Dueling proposals target leaf blowers

When the Town Meeting convenes May 1, residents are poised to enter a lively debate over dueling articles targeting regulations governing leaf blowers in town.

In 2022, the Town Meeting passed a seasonal ban on the use of gas-powered leaf blowers from Memorial Day to Labor Day. The ban passed on a vote of 254 to 202, a 52-vote margin, and that victory was hard-earned following more than a decade of failed leaf-blower proposals.

A Venn diagram explaining three factors that contribute to hearing loss from prolonged exposure to sounds higher than 85 decibels. COURTESY PHOTO / NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF HEALTH

Now on the 2023 Town Warrant, the Town Meeting will consider two citizen petitions. Article 47, sponsored by Todd R. Norman, seeks to erase the leaf-blower regulations, and its passage could come before the ban goes into effect for the first time in May.

Meanwhile, Article 48 endeavors to strengthen the existing bylaw, adding enforcement provisions and penalties for noncompliance. Marblehead police and health departments and their designees would enforce the bylaw, targeting property owners upon whose land infractions occur — not landscapers or lawn care businesses. Penalties would progress with each violation, and they would be as follows:

— First offense, written warning

— Second offense, $100 fine

— Third and subsequent offenses, $200 fine

According to an analysis of gasoline-powered leaf blower bans, those penalties fall in line with others across the Bay State. Between 2012 and today, Brookline, Winchester, Lexington, Cambridge, Lincoln, Newton and Arlington have such bans.

Jeanie Stahl and Dr. Kathy Breslin, two main sponsors of Article 48, said they believe the ban passed in 2022 because information on the adverse effects of gasoline-powered leaf blowers is more prevalent in society.

“There is more data. The big thing that’s changed is the public is getting educated,” said Stahl, sitting at a table with Breslin in her home. “So our municipalities, state governments and people are starting to realize that the science out there says gas-powered leaf blowers are unhealthy.”

Breslin said she lives in a condominium complex where leaf blowing can go on for three hours, and she says that no one should be subjected to such a high level of noise.

“I treat a lot of people with hearing loss, including landscapers,” she said. “As people accumulate so many years of loud noise, they ultimately have difficulty hearing as they age.”

Prolonged exposure to noise at or above 85 decibels can result in permanent hearing loss, according to the National Institute of Health. The agency reports the extent of damage to your hearing caused by noise depends on three factors:

— Decibel level: How loud the sound is.

— Distance: How close you are to the source of the sound.

 — Time: The length of time you are exposed to the sound.

A Massachusetts Medical Society report notes gasoline leaf blowers produce between 95 and 110 decibels. To put that in context, that’s equivalent to a plane taking off or a construction worker jackhammering cement.

The Marblehead Current attempted to reach the sponsor of Article 47. However, in prior years and at past Town Meetings, some residents and owners of landscaping companies argued they use gas-powered leaf blowers to efficiently carry out their lawn care.

A ban also impacts the bottom line because alternatives, including electric and battery-operated leaf blowers, are less efficient, they’ve argued. Opponents also express their use as a matter of individual freedom.

Gas-powered leaf blowers also produce significant pollution, emitting a range of harmful substances such as carbon monoxide, nitrous oxides, hydrocarbons, raw gasoline and fine particulate matter.

“These leaf blowers produce harmful emissions and volatile organic compounds that can worsen respiratory problems and contribute to climate change,” Breslin said. “And again, the noise pollution they create can be a real nuisance for residents and wildlife alike.”

In addition to the proposed bylaw, some residents believe the ban could help Marblhread reach its net-zero emissions goal by 2040.

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