Canadians should rethink the way they maintain their lawns and embrace greener options, experts say.
As fall is in full swing across Canada and winter is not far away, many will be dusting their leaf and snow blowers.
While these gadgets can help polish the look of the yard in record time, gasoline-powered garden equipment – including lawn mowers and hedge trimmers – can be dangerous to the environment and our health, by polluting the air we breathe.
“People may be surprised to think that a leaf blower actually produces a lot more pollution than a pickup truck,” said Michael Brauer, professor at the School of Population and Public Health at the University of British Columbia. .
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By some estimates, using a leaf blower equates to 100 cars on the road, he said.
This is because gasoline-powered garden equipment typically does not have a well-developed emissions treatment system like most modern vehicles, said Greg Evans, professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering and Applied Chemistry at the University of Toronto.
“These are pretty primitive engines, not much different from what they were 30, 40, 50 years ago, and they really pollute a lot,” added Brauer.
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Lawn machines that use a two-stroke engine, where oil and gas are mixed, spit out a combination of gases, including carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and carbon oxides. ‘nitrogen.
They also emit polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons known to be carcinogenic as well as fine particles, called PM2.5, which can penetrate deep into the lungs, affecting organ function.
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In the case of leaf blowers, they also end up stirring up a lot of dust.
What makes the use of such equipment particularly dangerous is the proximity of the person handling it and other people living in the area.
“They have very high pollutant emissions per amount of fuel burned,” said Jeffrey Brook, environmental health expert and assistant professor at the University of Toronto.
“Plus, they operate very close to us, so our own individual exposures can be quite high. “
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In the United States, in 2011, about 26.7 million tonnes of pollutants were emitted from gasoline-powered lawn and garden equipment, accounting for 24 to 45 percent of all off-road gasoline emissions, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). .
A 2020 California Air Resources Board report found that emissions from small all-terrain engines, such as leaf blowers, lawn mowers, trimmers and chainsaws, were higher than those emitted by the 14 , 4 million state passenger cars.
In most urban areas, Brauer estimates that lawn equipment contributes 10 to 20 percent of overall emissions.
On top of that, noise pollution is another concern – not just in terms of annoyance but the impact on health, as it can trigger strokes and heart attacks that could prove fatal, Brauer said.
“I think we just need to take this a little more seriously,” he said.
“While there may be an advantage in having equipment that can remove leaves… there is a cost to using them. “
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In 2018, Canada changed regulations for small spark-ignition off-road engines, imposing stricter emissions standards in accordance with the US EPA.
Over the years, at the local level, some jurisdictions have banned the use of leaf blowers, but the equipment is still widely used across the country.
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Considering the health risks, it is strongly recommended to move towards cleaner and quieter electric and battery-powered options, experts say. Where possible, manual mowers can also help.
Evans said leaving a little leaf cover on the lawn can also have ecological benefits.
“I think we need to rethink our love affair with green lawns,” said Brook.
“We should take a step back and think about more sustainable ways to grow and maintain our gardens. “
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