New report shows alarming pollution from gas-powered leaf blowers, lawn mowers in Massachusetts

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Electric alternatives are cleaner, quieter, capable, affordable, readily available

BOSTON – With fall in the air and leaf blowers going at full blast in neighborhoods across the state, a new report by MASSPIRG Education Fund shows that gas-powered lawn mowers, string trimmers, leaf blowers, chainsaws and other garden equipment emit a surprisingly large amount of pollution and noise. For example, in 2020, lawn and garden equipment spewed an estimated 614,932 tons of carbon dioxide in Massachusetts – an amount equivalent to the pollution from 135,371 typical cars, according to Lawn Care Goes Electric: Why it’s time to switch to a new generation of clean, quiet electric lawn equipment. The volume of emissions from lawn and garden equipment was brought to national attention in 2015 by nonprofit Quiet Communities, based in Concord, MA.

Despite the Bay State’s green reputation, we are not immune to pollution from power equipment. For example, Middlesex County is ranked 23rd out of 99 counties around the country for emitting Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), which include a variety of chemicals, some of which may have short- and long-term adverse health effects.

“It’s bad news that we have been tolerating so much harmful pollution and noise from cutting grass and maintaining landscapes,” said Janet Domenitz, executive director of MASSPIRG Education Fund. “The good news is we no longer have to put up with it because cleaner, quieter electric lawn equipment is capable, affordable and readily available.”

All this unnecessary pollution imposes a significant health cost. The pollutants emitted by gas-powered lawn equipment include fine particulates (PM2.5), ozone-forming nitrogen oxides (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and air toxics such as benzene, 1,3-butadiene and formaldehyde. Exposure to these pollutants in our air is linked to health problems including asthma attacks, reproductive ailments, mental health challenges, cancer and even premature deaths. 

Because they burn fossil fuels, gas lawn mowers and leaf blowers also emit carbon dioxide, the leading contributor to climate change. Fortunately, electric lawn equipment has evolved into an attractive alternative to highly polluting gas-powered tools.

Since 2006, I have led a nationwide franchise of electric lawn care businesses. We exclusively use electric lawn mowers, leaf blowers, trimmers, chainsaws and more in our work because we care about air quality and health in our communities,” said Clean Air Lawn Care CEO Kelly Giard. “These days, battery-powered tools have plenty of power to get the job done, and our costs are less over a 5-year period than if we were using gas. I hope others will join us in using equipment that is cleaner and quieter — for employees and customers alike.” 

The report makes specific policy recommendations ranging from financial incentives and commitments from governments and business to convert their equipment to restricting the sale and use of the most polluting fossil fuel equipment. An example includes a bill (H765) filed in the Massachusetts Legislature, by state Rep. Michelle Ciccolo and S451 by state Senator Cindy Creem, which would establish a grant and loan program for small businesses and municipalities to transition landscape maintenance equipment to low noise, low emissions equipment. 

“The staggering amount of pollution spewed by gas-powered landscaping equipment is a threat to the climate and to our health,” said Senator Cindy Creem of Newton. “MASSPIRG Education Fund’s report underscores the need to take action. That’s why Rep. Ciccolo and I filed a bill to help municipal governments and small businesses switch to clean, electric landscaping equipment.”

“It’s essential we aggressively move forward with decarbonization efforts in every sector. This report makes clear we can’t afford to ignore the harm done by landscape emissions.  Exposing our workers, children, and neighbors to toxic chemicals coming from lawn care is unacceptable.  I am proud to have worked on this issue for years, and my proposed legislation will enable Massachusetts to lead the way to a cleaner future and just transition away from gas powered landscape equipment,“ said Rep. Michelle Ciccolo of Lexington. 

“It is good news that battery electric technology is progressing. However, the commercial sector faces unique challenges relating to economic, cultural, and structural factors, as well as customer aesthetic expectations,’ added Jamie Banks of Quiet Communities. “ Knowledge is needed to set up safe charging infrastructure, select the right equipment for commercial scale operations, and optimize work productivity.  Accelerating adoption in the commercial sector requires education, training, and financial incentives, like those proposed in the bill from Representative Ciccolo and Senator Creem.” 

The full report is available here.