machines. Moreover, they deserve skills that regenerate neighborhoods instead of destroying them. Skills include consulting on and planting pollinator-friendly yards and kitchen gardens; building trellises for vertical gardens, small greenhouses, and backyard compost bins.

It doesn’t have to be this way. We can do better. Our communities, the planet, and our children require right action now. Hear that leaf blower roar? That’s the sound of respect and consideration on vacation. That tidy lawn – endlessly primped and blown – trades fleeting appearances for lasting liabilities.

As for realtors, wouldn’t it be a good thing if you nipped the “bait and switch” reputation in the bud?


    • What are your feelings about them? This needs to be a discussion where we consider our community and future. I’ve witnessed 5 separate leaf blowers going at once in the town green. Completely inefficient. That space could most likely be raked by 5 people in about the same time as the leaf blowers. Moreover, let’s consider children’s health, the health of our elders, and the creatures with which we cohabit and on who we rely for our very existence. The lawn aesthetic is not sustainable or healthy.

  1. Brooke, I whole heartedly agree with you on the Saturday 8:30 AM commercial use of the gasoline powered leaf blowers or for that matter the 8:30 AM M-F use of the commercial gasoline powered leaf blowers. However, I ( 70 year old Senior Citizen, having lived in Rye for over 37 years ) continue to: 1) Cut my own grass, with a push mover. 2) Edge my yard. 3) Keep my sidewalks clear of SNOW, Leaves and other debris. 4) Mulch my cutting while picking up and bagging the leaf and grass cuttings. AND do need the use of my electric leaf blower to ensure my sidewalks, driveway, patio and particularly my driveway drain remain clear.
    FYI – It’s getting more and more difficult to keep up with the leaves, etc. When the city council pushes the time available to use a blower later and later into the year.
    Getting back to your point, I am in favor of a later morning start, say 9:00 vs 8:30; but if this 70 year young Senior Citizen is going to continue to do his own yard work…

    • My husband is 76 and I am 66. We leave the leaves. When you see all those bagged leaves on the street, you’re looking at mass butterfly graves. Our concern is for the health of our neighbors, the future health of our children.

    • Jim, You and I have the perspective of years here in Rye – I’m 76. Have you noticed a pronounced reduction of insect life here in town? On any summer night the street light in front of our house used to be abuzz with flies, moths, you name it. Not anymore. Fireflies do appear but later and fewer. The more leaf blowers remove leaf litter and stir up latent contaminants the more depleted the biosphere becomes. Jim, you and I are witnesses to devastation.

  2. I totally agree on the hazards of leaf blowers and the natural mulch that fallen leaves provide. I would like to see leaf blowers banned all together. Wouldn’t it be great if the city of Rye took a leadership role to support a cleaner environment? Living by the sound shore, in a leaf blower-free zone would certainly be appealing for home buyers moving up from the city.

    • I completely agree, Laura! Imagine if the realtors worked with the City Council so that they can sell homes in a healthy, peaceful, and kinder community.

  3. Leaves are good for mulch and as compost for the earth.

    Stop blowing away the leaves!

    And personally I don’t think it looks bad to have leaves

  4. Plenty of blame to go around here, I’m not sure real estate agents are the cause of the leaf-free aesthetic. Homeowners want their property to look neat, and raking isn’t a realistic ask of most landscaper crews. My landscaper knows I hate the blowers so he uses the mower to mulch leaves, and it works pretty well on my lawn. Sweeping or raking driveways and patios takes time. Why not ask your landscaper what a reasonable price would be to rake/sweep instead of blow the driveway and to try mowing the leaves on the lawn?
    Landscapers are just trying to keep their customers happy and pay their employees, so short of an outright law banning commercial blowers, they will continue. But if there was a law banning just the commercial blowers then people like Mr. Culyer could continue to use their battery or electric ones. Those don’t bother me as much and don’t produce the noxious exhaust.

    • The change in aesthetic has to begin somewhere. Why not with realtors? As for electric leaf blowers, they still destroy bird life and insect life and kick up PM 2.5. Isn’t it time we look beyond what personally bothers us and act as we live in a community?

    • We don’t use a landscaper and we don’t have a lawn. We enjoy butterflies, hummingbirds, and fireflies in our small back yard. This is not a matter of what personally bothers someone. It’s a matter of permanently damaging our neighbors’ lungs and the environment. Electric leaf blowers destroy beneficial insect life on which birds rely and they still dispel PM 2.5. Imagine if realtors could tout a homes in a town that is actually healthy for children, peaceful, and considerate of all neighbors. Enjoy the leaves! They bring all sorts of good things with them.

  5. Exellent article. Now is the time to plan mfor next year. Perhaps the library or Rye City could set up an onliine presentation or seminar.

    • Thank you, James. And that’s a good suggestion. I wrote this to begin to shift the conversation about leaf blowers beyond the typical one of horrific noise. Here’s hoping others are noticing.

  6. I agree 100%! I now live in an apartment building on the first floor with a common garden space outside my living room window. On Monday, the gardeners came in the morning with the loudest smoggiest leaf blowers. The noxious smell was so strong, even with the windows closed, that I had to leave my apartment for an hour! So true that first responders and night workers should be able to sleep during the day. What does it take to get an ordinance passed on gas leaf blowers and mowers? Perhaps the transition could be done in stages. Is there a green gardening organization?

    • I can only imagine the nightmare of living in an apartment building. And remember: The children who live in your complex are inhaling PM 2.5. The seniors with asthma and lung conditions are as well. This is a critical issue.

  7. Thank you for writing this article! I would be happy to support efforts to restrict or ban. The noise and health issues are egregious.

    • Thank you for your support, Jennifer. I’m calling on realtors because that’s where the real power lies in Westchester. ALL markets are changing due to covid. People are changing what they value, what their legacies will be. That will be reflected in where people choose to purchase homes. One way to support this is to spread the word on how leaf blowers destroy the environment, children’s health, and community.

    • Lots of good resources on your page! Thank YOU Albert. As I pointed out to Jennifer, all markets are changing due to covid. There is no going back to “normal”. It’s time realtors got ahead of the changing market by encouraging community, regenerative practices, and neighbors who value each other.

  8. Brook – this article is so spot-on! Larchmont’s Board of Trustees recently voted unanimously to completely ban leaf blowers for all residential and commercial use. I am seriously considering moving my family to Larchmont from Rye because of this. So much respect for Larchmont because of their bravery, leadership, and progressiveness in this area. I cannot even take my baby out on a walk without being swallowed by that raging, roaring leaf blower at every turn. There is no peace inside or outside of our home now because of these machines going off at all hours everyday but Sunday. I do not ever remember a time when it was this abusive and it is all so completely unnecessary and detrimental to the environment. On my walking route, I often see an older woman who told me she can only take a walk from 12 – 12:30pm because that seems to be the only time when the landscapers take a break for lunch. That is despicable when a woman paying good taxes her whole life to this city can not enjoy her neighborhood for more than a half hour a day. It’s starting to feel like prison. When it gets to this point, that’s when we all need to collectively rage against the machine – literally. I would love to be involved in getting leaf blowers banned in this city so if anyone knows how to get involved, I’d appreciate it!

  9. I’m so sorry to hear all this, Ciara. When will the realtors understand this kind of maintenance is destructive to our health, the sustainability of our community, and our lifestyles? There are choices for both homeowners and “landscape” companies. Every single other business has been forced to pivot because of covid. Why not this industry? Why isn’t the County supporting these companies by offering training? Those I know who started independent business that build compost bins, design and maintain kitchen gardens, consult on pollinator friendly yards, etc. have more business than they know what to do with. Maybe one answer is to organize our neighborhoods, making a community agreement not to use leaf blowers. I would think a community-oriented neighborhood would be of great value.

  10. California just passed a law banning all Gas leaf blowers. This is a huge win for the environment. Hopefully all states will follow.

    And there needs to be noise limits of ALL gas leaf blowers and ALL garden equipment.


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