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Wesley Heights residents push for ban on gas-powered leaf blowers

Wesley Heights resident Haskell Small talks gas-powered leaf blowers to commissioners (Cuneyt Dil/The Eagle).

While other D.C. neighborhoods feud with bars and clubs over noise spilling into residential streets, Wesley Heights residents have a more mundane foe: gas-powered leaf blowers.

The leaf blower issue has been long running. In brief, opponents say the gas-powered types are too loud — 10 times louder than the maximum permitted D.C. noise level of 70 decibels at a distance of 50 feet from the source of the noise, according to a pamphlet from residents. They say the newer battery-powered variety are quieter and emit less pollution.

After hearing comments from residents, the Wesley Heights Advisory Neighborhood Commission passed a resolution 8-1 Wednesday night calling on Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh to introduce legislation banning gas-powered leaf blowers. Past efforts to get the D.C. Council to take up the issue have failed. Cheh's office did not respond for comment in time for publication. 

“Whenever I discuss this issue, the phrase ‘first world problem’ comes up,” James Fallows, who has owned a home in Wesley Heights for 35 years, said at the ANC meeting. “I think that is exactly wrong.”

He contends it’s also about the workers using using the gas-powered leaf blowers, which emit “high levels of toxic and carcinogenic pollutants,” according to a study from the Environmental Protection Agency. Fallows — a national correspondent for the Atlantic magazine — also said the noise makes it difficult to work from home. He blogs about the issue at the Atlantic, in a feature called “Leafblower Menace.”

According to another neighborhood resident, Haskell Small, gas-powered leaf blowers weren’t being used in the area heavily until the 1990s. Now they’re around the neighborhood “most weeks of the year.”

However, a lengthy New Yorker story on this issue nationwide from 2010 points out that in cities and municipalities where gas-powered blowers are prohibited, many people still end up using them.

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