As community members and physicians specializing in children’s health, we offer our personal perspective on the health risks of gasoline-powered leaf blowers (GPLB) for the citizens of Menlo Park, especially for our children. . While the state of California will enforce a ban on the sale of GPLBs in 2024, that won’t stop citizens from using these engines that can last 20 years or more.
Decades of rigorous scientific research have taught us that environmental pollution disproportionately affects our children. Our training and current practices in pediatric resuscitation and in the operating room constantly remind us why this is so: babies and children breathe faster than adults, they inhale a greater volume of air indexed to their body weight, and they spend more time at ground level – crawling, walking or sitting – where many environmental toxins are deposited.
More importantly, children’s developing lungs, hearts and brains are especially susceptible to environmental exposures as they grow. Children’s lungs continue to grow and develop alveoli (the gas-exchanging lung sacs) until at least the ninth year of life. Therefore, any toxic exposure experienced today will be magnified in the future on a logarithmic scale.
LPPGs have two main contributors to adverse health effects: air pollution, both gaseous chemicals and dust/particulates, and noise pollution.
Air pollution: GPLBs and all two-stroke engines such as lawn mowers burn a mixture of oil and gasoline. Unlike cars, they don’t have exhaust filters or catalytic converters. Emissions contain known and suspected carcinogens such as unburned gasoline, benzene, formaldehyde and ozone. For reference, GPLBs release up to 300 times more hydrocarbons than most cars and trucks.
Particulate air pollution: All leaf blowers work by propelling particles into the air. They propel soil dust into the air – and into children’s lungs – which contains everything from microscopic particles of soil and brake lining powder deposited on road surfaces to soil chemicals such as herbicides. and pesticides. This particulate matter damages the lungs, is harmful to everyone today and deleterious for decades to come to the developing lungs of our children.
Noise pollution: GPLB motors emit up to 100 decibels of low frequency noise (noise above 85 decibels is considered hazardous). Research shows that noise increases blood pressure and the risk of heart attacks and strokes, harms children’s development and learning, and increases stress hormones like cortisol. It is also a critically important sleep disturbance as noise easily passes through windows and walls, even at a distance of 100 feet. You may ask, “Who sleeps at 10 a.m. because our laws require leaf blowers to be used during the day?” Our most vulnerable – our babies and young children – depend on this daytime sleep for brain development and growth.
We understand that there are significant economic, political and societal implications to imposing an immediate ban on the use of GPLB. We trust the experts in these respective fields to deliver a creative and fair proposition that meets both the needs of the workforce using GPLBs and the community that needs its yards and fields kept clean. Although we are not experts in these areas, we argue that an immediate ban will also help protect the health of gardeners, workers and citizens of Menlo Park using GPLBs, who now inhale the gas and particles while working. . They too deserve protection from these environmental toxins.
It is not only the basic function and duty of government to provide clean air, but we believe there is also a clear mandate for our communities to promote a healthy environment for our children. As parents, doctors and residents of Menlo Park, we ask our community leaders to carefully consider this issue.
Note: These concepts have been well summarized and rigorously researched by Leah Elkins in the Menlo Park Environmental Quality Commission Agenda Item C-2 paper dated September 22, 2021.
David M. Axelrod, MD, and Elliot Krane, MD, are faculty physicians at Stanford Children’s Health. The opinions expressed do not represent the views of Stanford.