Earth Matters: Long Island’s failing air quality affects children’s health

The Island Now

A big, fat F.

That’s how the American Lung Association has rated Long Island’s air quality. We don’t tolerate F ratings on our children’s exams or our favorite restaurants’ health inspections, so why should we tolerate it for our air?

The air that all residents, including your children and pets, must breathe every minute of every day.

A poor air quality, aka air pollution, takes its toll on us. Air pollution has been linked to diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, and the most obvious one, lung diseases including lung cancer.

Improving our air quality seems to be a daunting issue, but it helps to take a first step, and that step may just be in your own backyard.

Many residents employ landscaping companies that use gas leaf blowers.

While this may be an effective method, the downsides of gas-powered leaf blowers are hazardous, especially for our children, but also for each of us, the environment, our pets, and for the landscapers that work with them every day.

The outdated two-stroke engines of gas leaf blowers are inefficiently burning only 70 percent of the gasoline; 30 percent is released into the air and is known to cause lung and bladder cancer and an increased risk of breast cancer.

Emissions for one hour of gas leaf blower use is equivalent to 40 cars idling for one hour or traveling 4,000 miles.

At least the pollution from a car gets spread over the travel distance, but the pollution from a gas leaf blower is concentrated in your yard.

In addition, the leaf blower exhaust combines with sunlight to produce ground-level ozone, a cancer-causing agent and lung irritant. Ozone is particularly dangerous because it can last for days suspended in the air around your home.

To make matters worse, gas leaf blowers blow dust and debris into the air at speeds of over 200 mph. These tiny particles can contain pesticides, heavy metals, mold, and animal feces, and often linger in the air for hours or even days.

They enter your home through windows and doors, go deep into the lungs, worsen allergies and asthma, and cause other lung diseases. Even brief exposures can be harmful.

Grassroots Environmental Education states, “Children are the most susceptible since they breathe more air per pound of body weight than adults. When exposed to even small amounts of toxic chemicals at critical periods of development (windows of vulnerability), they can suffer from both acute and long-term health effects.” (Source:

Besides the negative impact of gas leaf blower use on Long Island’s air quality, an untold amount of organic and non-organic toxic chemicals and solid waste related to maintaining gas-powered equipment end up in our landfills, soil, and water.

Examples include detergents, degreasers, lubricants, spark plugs, hoses, filters, and non-recyclable containers.

Approximately 17 million gallons of gas are spilled each year in the U.S. from workers refueling gas-powered equipment, over 50% more than the amount spilled by the Exxon Valdez (Source: Steinberg T. American Green: The Obsessive Quest for the Perfect Lawn, 2006). Where does this spillage go? Into our soil, ground and surface water supplies.

More locally, your garden is getting damaged by the use of gas leaf blowers as their force compacts the soil, damages shrubs, and literally blows away the fertilizer and grass seeds that you may have paid your landscaper to apply the prior week.

Most landscaping companies on Long Island honor customers’ wishes to maintain lawns and gardens in a sustainable manner without the use of pesticides and high-nitrogen fertilizers. Landscapers can also easily adapt to mulching leaves on lawns and to use rakes and brooms whenever necessary.

Mulching leaves in place instead of removing them helps retain moisture, reduces runoff and the need for watering in dry spells.

For areas on your property where leaf removal is desired, only remove them once in the spring, preferably with rakes to protect plants and loosen the soil at the same time.

In this competitive market, landscapers often feel compelled and obligated to use outdated gas leaf blowers; don’t let them. Remember, you’re the customer; you’re paying the bill.

For cleaner air and water!

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