Councillor King moves to ban gas powered leaf blowers on city property

Councillor Rawlson King filed a notice of motion to phase out the use of gas-powered lawn equipment on City of Ottawa property.

Over the last two and half years, my office has been periodically approached by residents concerned about the many negative impacts of gas powered leaf blowers. I understand other councillors hear similar feedback from residents in their own communities.

To quickly highlight some of these negative impacts, it is important to know that most gas powered leaf blowers operate on a two stroke engine, or the marginally better four-stroke engine. Other maintenance equipment also makes use of this engine which, while light and portable, is so fuel inefficient it has been found to emit more than 20 times the toxic and carcinogenic exhaust than a vehicle. Now consider how frequently the City uses leaf blowers in public parks, near schools, or to maintain other public spaces.

Beyond the air pollution concerns, these engines operate at a decibel level and frequency that the World Health Organization has determined to negatively impact our health. A typical two stroke leaf blower operates well above the decibel level our by-law stipulates for equipment such as air conditioners, exhaust systems, or pool filtration pumps. Although we restrict the hours during which they can be used, we do not currently specify an acceptable decibel level for leaf blowers.

While I believe that a permanent solution will necessitate a change to our by-laws governing the use of this equipment it is important to start in our own backyard. The National Capital Commission is accelerating their efforts to eliminate the use of gas powered lawn equipment from all their maintenance contracts, and the City has many reciprocal maintenance agreements with the NCC throughout Ottawa. It makes sense for us to step up our own efforts and transition away from this outdated, harmful technology as quickly as possible

The intent of the following motion, introduced at Environment Committee, is to eliminate City-owned gas-powered lawn and yard equipment used to maintain City-owned assets as quickly as possible, and to align our efforts with the National Capital Commission to provide a cohesive, healthier experience for our residents:

WHEREAS two-stroke engines used in gas-powered lawn and yard equipment have been shown to emit more than 20 times the carbon monoxide than a vehicle, are a source of toxic and carcinogenic exhaust and fine particulate matter, and are frequently used near residential areas, schools, parks, and other public spaces; and

WHEREAS equipment reliant on two-stroke engines contributes to excessive noise pollution, and, while the City of Ottawa’s current noise by-law does not specify a maximum acceptable dB(A) level, studies have shown the average operating dB(A) level for most gas-powered lawn equipment is well above both the by-law specified level for other equipment and the World Health Organization’s community outdoor daytime sound standards, and furthermore said equipment produces low frequency noise that is able to travel over long distances, penetrate construction walls and negatively impact health, productivity, and/or quality of life; and 

WHEREAS Emergency and Protective Services will be including the review of regulations for leaf blowers as an emerging issue in next Term of Council’s By-Law Review Work Plan to be considered by Council; and

WHEREAS other municipalities across Canada and North America have already – or are in the process of – restricting or banning the use of leaf blowers or other equipment reliant on two-stroke engines in response to the various negative social and environmental impacts said equipment can have; and 

WHEREAS the National Capital Commission (NCC) has undertaken to eliminate the use of gas-powered equipment from their contracts estimated within the next two years, and the City and the NCC have many reciprocal maintenance arrangements throughout Ottawa, such that collaborating on a phaseout of equipment will provide a cohesive experience for residents and workers throughout Ottawa; and

WHEREAS Council has declared a Climate Emergency and has an obligation to position itself as a leader on climate action and market transformation; and

WHEREAS the Public Works and Environmental Services department operates two-stroke gas-powered lawn and yard equipment for a wide range of operational maintenance activities across the City;

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the Public Works and Environmental Services department (PWES) commit to phasing out the use of, and preventing the purchase of, gas-powered lawn and yard equipment when said equipment requires replacement and a suitable electric alternative is available that meets operational needs within both city-owned and contracted services; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that phasing-out activities begin as quickly as possible, starting with summer operations planning in Q1 2022 and report back to the Standing Committee on Environmental Protection, Water and Waste Management as part of a Departmental Green Equipment Plan in Q4 2022.

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