Montclair will look and sound different when an all-out ban on gas-powered leaf blowers begins October 15. A group of landscapers have retained an attorney to stop the ordinance from taking effect.
Amner Deleon has been a commercial landscaping consultant for years. Now, he’s leading a crew for Blue Sky Green Earth, a New Jersey-based lawn care company that has always used electric tools.
The workers spend long hours behind an engine, gas or electric, depending on the weekday. Most split time between a few landscaping groups, breathing in exhaust fumes and bearing unsafe noise levels from the equipment. Part of the job, Deleon says, involves explaining to his rotating crew why the gas-engine industry is a hazardous business.
“A lot of people are not noticing it right now, but when they’re working out in the field, their hearing will also go,” Deleon said. “So when I talk about their health, it’s really about not inhaling the fumes and [protecting] their hearing.”
Blue Sky Green Earth services electric lawn care and gardening to Montclair, and is an example of one of the starkest changes residents say a ban on gas-powered leaf blowers can yield.
The recently approved year-round legislation comes two years after the township placed a seasonal restriction on its use. The all-out ban takes effect next month and, according to local activists, attempts to harness environmental sustainability and address public health, too – especially workers’ health.
“It is a victory for worker and public health, as well as for the natural environment and local quality of life,” Peter Holm, Montclair resident and spokesperson for Quiet Montclair, wrote to Montclair Local. “Both the extreme noise and the toxic emissions produced by gas leaf blowers cause serious harm to the health and well-being of the people who use them and who are in their vicinity, whether outdoors or indoors.”
Gas-powered leaf blowers radiate a low frequency, which penetrates through walls, windows and ear plugs. There is often little protection to keep a worker from losing hearing or inhaling the pollution that gas-powered blowers produce, according to Lois Kraus, co-founder of statewide network Advocates for Transforming Landscaping in New Jersey and a Rutgers environmental steward.
“Landscaper owners operate on very thin margins, and for the smaller outfits, health benefits are prohibitively unaffordable to offer their crews,” Kraus said.
“That these, mostly men, are exposed to some many adverse health consequences to provide a leaf-swept lawn is just plain wrong.”
The move to zero-emission leaf blowers in Montclair puts both residents and landscapers in a transition period together. Contracts for the fall season are being re-negotiated, and some homeowners are looking into different lawn care practices.
The demand for eco-conscious decision-making is ongoing in New Jersey. The state is undergoing a widespread sustainability initiative, focused on the green economy, developing an energy master plan and an electric vehicle “revolution” in light of the climate crisis.
A bill in the state Legislature to prohibit the sale and use of gas-powered leaf blowers was introduced in 2021, but had not advanced.
Montclair is the second municipality in New Jersey to issue a total ban. California, Vermont, and Washington, D.C. also have bans or restrictions in place.
A Change For Landscapers
The electric landscaping sector is growing and locally, some landscaping companies are either ahead of the trend or just getting around to it. Steve Weiss owns a battery-operated equipment store, EcoQuip, out of Rockland County in West Nyack, New York. Weiss says he made the transition to electric after more residents requested it.
“I find it to be a lot easier on my workforce, and with the gas prices and the noise, and some of the communities [Hopewell and Ridgewood] I work in, that was just the direction that I decided to go in,” Weiss said.
Some Montclair landscapers have voiced opposition to the ordinance.
Daria Paxton, owner of Gaia Gardens, believes landscaping in Montclair will be more expensive while using electric blowers and that the work will take longer.
“I already work on properties where we don’t use blowers and I always encourage people to compost. But it takes a lot of time and space to do it properly,” said Paxton, who has been using commercial grade electric tools for over six years. She says that gas engines are “essential for fall clean ups.”
A group of landscapers are working to stop the ban and have retained attorney Roosevelt Nesmith. Nesmith told Montclair Local “the plan is to file suit to stop the ordinance going into effect.”
Another concern raised by those opposed to the ban is the cost of converting to electric equipment. At the August Township Council meeting, officials discussed the possibility of a $10,000 buyback program to help residents who use gas-powered leaf blowers to make the transition.
Shift in Land Care Philosophy
Inhaling fumes can lead to adverse health impacts on residents, too. With constant exposure, exhaust pollution can seep into the bloodstream and can increase the risk of respiratory infections, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and asthma, according to a 2021 study. When the ordinance goes into effect, many residents, like Anna Grossman, plan on keeping their windows open.
“We’re trying to change the whole system. It’s not just the landscapers’ problem,” Kraus said. “Everybody’s got to educate themselves, and then all work together for a solution.”
From mulching to raking leaves to harvesting garden beds, Montclair could see an overall shift to a more eco-conscious approach to lawn care. Holm sees the new ban as an opportunity for residents to explore those options, posing “a shift in land care philosophy.”
“Philosophically, and for me personally, the prospect of more healthful living outweighs the perceived beauty of manicured lawns,” said Ann Lippel, president of Montclair Gateway to Aging in Place.
“Removing every last fallen leaf from a property is inefficient and unnecessary,” Holm wrote in an email. “Instead, we should see greater use of mulch-mowing leaves to return nutrients to the soil, leaving some leaves in garden beds and under trees to protect the soil and support beneficial wildlife, composting leaves to produce natural fertilizer, and other sustainable practices.”
To help streamline this transition period, Sustainable Montclair is in the process of finding ways to assist populations that may have trouble finding services for leaf collection and removal.
The group also plans to take on other sustainability concerns in Montclair that affect both the environment and residents, like reducing pesticide use and preserving trees.
“The spirit of our cooperative is that anybody can come and say, ‘This is really upsetting me, and this environmental issue is a problem for me and I want to do something about it,’” Grossman, a member of Sustainable Montclair, said.