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American Green Zone Alliance

Hecksher Park may be one of the first spots in Huntington to use zero-emission lawn care equipment. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

By Victoria Espinoza

After months of requests from residents that Huntington go greener, the town board took steps at the its last meeting to make Hecksher Park and Town Hall “green zones.”

At the May 9 meeting the board voted unanimously to approve a resolution establishing a research program to look into replacing gas fueled landscaping equipment with battery operated units at Heckscher Park and Town Hall to reduce emissions and noise.

A green zone is an area maintained with zero-emission lawn care equipment.

The resolution was co-sponsored by Supervisor Frank Petrone (D) and Councilwoman Susan Berland (D). The plan includes retaining the American Green Zone Alliance to conduct a study that will analyze the town’s existing landscaping practices, recommend the appropriate cost-effective, battery powered equipment and instruct town personnel on the use, care and maintenance of the devices.

Berland has been working for months to pass a resolution to limit gas powered leaf blowers due to the health and environmental concerns associated with them.

“This resolution is a great first step to protecting our environment and reducing air and noise pollution in our Town,” Berland said in a statement. “Many constituents have contacted me to restrict the use of gas powered leaf blowers to address their quality-of-life concerns.”

“It is in perfect alignment with our town’s clean energy community policy. Huntington is showing once again its commitment to sustainable initiatives.”
— Bonnie Sager

She encouraged residents to visit the town’s website to watch a public service video she created last year meant to inform community members about the drawbacks of leaf blowers and presents possible alternatives. The website also features a survey to gauge the public’s reliance or disapproval of using leaf blowers.

“I look forward to working together with Huntington CALM and the American Green Zone Alliance to create a ‘green zone’ at Heckscher Park and Town Hall,” she said. “Huntington has always been a beautiful place to live, work and raise a family. Let’s keep it that way.”

Groups like Huntington Citizens Appeal for Leafblower Moderation, and the American Green Zone Alliance have been vocal about the health issues, like asthma and hearing damage, that have been tied to use of gas powered blowers, according to the World Health Organization.

At the meeting, several residents applauded the efforts of the board to improve the situation.

Bonnie Sager, cofounder of Huntington CALM spoke at the meeting.

“The 2,000 plus Huntington CALM supporters and I would like to thank you for bringing forth this resolution,” she said at the meeting. “It is in perfect alignment with our town’s clean energy community policy. Huntington is showing once again its commitment to sustainable initiatives.”

Sager listed the many ways switching to electric equipment would save taxpayers money, as well as eliminate airborne pollutants.

“Hecksher Park is a crown jewel of Huntington serving our residents and guests with the museum, the duck pond, the concert venue and more,” she said. “By becoming a green zone our jewel will shine even brighter.”

The American Green Zone Alliance is based in California and is a leader in a nationwide effort to help communities address noise and air pollution issues. It provides certification and accreditation in zero-emission landscape maintenance strategies; educates individuals, property owners, and landscape maintenance professionals to reduce or eliminate the use of gasoline powered maintenance equipment in favor of cordless electric and manual equipment; and promotes those strategies through its green zone certification program that allows the owners of properties of any size to create, maintain, and promote their own zero-emission green zone. It is working with the Town of Southampton on a similar project.

Petrone said he was grateful for the community participation in this effort.

“I appreciate Huntington CALM’s efforts to raise our consciousness about the environmental effects and health dangers of gas powered landscaping equipment, including significant noise pollution,” Petrone said in a statement. “Heckscher Park and Town Hall are perfect locations for a demonstration program to test the feasibility and efficiency of battery powered equipment that reduces emissions and operates at significantly lower decibel levels than gas powered equivalents. I look forward to seeing, and not hearing, the results.”

Councilwoman Susan Berland supports a limit of gas-powered leaf blowers. File photo by Victoria Espinoza

The fight against gas-powered leaf blowers continues in Huntington.

Councilwoman Susan Berland (D) launched an initiative to educate Huntington residents on the environmental and health effects of specific leaf blowers this past week. Berland posted a video on her page within the town website that shows a presentation with Quiet Communities and the American Green Zone Alliance, both organizations that work toward protecting the health, environment and quality of life from the use of industrial outdoor maintenance equipment.

“The pollution generated by gas-powered leaf blowers is completely avoidable, as is the high-frequency noise generated by these blowers, which carries through entire neighborhoods and has been associated with permanent hearing damage,” Berland said in the video.

She highlights a lithium battery-powered leaf blower as a preferable alternative to gas-powered blowers.

“Lithium battery-powered leaf blowers give off zero toxic emissions and generate 50 percent less noise than gas-powered equipment,” Berland said. “There is no soil or water pollution and the price is comparable to other types of lawn maintenance equipment.”

Quiet Communities Executive Director Jamie Banks talked in the video about the public health and environmental effects of gas-powered blowers.

“If you think about what it takes to maintain a gas-powered engine, there are a lot of solid and toxic chemicals,” Banks said. “They come usually in cans or nonrecyclable plastic containers with residue. These can be thrown into landfills; the chemicals themselves can be spilled into the soil and eventually reach water supplies and marine systems.”

She also highlighted the health risks that come with using or being around the usage area of a gas-powered leaf blower.

Gas-powered leaf blowers have raised some concerns with Huntington residents.
Gas-powered leaf blowers have raised some concerns with Huntington residents.

“Workers who have these machines on their backs, they are very close to the source of the exhaust emissions and other ground source particulates,” she said, noting that children playing nearby may also be exposed.

Both the exhaust emissions and the ground source particulates can negatively affect health.

A 2013 assessment by the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer said, “Outdoor air pollution is carcinogenic to humans, with the particulate matter component of air pollution most closely associated with increased cancer incidence, especially cancer of the lung. An association also has been observed between outdoor air pollution and increase in cancer of the urinary tract/bladder.”

The American Lung Association also said in its 2014 State of the Air, “Short-term exposure to particle pollution can kill. Particle pollution does not just make people die a few days earlier than they might otherwise — these are deaths that would not have occurred if the air were cleaner.”

The noise effect of leaf blowers was also mentioned in Berland’s presentation.

According to public advocacy group Dangerous Decibels, once a sound reaches 85 decibels or higher, it can cause permanent damage to your hearing. The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration said noise from leaf blowers can reach at least 90 decibels.

According to the Center for Hearing and Communication, rainfall measures about 50 decibels, normal conversation is about 60 decibels and freeway traffic or a vacuum cleaner could reach about 70 decibels.

“The health risks posed by gas-powered landscaping equipment need to be addressed,” Berland said.

She is also encouraging residents and landscaping companies in the Huntington area who only use electric-powered equipment, as opposed to gas-powered equipment, to take a “green pledge” and add themselves to a list that will be featured on the town’s website.

Berland has been working on legislation that would limit use of gas-powered leaf blowers in summer months, as residents have voiced their concerns about the blowers at town board meetings and have asked for Heckscher State Park to be designated the town’s first green zone — an area maintained with zero-emission lawn care equipment.

At previous town board meetings, Berland’s proposal has not picked up much steam with other board members.