Appendix I - Leaf Blowers
APPENDIX I - LEAF BLOWERS
TOWN BOARD PUBLIC HEARING
APRIL 14, 2021
Good evening. My name is Theresa Tori. I am Chair of the Town’s Conservation Advisory Council (the “CAC”). I will be making a short presentation on behalf of the CAC. Then Mike Sigal, Vice-Chair of the CAC, will introduce Dr. Kenneth Spaeth, a Greenburgh resident, who is a medical doctor at Northwell Health and a Professor at the Hofstra School of Public Health.
The Supervisor has asked the CAC several times to report on the impacts of leaf blowers. Responding to the Supervisor’s 2017 request, the CAC researched the issues and in 2018 submitted a written Report to the Town Board and then discussed its Report with the Town Board in a public work session. Responding to the Supervisor’s 2020 request to develop a law, the CAC developed the law based on its previous research and additional research. To understand the basis for the law, I’d like to briefly share our findings.
The CAC’s study revealed that blowers, both gas and electric, cause unwanted and harmful impact to both residents and the environment:
- Air-borne Particulates: Blowers, both gas and electric, emit Hurricane force winds. These Hurricane force winds involuntarily expose residents to air-borne particulates. These can lodge in lungs. Children, the elderly, individuals with asthma, and people of color are particularly at risk. This is especially the case during the summer months, when atmospheric conditions result in particulates remaining in the atmosphere for longer periods of time.
- Environmental: Due to their Hurricane force winds, both gas and electric blowers adversely impact regeneration of soils, and destroy the larvae and eggs of insects and pollinators needed to sustain birds and vegetation.
- Noise: Blowers involuntarily expose residents to annoying noise levels. Almost all blowers, both gas and electric, operate at a decibel level above which the EPA sets as comfortable. The Town’s Noise Ordinance presently prohibits gas blowers to operate above 55 decibels. The CAC studied the manufacturer’s specifications for over 300 blowers, both gas and electric. Only 5 electric blowers have decibel levels below that allowed by the Town’s Noise Ordinance.
Based on the CAC’s study, from a health, environmental and noise annoyance to residents perspective, both gas and electric blowers need to be addressed in the local law. While it may have been, at one point in time, that electric blowers were less powerful and less noisy than gas blowers, that is no longer true. Today’s electric blowers have Hurricane force winds and decibel levels which spew air-borne particulates, destroy soils, and create noise pollution. As noted, the CAC researched over 300 blowers on the market. This included approximately 150 electric blowers. Only five had noise levels below that allowed under the Town Code.
The University of California School of Engineering has validated that leaf blowers are a source of air-borne particulate matters. The National Academy of Science has identified this fine particulate matter as the largest environmental risk factor in the United States. According to the American Lung Association, those most at risk are infants, children, teens, individuals with asthma, and people of color. Leaf blower legislation is supported by the Medical Society of the State of NY, the American Cancer Society, the Asthma Coalition, and the Breast Cancer Coalition.
The law proposed by the CAC would allow both gas and electric blowers to be used (i) for a spring clean-up period from March 1 - May 15 and (ii) for a fall clean-up period from October 15 - December 15.
Based on comments at the last hearing, the fines have been lowered and a provision added that there would only be a warning (and no fine) for the first offense. An exemption has been added for public safety activities of the Hartsdale Public Parking District and for the use of blowers to remove snow.
The Town Supervisor may suspend the law when there is a weather emergency.
Exceptions would also be allowed so that blowers could be used year-around for (i) debris clean-up resulting from authorized tree removals, (ii) clean-up within 2 ft. of outdoor equipment, such as air conditioning compressors and generators, and related above-ground piping or wiring, and (iii) public safety activities by the Parks Dept., the Dept. of Public Works, and the Hartsdale Public Parking District - limited with respect to public roads, public parking lots, road islands and public parking garages. Exemptions for public safety activities are not new. For at least 22 years, since at least 1999 when Alfreda Williams was Town Clerk, the Town Clerk on behalf of the Town has granted waivers from Town law for public safety activities of the Hartsdale Parking District. The exemption for the Parks Dept and DPW is similarly limited to public safety activities.
The CAC considered, but did not recommend, other exceptions. For example: an exception for homeowners. The CAC did not recommend such an exception because the harms caused by blowers occur regardless of in whose hands the blower is operated.
The practicalities of enforceability were also considerations of the CAC. For the law to be enforced, all that’s needed is a calendar. No Town resources are needed to get involved in measuring sound or measuring duration of use. In connection with enforcement, a warning (not a fine) would be given for the first violation.
Finally, the law sunsets in 2 years, at which point it can be reevaluated.
Now Mike Sigal, the CAC Vice Chair, will introduce Dr. Spaeth, a Greenburgh resident with whom the CAC has consulted.
* * *
My name is Mike Sigal. I am Vice-Chair of the CAC.
I am pleased to introduce Dr. Kenneth Spaeth:
He is a practicing physician at Northwell Health, specializing in internal medicine and environmental medicine.
He received his MD from the University of Connecticut School of Medicine, and did his environmental medicine training at the Harvard School of Public Health.
Dr. Spaeth has co-authored two medical textbooks in the field of environmental medicine, and served on the EPA panel on the toxic compound PCBs in schools in New York and New Jersey.
Dr. Spaeth is also a Professor at the Hofstra School of Public Health.
[Other - Add]
Dr. Spaeth has testified on public health matters before the City Councils of Philadelphia and New York City.
Dr. Spaeth . . . .
[Dr. Spaeth’s presentation is available on the video of the April 14, 2021 Town Board public hearing on the Town website]
CAC REPORT ON BLOWER LAW
TOWN BOARD WORK SESSION
JANUARY 24, 2018 6:30 pm
III. Development of the Recommendation
A1 Time Frame, A2 Areas, A3 Cost, A4 Enforcement, A5 Other Municipal Blower Laws, A6 Resident Self-Use
B CAC Reports to Town Board
C. Draft Legislation
IV. Views of Civic Associations and Landscaper Associations, Specific Comments
V. CAC’S Analysis, Request for Direction from Town Board
In the spring of 2017, over 50 Old Edgemont, Cotswold and Hartsdale residents, together with the Board of Directors of The Edgemont Association, presented a letter to the Town Board asking it to adopt further restrictions on the use of blowers. That was referred to the CAC by the Town Supervisor, who asked the CAC (which under the Town Code advises the Town Board on environmental matters affecting the Town and its residents) to try to develop a "compromise" law. Collectively, the CAC has spent several hundreds of hours in research, discussion, drafting formal Reports to the Town Board, and community outreach in response to the Supervisor’s request.
The first thing the CAC did was to study the issue.
What we found was that virtually all blowers, both gas and electric, have Hurricane force winds under the Saffir-Simpson wind scale, which is the wind scale used by the U.S. National Hurricane Center. We studied approximately 40 blowers. Gas blowers have wind forces from 150 mph to 251 mph, averaging 184 mpg, which is equivalent to a Category 5 Hurricane. Electric blowers have wind forces from 90 mph to 250 mph, averaging 170 mph, which is also equivalent to a Category 5 Hurricane.
These Hurricane wind forces are directed towards the ground through a relatively narrow tube, concentrating them on a small area. This has at least three adverse environmental impacts:
Firstly, these concentrated Hurricane forces involuntarily expose residents to filthy particulate matter thrown into the air. These include animal waste (feces and urine), fungi, spores, mold, herbicides, pesticides, rodenticides, and substances such as lead, mercury, copper and arsenic. From impervious surfaces, petroleum distillates, metal from break linings and paint dust are also thrown in the air. The particulates thrown into the air can lodge in the lungs of residents at distances up to 65 feet away from the blower. Some particulates remain in the air for hours.
Secondly, blowers involuntarily expose residents to annoying noise levels. Almost all blowers, both gas and electric, operate at a noise level above the level which the US E.P.A. sets as comfortable conversational level. Many, both gas and electric, operate at noise levels above the levels which the EPA and the World Health Organization calculate as having adverse auditory impacts.
Thirdly, these concentrated Hurricane force winds are harmful to soils and adversely affect soil regeneration. Environmentally, we need the soils to be healthy, and to regenerate annually, to support healthy vegetation in the community and assist in mitigation of stormwater from running off properties.
We did not pursue the issue of emissions from blowers, as the US E.P.A. and Westchester County already regulate that.
III. Development of the Recommendation.
A. Based on what we found, the next question was what to do. The obvious environmental baseline is to prohibit all blower use because of their adverse effects on residents and the environment. But, the Supervisor asked the CAC to try to develop a "compromise" blower law.
1. Time Frame.
The first thing the CAC focused on was time frame. Since two of the three adverse impacts -- air borne particulates and noise -- are more impactive when residents are outdoors, we focused on the late spring, summer and early fall period . . . and recommended restricting blower use for 5 months of the year, May through September.
The law the CAC recommended is somewhat akin to regulations in municipal building codes -- it doesn't say that a resident can't do something, in this case yard care, but rather regulates one of the means of doing so. And, trying to develop a compromise as requested by the Supervisor, we recommended the restriction for only a minority of time, five months or 41%, during the year.
The CAC felt this was a reasonable compromise: (A) Substantial relief from both involuntary exposure to air-borne pollutants and involuntary exposure to noise pollution would be achieved by restricting blower use in the period of the year when residents are more frequently outdoors. (B) At the same time, this restricted period would not cover the times when spring and fall clean-ups typically occur.
The second thing the CAC focused on, in trying to develop a compromise law as requested by the Supervisor, was the areas of the Town to be covered.
(i) The CAC did not propose regulating commercial areas for a combination of two reasons: Those areas are full of traffic fumes and noise, and the expectation of environmental protection in those areas is not as high as in residential areas where people live. Also, those areas are mostly impervious surfaces, and the need for soil protection is less there.
(ii) The CAC did not propose regulating golf courses. Although part of the grounds are highly manicured with chemicals and other treatments, part are left rough and to some degree compensate for the environmental impacts of the highly treated portions. Also, golf courses are private clubs where members willingly expose themselves to the effects of the chemical and mechanical means of producing the manicured grounds.
(iii) We also considered residents living near commercial areas or golf courses. There's no perfect answer here. They bought with knowledge of the existence of the commercial areas or golf courses. Unless the Town Board wants to regulate commercial areas and golf courses, there's nothing practical the CAC could figure out that could be done. We considered imposing a buffer in which blowers cannot be used on commercial properties and golf courses, but the enforcement of a no-blower buffer requires a police officer to come to the site and perform a measurement while the activity was occurring, and that didn't seem practical.
(iv) Regarding Town activities, after discussing the matter with the Parks Commissioner the CAC concluded that it should not comment one way or the other. The CAC has substantial expertise in the environment, particularly in the context of Unincorporated Greenburgh . . . but, we do not have expertise in running a municipality. Use of blowers on government-owned properties involves a multiplicity of factors beyond environmental, such as taxes, budget and managing mass public events. We did, however, recommend that Department Heads report annually to the Town Board on their blower use so the public would be able to know what they do. If it wishes to do so, the Town Board could subject all or part of the Town’s activities to the blower law, either in the existing proposed legislation or subsequently, or address the issue administratively without legislation.
The third thing the CAC focused on was the cost factor for homeowners. We have empirical information from some residents, such as Diane Simon of The Edgemont Association, that they did not experience any increase in gardener cost when they told their gardeners not to use blowers. Others have told us the same thing. Admittedly, our sampling is sparse, but the gardener market, being a competitive market, may adjust to blower regulation relatively easily.
The cost issue is one of the reasons that, in the compromise law we proposed, we have included an automatic "sunset" provision. This sunset provision provides that the law would automatically expire after 2 years, unless extended by the Town Board after a noticed public hearing.
The fourth thing the CAC focused on was the practicality of enforcement. The Town already has noise regulation prohibiting more than 55 decibels (which is the EPA standard for comfortable hearing level). The noise ordinance appears to be little used to solve blower noise levels. Enforcing a noise, decibel-based regulation requires the Police Dept to (A) come on site, (B) with sound measuring equipment, (C) confirm the calibration of the equipment, and (D) then take decibel level readings.
The 5-month restricted period approach recommended by the CAC does not require anything to enforce other than a calendar.
5. Other Municipality Blower Laws.
The CAC also reviewed other blower regulation laws. We specifically looked at all of the blower laws in Westchester. For example, Scarsdale has had a blower law for 20 years. The Scarsdale blower law was challenged in court, and upheld. We did not find any instance of where (A) a Westchester municipality adopted a blower law and (B) the law was overturned by the courts or where the municipality rescinded the law after a few years due to public opposition.
Most of the blower laws, including all in Westchester County, regulate only gas powered blowers. The CAC did not recommend copying that. Our study of electric blowers revealed that the average wind velocity of electric blowers was that of a Category 5 Hurricane, and the average decibels from electric blowers expulsion of this wind force was 76 decibels, which is about twice higher than the EPA and WHO level of what's comfortable to the human ear. So, the "inconvenient truth" is that regulating only gas blowers does not address: (a) the involuntary exposure of our residents to harmful air-borne particulates, or (b) the involuntary exposure of residents to noise pollution or (c) the harms to soils in the community.
6. Resident Self-Use.
This was added to the CAC recommendation because Town Supervisor and The Edgemont Association felt that exempting residents using electric blowers would make the law more acceptable to some. The CAC suggested a "note from the doctor" clause in case a resident broke a leg or had some other reason why the resident couldn't personally use an electric blower. No medical information would be required.
B. The CAC issued three Reports to the Town Board: April 27, May 9, and May 11, 2017. The CAC also, at the Supervisor's request, issued an analysis of a blower law proposal in Irvington, issued July 10, 2017.
C. At the Supervisor's request, the CAC developed actual draft legislation. The core of the law is that blower use would not be permitted in residential areas during the 5-month period, May - September, and the law would automatically expire after two years unless extended by the Town Board. The most current draft was distributed to the Town Board on October 19, 2017.
IV. Views of Civic Associations and Landscaper Associations, Specific Comments
A. The CAC recommendation has been endorsed by The Old Edgemont Association and the Southern Greenville Civic Association.
B. The CAC has made presentations to the Edgemont Community Council and the Cotswold Civic Association. The ECC appeared to be opposed, and the Cotswold Association appeared to be relatively split. As far as we know, neither has taken an official position one way or the other.
C. The Council of Greenburgh Civic Associations and the Ardsley Chase Home Owners Association are opposed.
D. No one has disputed the "science" the CAC's research revealed: The Hurricane force of blowers, both gas and electric, (i) throws filthy and harmful pollutants into the air which residents (adults, children, seniors) can inhale into their lungs; (ii) are beyond comfortable auditory standards, and (iii) disrupts soil regeneration. No one disputes the research showing that no Westchester municipality which adopted a blower law had "buyer's remorse" and repealed it a few years later. No one disputes that the automatic expiration after two years "sunset" provision, thus allowing a second look and requiring an affirmative action by the Town Board to continue the law, is legally effective to provide a safeguard for the community.
E. In connection with our meeting with civic associations, we were referred to a bill in the California Assembly to prohibit local municipalities from enacting regulation of blowers, except for noise. We reviewed the bill, which was introduced in 1999. It was co-sponsored by the Ass'n of Latin American Gardeners, California Landscape Contractors Ass'n, and Lawn and Garden Equipment Dealers Coalition. It was opposed by 13 local California municipalities and the League of California Cities. The bill has not become law in California in the ensuing 18 years.
F. We were also referred to the differencing view of The National Association of Landscape Professionals. We reviewed the Landscaper Association’s position statement: "NALP supports the premise that landscape professionals should have access to use all necessary tools to provide landscape and lawn maintenance and related services. Consequently, we oppose efforts to ban or restrict the use of gasoline-powered leaf blowers. NALP believes such measures are unnecessary, result in bad public policy, are extremely difficult to enforce, and serve no public good."
It is inaccurate to say blowers are "necessary" tools. Lawn care existed long before blowers. The means by which professionals, including doctors, lawyers, electricians and plumbers, perform their work is often subject to regulation. No supporting data or rationale is given by the Association to why those performing landscaping services, such as its members, should per se be exempt from regulation.
The Association is correct that some blower regulations are difficult to enforce. Those based on noise require a police officer to come to the site with sound measurement equipment, calibrate the equipment, and then take sound readings. Those based on a buffer require a police officer to come to the site and measure distances. Regulation based on a use restriction from X date to Y date is the easiest to enforce of any which the CAC has seen in blower regulation laws (in Westchester and beyond).
The CAC does not believe the existence of this Landscapers Association's self-interested and unsupported view of public policy advances an analytical analysis in any meaningful way or is deserving of any credibility.
G. Based on comments at the ECC and Cotswold meetings, written comments from the Council of Greenburgh Civic Association, emails which the Supervisor has forwarded to us, and comments we have individually heard from Town residents, the objections seem to fall into the following categories:
1. There are a few environmental deniers.
2. A common objection is my property is my private castle and shouldn't be regulated.
3. Why should the Town tell residents what to do, but not itself be subject to the same rules.
4. Why aren't golf courses regulated, because what they do impacts adjacent residential properties.
5. I'm all for the environment, but the law should not regulate a property such as mine . . . because it's too big, it's too small, it's too something else . . . but, I'm all for the environment.
6. The Town should pay me for my blower if I can't use it.
7. Leaves will accumulate if there aren't blowers.
8. There's some non-core provision which someone doesn't like how drafted (though no drafting fix is given), and thus the law shouldn't be passed . . . or, at a minimum, it should be restudied for many more years.
9. Having a ban based on months of the year would be too hard for the police to enforce.
10. Notwithstanding the science, we should not regulate electric blowers because no other Westchester community has done so and we must be cabined by that.
11. A few mentioned cost, but this does not seem to be as big of an issue as originally thought.
V. CAC'S Analysis, Request for Direction from Town Board.
A. The CAC has spent multiple 100s of hours on this request by the Supervisor. This has lead us to 2 observations we would like to report to the Town Board:
Observation 1: Blower use is harmful to our community and its residents in three ways: (a) it involuntary exposes residents to filthy air-borne particulates, (b) it involuntary exposes residents to annoying noise, and (c) it harm soils in the community.
Observation 2: The community is relatively evenly split. But it's hard to tell exactly. Those that don't want new regulation are more motivated to show up and be vocal in expressing their viewpoint. Those in favor think this is so right, how could anyone object. So, it may be there's a slight tilt in favor of a blower law, but clearly there is no overwhelming consensus.
We also have observed that many of those opposed seem to be doctrinally inflexible, not willing to have a give-and-take discussion. The generalized concept of more compromises seems nice, but it not not likely to change views. To adopt the blower law will require adopting a law where the community is relatively evenly split. To adopt a blower law would be an act of leadership, not solely polling.
B. At this point, after almost a year of work and multiple 100s of hours, the CAC feels it is appropriate to ask the whole Town Board for direction.
Underlying that is a determination the Town Board needs to make as to whether it is willing to adopt a blower law on which the community is relatively evenly split (and will still be split even if further compromises are made). The CAC has come up with five options we think are worth discussing with the Town Board. Perhaps there are others.
1. First Option:
Going forward with the CAC's recommended compromise law, (a) restricting blower use May - September in residential areas, and (b) revisiting continuation of the law after it has been in place for 2 years. To go forward, the Town Board would need to make a determination that it is willing to adopt a blower law where the community is relatively evenly split.
2.. Second Option:
The Supervisor has expressed to the CAC that he believes we should focus on a further compromise. One possible further compromise is to restrict only use of gas blowers, but not to restrict use of electric blowers. This is illogical environmentally, because electric blowers also have Hurricane force winds. But that might be a viable further compromise because one of the objections, which is accurate, is that the other 12 Westchester municipalities which have blower laws only regulate gas blowers.
The CAC would support that compromise if that's the way the Town Board wants to go, but we point out that, as previously noted, opponents are doctrinally inflexible and do not appear to want to seek compromises, and this compromise would probably not move the evenly-split needle very much. So, the Town Board could make this gesture of further compromise . . . and it may have some PR value, but it still comes down to whether the Town Board is willing to adopt a blower law where the community is relatively evenly split.
3. Third Option:
Another compromise which has been mentioned is restricting blower use to weekdays. The CAC would not support that compromise. It only solves noise issues on weekends, but it would likely mean more blower use on days when children are walking to and from school. Part of the CAC's statutory responsibility is to advise the Town Board on the impact of environmental matters on residents, and the CAC could not favorably advise the Town Board to concentrate blower use on school days. Of course, the Town Board could, regardless of the CAC's lack of support, adopt this approach if it wanted to.
4. Fourth Option:
A fourth option for the Town Board is just abandoning the initiative on the grounds there is not a community consensus at this point. That's a political issue, not an environmental issue, as to which the CAC expresses no opinion, as the CAC stays out of political matters.
5. Fifth Option:
A fifth option is to defer consideration of the blower law.
From the CAC's perspective, in the big picture of the Town's environment, we are more concerned with getting adopted the excellent community tree law Dep. Comm. Aaron Schmidt has developed. The CAC is now working with Aaron to do some non-substantive redrafting (a) which would hopefully make the law more "resident friendly" in reading and (b) to structure into the law implementation processes where, depending on the number of trees to be affected, the input from residents and the fee requirements on residents would vary depending upon the context. Trees are the single-most important environmental factor for the Town. The CAC would not want bitterness from the fight over the blower law to backlash into opposition into the tree law, which in the long run is more important to the community's environment.
Under this option, the two laws would be staged, so that the tree law goes first and then the blower law would be reconsidered at some later date after adoption of the tree law.
C. So, in summary, the CAC is open to:
- Going forward with the blower law it recommended, if the Town Board is willing to adopt in the circumstance of relatively even split community views
- Going forward with a further compromise exempting electric blowers, if the Town Board is willing to adopt in the circumstance of relatively even split community views
- Abandoning this initiative, if the Town Board is not willing to adopt in the circumstance of relatively even split community views
- Deferring further consideration of the blower law until after the tree law is adopted.
The CAC would support any of those decisions made by the Town Board.
The CAC would not support a decision concentrating use of blowers on school days.
CONSERVATION ADVISORY COUNCIL
January 19, 2018
cc: Town Clerk