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Gas-Powered Leaf Blowers: the Most Polluting Machinery Still in Legal Use

“Pound for pound, gallon for gallon, hour-for-hour, the two-stroke gas powered engines in leaf blowers and similar equipment are vastly the dirtiest and most polluting kind of machinery still in legal use,” James Fallows writes.
“According to the California Air Resources Board (CARB), the two-stroke leaf blowers and similar equipment in the state produce more ozone pollution than all of California’s tens of millions of cars, combined.”

How can such little engines do so much damage? It’s all about technological progress, and the lack of it: Over the past 50 years, gasoline engines for trucks and automobiles have become so much more efficient that they have reduced most of their damaging emissions-per-mile by at least 95 percent… Two-stroke engines, by contrast, are based on long-obsolete technology that inefficiently burns a slosh of oil and gasoline, and pumps out much of the unburned fuel as toxic aerosols… They’re the basis of noisy, dirty scooters and tuk-tuks in places like Jakarta, Hanoi, Manila, and Bangkok, where they’re being phased out as too polluting.

Using a two-stroke engine is like heating your house with an open pit fire in the living room — and chopping down your trees to keep it going, and trying to whoosh away the fetid black smoke before your children are poisoned by it. But these machines persist in American landscaping because they are cheap. And because — to be brutally honest — the people paying the greatest price in much of suburban American are the hired lawn-crew workers…
Fallows points out America’s Environmental Protection Agency concluded the engines expose their operators to unusually high levels of carcinogens include benzene and other dangerous substances. And “The noise produced by two-stroke engines really is different from other sounds. New acoustic research shows that its distinctive low-frequency noise penetrates vastly further than other machine-generated sound waves. It goes through solid walls.

“There is an obvious, rapidly improving alternative. That is battery-powered equipment (to say nothing of rakes)… If batteries can power a multi-ton F-150 truck, it is fatuous for landscapers to say that they aren’t strong enough for a dozen-pound leaf blower.”


Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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