New report: Gas-powered lawn equipment plays outsized role in Colorado’s unhealthy ozone pollution

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DENVER – After another Colorado summer with over 40 “Ozone Action Alert” days, CoPIRG Foundation released a new report on Thursday that shows that shifting away from dirty gas-powered lawn and garden equipment to readily-available electric and battery-powered ones could achieve nearly one-fifth of the reduction needed to address the Front Range region’s unhealthy ozone pollution.

The report, Small Machines, Big Pollution, details how much pollution gas-powered lawn and garden equipment produce. Operating a commercial gas-powered lawn mower for one hour can result in as much ozone-forming emissions as driving a 2017 Toyota Camry from Trinidad, Colorado to Cheyenne, Wyoming. Even worse, operating a commercial gas-powered leaf blower for just one hour can result in a staggering amount of ozone-forming emissions – approximately the same as driving 1,100 miles from Denver to Calgary, Canada.

Gas-powered lawn mowers and leaf blowers may seem small but they pack a big pollution punch. Phasing out dirty gas-powered lawn equipment could go a long way toward restoring healthy air along the Front Range,” said CoPIRG Foundation Clean Air Advocate Kirsten Schatz. “To address Colorado’s unhealthy ozone pollution, it’s important we start transitioning away from gas-powered lawn and garden equipment as soon as possible.”

CoPIRG Foundation’s report comes as the Air Quality Control Commission (AQCC) is scheduled to consider and adopt an ozone reduction plan at its December 13 hearing. To meet EPA health-based air quality standards, the Front Range needs to bring ozone pollution down from a high of approximately 84 parts per billion (ppb) to 70 ppb. According to the Regional Air Quality Council (RAQC), lawn and garden equipment accounts for an estimated 2.5 ppb of the Front Range’s ozone pollution or nearly one-fifth of what the region needs to cut. 

Breathing ground-level ozone can cause harmful health effects including lung damage, worsening of existing respiratory conditions such as asthma and even cardiovascular disease. Even short-term exposure to elevated ozone levels can lead to an increased risk of death.

Jordan Champalou, owner of Electric Lawn Care in Westminster, Colorado, has been mowing lawns since he was 10 years old. This year, Champalou launched a lawn care business using all electric equipment. 

“Battery-powered equipment is better for the air, it’s better for my customers and it’s healthier for me and anyone else operating the equipment,” said Champalou. “And, of course, it’s more than capable of getting the job done.”

Tackling ozone pollution from lawn and garden equipment is just one of many strategies the state should consider to clean up air pollution. In a letter to the AQCC, CoPIRG Foundation also suggested adopting new clean vehicle rules for passenger cars and trucks, curtailing emissions from oil and gas operations, establishing low nitrogen oxides (NOx) appliance requirements and expanding transit, walking and biking transportation options.

“When we have so many zero-emission electric and battery-powered options to choose from, it’s silly to keep using polluting lawn equipment. Not only is electric lawn equipment quieter, but it also requires less maintenance, and it’s cheaper and easier to power rather than running to the gas station with a can every time you need to fuel up,” said Schatz.

In the report, CoPIRG Foundation recommends the following:

  • For consumers: If you need a mower, leaf blower or other power tool, choose an electric one. You can find numerous models sold by retailers like Ace Hardware, Home Depot and Lowe’s. Consult Consumer Reports’ leaf blower and mower guides for reviews. 
  • For companies and institutions: Commercial operators and large institutions, such as academic and medical campuses and golf courses, should transition their equipment to electric or battery-powered models to reduce air pollution, provide a quieter and less polluting experience for their customers and to protect their workers from harmful pollution.
  • For municipalities and regional entities such as the RAQC: The RAQC’s “Mow Down Pollution” program provides consumers with a financial incentive to buy electric lawn mowers and recycle their old gas mowers. However, it needs more funding, partnerships and publicity. Local governments should shift 100% of city- and county- owned equipment to zero-emission/electric and consider adopting local policies that encourage their residents to phase out gas-powered equipment. 
  • For the state: The state could provide additional funding for incentive programs like Mow Down Pollution and extend them to commercial operators. The state should consider usage restrictions that phase out sales of new gas-powered equipment. Colorado could also adopt the Small Off-Road Engines program, which requires most small off-road engines, such as those found in lawn and garden equipment, to be zero emission starting in a certain model year. Bottom line, we need someone to step up and take action as soon as possible.

The full report can be found here.