An environmentally aware Staples High School student hopes to encourage townspeople to turn a new leaf and, via social media, suggests they reconsider use of noisy and polluting leaf blowers.
Sarah Fox, a 17-year-old Staples senior and member of the school's Green Club, has been working to get more social-media attention for the town's Green Task Force, of which she is a member. Not only have her postings quadrupled the number of Facebook followers on the task force page, but one of her recent comments moved town resident Michael Ray to join the cause.
"It was a recommendation that people try to switch to either electric leaf blowers or switch to a rake, because gas-powered leaf blowers emit the same pollution as 80 cars," Fox said. "It's just really grotesque machinery."
"Leaf blowers are obnoxious," Fox said. "I guess (Ray) was a resident who `Liked' the page and saw it."
After making that Facebook connection, Ray braved the snow Tuesday to attend a task force meeting and urge the group's support for the cause.
"Our impression has been that leaf blower use has been increasing, going from a nuisance," Ray said, to becoming a widespread problem. He said both he and his wife work at home, and are the parents of a young child, and during autumn they are routinely disturbed by noise generated by leaf blowers in use nearby.
"It's not uncommon for these disruptive leaf blower noises to persist throughout the day," he said.
Ray said he's taken the time to measure the decibel levels of blowers in his neighborhood, with the numbers ranging between 65 and 70, from up to one-tenth of a mile away. "The World Health Organization actually recommends levels of 50 to 55," he said of recommended safe sound levels.
He also noted that the machines, which are generally designed with inefficient motors, also generate as much emissions in a half-hour as a heavy pickup truck.
"Connecticut, incidentally, has one of the higher rates of cancer in the country," he said, noting that the leaf blowers also stir up toxic levels of mercury, lead and other particulates.
While task force members were sympathetic to Ray's concerns, however, they said the issue is likely outside the panel's jurisdiction. Instead, it was suggested that he make an attempt to get an ordinance passed through the Representative Town Meeting.
"Usually this kind of thing goes to the RTM," said task force member Wendy Batteau, who was on a conference call-in for the meeting. "I don't see a problem with the Green Task Force making a recommendation."
Members suggested that the issue of leaf blower noise might be a more logical one to pursue in terms of an ordinance. "We do have noise regulations, but they deal with the time ... not certain decibels," Batteau said.
"I do recall that we had proposed a change to the noise ordinance a number of years ago and it was very controversial," said state Rep. Jonathan Steinberg, who attend the meeting. "There was a related instance with people starting lawn mowers at too early an hour."
He said that it would be easier to bring a town ordinance forward if there were a statute on the issue already in existence at the state level.
Ray noted that while seasonal limits on the use of leaf blowers exist in some towns in New York's Westchester County, he knows of none in Connecticut.
"My own sense is that I would see a seasonable ban for Westport, particularly during warmer months," he said, noting that air quality is generally worse at that time of year.
"We really need to think about it overall," said task force Chairman David Mann, noting that the group looks at issues from three angles -- economics, society and environment.
"I'm certainly interested in the question from my point of view, but for something that seems relatively simple, it's actually very complicated," Mann said.
"Don't take our passing you to the RTM as a lack of support," he added. "We're happy to consider supporting it as you move forward."
Follow the Green Task Force on Facebook: www.facebook.com/WestportGTF