IDTWHQ got all the way up to 16.9°C this afternoon under clear skies, a nearly perfect early-autumn day ahead to start a week-long string of them. Fortunately the landscaping company comes to my complex on Fridays, so I didn't have to rearrange my meeting schedule to work around their leaf blowers. This coming Friday, though, I expect they'll be back. As they will next spring, unless I can finally convince my HOA to ban them, just in time for the 50th anniversary of the technology:
Fifty years ago, in yards and parks across the United States, the sound of this season would have been the whoosh and scrape of people with their rakes, gathering leaves into piles. Followed by the sounds of children jumping into the piles, which I’m sure is what happened soon after the Denver Post photographer took the picture above, in 1974.
Then, thanks in part to a man named Aldo Vandermolen, over these past fifty years the autumn soundscape dramatically changed. By many accounts Vandermolen, who died six years ago at age 79, invented (or was one of the pioneers in creating) the device whose sound now characterizes this season and so much of the rest of the year.
Why is this worth thinking about, even for a minute? As a summary of the many previous posts on this theme, and of the evidence and testimony that persuaded the Washington DC City Council five years ago to vote unanimously in favor of a ban on gas-powered blowers:
Public health and environmental justice. The primitive two-stroke gas engines in these machines, already outlawed for most uses except lawn care, are direct health threats to the people who use them. In big cities this typically means hired crews, whose members are typically low-wage, in many cases recent immigrants, and rarely with long-term health coverage. They are exposed all day to PM 2.5 particulate pollution and carcinogenic emissions. By the time they are in their 30s or 40s, many will have significant, permanent hearing loss and other health problems. (See expert discussion here.)
So many other reasons, too. In fact, leaf blowers may have caused the rapid decline in lightning bugs I and my neighbors have noticed over the past few years.