Councillors ask for report on banning gas-powered leaf blowers in Toronto - Toronto Star

Toronto Star

By Francine Kopun

The city manager will report back in early 2021 on the environmental and associated health impacts of the engines, including the feasibility of a ban.

It’s time to look at whether using leaf blowers in Toronto should be banned, the city’s infrastructure and environment committee decided Thursday.

“I think it’s about time we looked at some of these dated technologies and took them out of use,” said Coun. Mike Layton, speaking in support of the motion by Coun. Shelley Carroll (Ward 17 Don Valley North).

Layton (Ward 11 University-Rosedale) was referring to the two-stroke engines that typically power leaf-blowers. They run on a mix of oil and gas that produces aerosolized pollutants, disrupts soil biology and destroys insect habitats that help sustain a healthy ecosystem, according to published research.

“Forty per cent of insect species are undergoing major declines around the world. Our local bee populations are facing similar threats,” according to the summary in support of the motion.

“This rapid decline is largely attributed to habitat loss and fragmentation, with gas-powered garden equipment as a major contributing factor due to its heavily polluting nature.”

Carroll’s motion, seconded by Coun. James Pasternak (Ward 6 York Centre), requests that the city manager consult with the medical officer of health and report back in early 2021 on the environmental and associated health impacts of the engines, including the feasibility of a year-round ban or a ban from May to September.

Critics say leaf blowers are increasingly being used throughout the summer months for tasks like removing grass clippings, and that in neighbourhoods where landscaping services are in high demand, the noise is literally deafening — contributing to long-term hearing loss.

The committee heard that there are new, cleaner technologies to replace leaf-blowers, including electric leaf blowers.

Carroll attempted to introduce the matter as a member motion at a council meeting in July. She was unable to get the required two-third of votes needed to allow it to be debated without first going to committee. The motion now returns to council for consideration on Sept. 30.

Her motion was opposed on Thursday by Coun. Denzil Minnan-Wong (Ward 16 Don Valley East).

“The nanny state is alive and well in the city of Toronto,” Minnan-Wong said.

He added that council’s decision to ban pesticides in Toronto led to the “total destruction” of parks, which have been taken over by weeds.

“Here we are again trying to over-regulate and tell people what to do. We should leave this alone,” he said.

Leaf blowers have been banned or restricted in numerous cities in North America, including in Vancouver, Portland and Beaconsfield, Que.

The motion was supported by the Toronto Environmental Alliance (TEA), and several residents’ associations.

“Leaf blowers generate wind speeds of over 200 kilometres an hour, propelling into the air potentially hazardous substances such as dirt, mould, pollen, animal feces and pesticides,” according to TEA.

“Exposure to these dust clouds, which takes hours to settle, damages people’s respiratory systems and may cause irritation, allergies and disease.”

The committee also heard that recent research from Harvard University found long-term exposure to air pollution increased mortality in COVID-19 patients in the United States.

Tony DiGiovanni, executive director of Landscape Ontario, representing the horticultural trades, said that while leaf blowers are noisy, they comply with Toronto’s noise bylaw.

Nonetheless, his organization encourages members to consider using newer battery-powered units.

“From a manufacturing perspective, leaf blowers have improve immensely over the years. The new versions are much quieter and cleaner. I predict that this issue will go away over time as new technology becomes more commonplace.”

He said that homeowners may email Landscape Ontario directly if they are being subjected to irresponsible use of leaf blowers.

“If the company is a member of Landscape Ontario, we will contact them. Most of the time we are able to resolve individual complaints.”

This article was reposted from the Toronto Star This article first appeared in the Toronto Star on Friday September 18 2020