Since 2021, Montclair has had a five month ban on leaf blowers that lasts from May 15 to October 15. A group of concerned residents have shown up to town council meetings for months, calling for Montclair to eliminate the use of gas leaf blowers in town year round, citing noise pollution and environmental risks caused by leaf blowers that are detrimental to the health and spirit of the town.
Deborah Nagin, who worked in the environmental health field for 25 years, voiced her objections to leaf blowers in a public comment at the April 25th Montclair Council meeting. Nagin specifically highlighted the consequences leaf blowers have on the local environment.
“Leaf blowers are a bad technology,” Nagin said. “They are bad for people. They are bad for the environment. Beyond the harmful and excessive noise, leaf blowers generate wind storms filled with hazardous contaminants. Gas powered leaf blowers are inefficient combustion engines.
Nagin supplemented her argument with statistics.
“Thirty percent of the gas and oil that [leaf blowers] burn is released directly into the environment. It’s estimated that running a gas powered leaf blower for one hour generates the equivalent air pollution of driving a car for 15 hours.”
This is backed up by a 2011 study by the research firm Edmunds.
“Localities across this country, including our neighbor in Maplewood, have passed leaf blower laws,” Nagin said. “Landscapers in those municipalities have adjusted their practices, deploying their crews in different ways and using different techniques to get the job done. They have used those problem solving skills to adjust to change.”
Anna Grossman, who has lived in Montclair for six years, also supports a ban on gas-powered leaf blowers.
“The emissions and the carbon output of landscaping equipment, specifically, gas leaf blowers at the moment are outsized compared to what we need them to do,” Grossman said. “It’s an outdated method of land management that is unhealthy for people, for the climate, and for the environment, and for pollinators.”
Grossman also believes that leaf blowers are not necessary to maintain a healthy garden.
“I’m a gardener. I became a gardener when I moved to Montclair. I don’t use leaf blowers,” Grossman said. “I learned how to garden through the classes they offered at Van Vleck. They taught me to not get rid of my leaves. They taught me how to create a healthy garden, which in turn is healthy for humans and for pollinators.”
Right now, the town council appears split on banning gas leaf blowers. In a letter to his constituents, Councilor-at-Large Peter Yacobellis positioned himself between the two sides.
“My position right now is: Hold and get more information,” Yacobellis wrote. “A ban is therefore not imminent as I am the swing vote on this issue.”
Yacobellis does see merit in banning leaf blowers.
“They are toxic for the environment and the workers who use them,” Yacobellis wrote. “They’re disruptively noisy. They are excessively over-used on the silliest things. Every speck of grass or dirt doesn’t need to be (and shouldn’t) be cleared using a blower. In fact, mulch-mowing and leaving some natural debris on the ground is actually healthy.”
Despite these sentiments, Yacobellis does not feel a ban is practical yet. Montclair’s Department of Public Works has not found an effective alternative to gas-powered leaf blowers.
“I’m also getting fierce pushback from landscape companies,” Yacobellis wrote. “[They are] promising to cancel contracts and stop servicing Montclair, including providing snow removal services. That gives me pause.”
Once Yacobellis feels a ban is practical, he will support a leaf blower ban.
Second Ward Councilor Robin Schlager has said she would support the ban.
“I’ve looked at their data, I’ve read all their emails, and they convinced me this is the right thing to do,” said Schlager, at the April 25 council meeting, of residents’ efforts to ban gas leaf blowers. “When we do have an ordinance, and we’ve all had a chance to look at it, I will support that and I will second that ordinance.”
Schlager said she hoped to do it sooner rather than later, and hopefully at the May 16 council meeting.
“If the town of Maplewood could do it, I’m sure we can do that as well,” she added.
Councilor Bob Russo said he is working on a compromise ordinance for Tuesday’s council meeting.
“I need a second to even place it on the agenda. So many excuses for not leading the way here. Electric is the future and it’s possible now to shift our municipal equipment by this fall. The cost is minimal, staff training is easy, and I don’t want to impose restrictions on residents or landscapers that we don’t abide by ourselves,” said Russo.
“The former manager was never on board with a change and seemed to resist the public’s demand for transition to electric leaf blowers,” Russo added. “Hopefully, a majority of the Council will set a progressive policy for Montclair, so we continue to be a leader in environmental health and sustainability!”
Grossman believes a leaf blower ban will eventually happen.
“Good politicians bring people together and find solutions,” Grossman said. ”We have some very smart people on the town council. I think they’re going to be thoughtful. They all understand this is a public health and environmental health issue.”