The video above was shot by letter writer Austin Young.
My current life in Montclair is uniquely wonderful and surreal. I am a parent — a parent beckoned back to my hometown who swam against the current to raise my two kids here.
I have many nostalgias, but one crisply slices through them all: autumn in Montclair. It’s something I would never experience in Berkeley, California where the amount of seasonal change is illustrated by Mark Twain’s quotation “The coldest winter I’ve ever experienced was a summer in San Francisco.” There’s something irreplaceable about wandering around with my kids as we crunch through leaves, seeing, smelling, and feeling the muted vibrancy everywhere. Having to worry that they will be poisoned in the process does put a damper on things. It’s something I would never worry about in Berkeley. The law protected my children there.
There is mounting evidence that a commonly present outdoor hazard might permanently harm children: leaf blowers. Specifically, their intense carbon monoxide emissions.
The latest research — including the 2015 paper “Carbon monoxide pollution and neurodevelopment: A public health concern” by Richard J. Levy, professor of anesthesiology at Columbia University Medical Center — suggests that the developing brain is extraordinarily vulnerable to carbon monoxide exposure, at levels and durations vastly lower than once thought. In multiple studies by Levy and others, animal models show developmental toxicity from single short-term exposures at 5 parts per million. Child and animal studies have shown long-term cognitive impairments associated with single, short exposures to neurotoxicants, which disrupt the same brain processes disrupted by low-level carbon monoxide exposure. One study, “Carbon monoxide and anesthesia-induced neurotoxicity” (also by Levy) explored possible neurologic disruptions from just an average of 4 ppm. The unfortunate history of lead exposure in children comes to mind.
What level can you expect to find on the sidewalk, across the street from leaf blowing? I know because I’ve measured it with a precision sensor: 39 ppm — exceeding National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and World Health Organization exposure limits for adults, all of which are not informed by recent research. This was close to a preschool in the First Ward. Leaf blowing is not just a noise issue, it’s not just an environmental issue. Evidence suggests it poses a risk to the brains of children.
It’s hard to accept that this threat exists while there are feasible electric options available.
Restricting usage to certain dates does not protect children. School zones have already been codified into municipal law. If we’re not willing to ban gas-powered leaf blowers outright, should we at least do so in those zones?
Anyone who’d like to contact me to speak about this can email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Editor’s notes: The carbon monoxide exposure guidelines from health organizations referenced above additionally factor in the length of time of an exposure.
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