Out of 227 metropolitan areas, the Denver Metro area ranks sixth worst in the nation for the number of high ozone days, when concentrations spike to levels associated with serious health problems from asthma to cardiovascular disease. Fort Collins and Colorado Springs aren’t far behind, at positions 15 and 20 respectively.
One cause is the gas-powered equipment we use to maintain our landscapes. We don’t have to accept air pollution as an inevitable byproduct of mowing our lawns. We can and should phase out the dirtiest gas-powered lawn and garden tools and replace them with cleaner, quieter electric models.
On July 7, the Regional Air Quality Council voted to recommend exactly that. Now, the state’s Air Quality Control Commission should approve the recommendations so they go into effect.
Gas-powered lawn and garden machines may be small, but they produce a huge amount of pollution. Smaller equipment is particularly dirty because it often utilizes two-stroke engine technology. In that process, oil and fuel mix and then are burned, resulting in pollutants including particulate matter, nitrogen oxides (which lead to ozone) and potentially carcinogenic hydrocarbons. Even larger mowers and tractors, with four-stroke engines, produce unnecessary pollution because they lack advanced emissions controls such as the catalytic converters standard on cars and trucks.
According to the California Air Resources Board, operating a commercial gas-powered lawn mower for an hour results in as much ozone-forming emissions as driving a standard automobile about 300 miles. Even worse, operating a commercial gas-powered leaf blower for just one hour produces as much pollution as driving 1,100 miles – approximately the distance between Denver and Calgary, Alberta.
We have alternatives. Cleaner, electric lawn mowers, leaf blowers, trimmers and more are readily available at prices comparable to gas options. Electric equipment also tends to be quieter and cheaper and easier to maintain.
Whether you mow your own lawn or work for a company responsible for dozens of properties, electric equipment gets the job done. Companies such as Kelly’s Fort Collins-based Clean Air Lawn Care that use electric equipment already exist up and down the Front Range.
Clean Air is a nationwide franchisor of electric lawn care businesses. This company and others like it use electric lawn mowers, leaf blowers, trimmers and chainsaws. Throughout the day, operators cycle through multiple batteries, switching them out between equipment and chargers, some of them powered by truck-mounted solar panels.
Clean Air’s operators know that battery-powered tools have enough juice to get the job done and cost less to use over a five-year period than gas-powered equipment. And the tools are so quiet that some clients in their backyard don’t even realize workers are mowing their front lawn. We know other companies can use this model to succeed while helping to improve air quality, especially with financial incentives coming online and funding available to help.
For the sake of our health, lawn care companies, individuals and government entities must switch to cleaner, electric equipment as quickly as possible. Counties in the Denver Metro and North Front Range region have failed to meet health-based air quality standards for more than a decade. Exposure to high concentrations of ozone can cause harmful health effects including cardiovascular disease and lung damage, and can worsen existing respiratory conditions such as asthma.
Given the serious ozone pollution problem that’s harming Colorado residents and visitors alike, it doesn’t make sense to continue to allow highly polluting, loud, gas-powered lawn equipment when cleaner, quieter, electric options abound.
Our state leaders at the Air Quality Control Commission should take up the Regional Air Quality Council’s proposed policies on lawn & garden equipment and pass them this fall. By doing so, everyone living in, working in and visiting our great state will breathe easier.
Kirsten Schatz, of Wheat Ridge, is the clean air advocate for Colorado Public Interest Research Group Foundation.
Kelly Giard, of Fort Collins, is the founder and CEO of Clean Air Lawn Care.