You're right if you're thinking I'm not a fan of leaf blowers. God invented muscles and brooms to move leaves. And the Creator most likely frowns upon all those leaf-blower folks fouling up Earth's oxygen supply with ozone.
So as not to indict the neighbors on either side of me, I'll point out that this morning's leaf-blower dude lives elsewhere along our street. If you find the guy with the biggest and loudest blower, that's the guy. He has to strap the motor part of the blower onto his back, like a large pack. He looks like a big Marine with a flamethrower on Iwo Jima. And the noise? The thing sounds like a quad-engine, turboprop, C-130 combat cargo plane.
Another neighbor – he, too, doesn't live on either side of me – cannot understand my concern over the leaf blowers or over people who burn their piles of leaves and yard trimmings here in my Illinois hometown near St. Louis, Mo. He points to all the wildfires out West and verbalizes something like: So, what difference does it make? The air's fouled up anyway.
Sure, what's the big deal about ozone? Webster's defines ozone as "a poisonous, blue, unstable gaseous form of oxygen." Egad. Gag me with some ozone. That's the big deal.
The American Lung Association gives our St. Clair County – and all of the greater
St. Louis area – a grade of D for its ozone levels. The ALA ranks St. Louis number 25 among the worst U.S. cities for ozone and number 12 for worst year-round particle pollution. Number one worst in the nation for ozone is Los Angeles, which rates a grade of F from ALA.
I know all about the ozone created in the Los Angeles basin and beyond. I've lived in the Los Angeles harbor community of San Pedro twice, totaling six years, and my wife and I have owned a home in the San Bernardino Mountains near Los Angeles for more than a quarter-century. Our home is in the mountain-resort community of Lake Arrowhead, where some residents' vehicles have license-plate frames with this slogan: "Come up for air."
That slogan is a little misleading. Dr. John Morgan, a professor of epidemiology at
Loma Linda University, told me that ozone levels around the Los Angeles basin are higher at the higher elevations.
Apparently, tons of cruddy air gather in the Los Angeles basin where 5 percent of the nation's population is packed into just 13,000 square miles. The refineries and factories and more than 5 million vehicles create photochemical smog that is trapped in the basin, and the only way it can move out of the basin is up and over the mountains. Thus, at 5,400 feet in elevation, on the side of the mountains, our home is surrounded by as much or more ozone as those houses down in the city. Cough! Gag! Spit!
In Southern California, we create much of the ozone ourselves. A society of automobile commuters, we drive about the freeways and byways, our vehicles spewing out hydrocarbon exhaust, which combines with the sun's ultraviolet light and becomes photochemical smog.
Unleaded gasoline, catalytic converters and other equipment have improved vehicle emissions. And restrictions and converters have improved the quality of emissions from Los Angeles area industry. Southland air quality actually has improved in recent years, according to the South Coast Air Quality Management District, but our hazy, smoggy air is still poisoning us.
If you live in such places as Ames, Iowa, or Bellingham, Wash., or Bend, Ore., you can breathe easy. The American Lung Association rates your cities as the top three cleanest cities in the U.S. for ozone. And the three cleanest towns in the category of year-round particle pollution are Cheyenne, Wyo.; St. George, Utah; and Santa Fe, N.M.
Back to the St. Louis area, where I am located right now, it's autumn, and the smell of burning leaves will fill the air soon, as fall leaves come falling down. It brings back memories of growing up here in Lebanon, Ill., where townsfolk still burn leaves. It is illegal, however, in much of Illinois.
Me being more Californian than Illinoisan now, I bag most of the leaves I rake up on our family's Lebanon property. I guess I just got used to doing it that way for the past quarter of a century in the Golden State. So, I won't be able to smell my raked leaves burning this fall in Lebanon, but I'll feel pretty good about helping keep the air cleaner, as will the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency's Bureau of Air. And, yes, I can hear the neighbors now: Are you crazy, Griggs? Just burn those things!
All of us can help in many ways in the effort to improve air quality. For example, leave the car in the garage, and ride a bicycle to work. If work's too far, try to carpool or use mass transit.
At home, switch to gas or electric outdoor grills, and toss out those old charcoal grills and charcoal lighter fluids, or at least use alternative starters. Have a garage sale, sell your power mower, and use your sale money to buy a new push mower. Yes, manufacturers are making them again, and people are buying them. OK, all right, I'm not one of them yet.
And how about that leaf blower? Put it away inside your garage and use those brooms and rakes. Imagine all that extra exercise you'll get, while helping clean the air.
But wait! There's more. Paint with water-based paints. On an average day in the
Los Angeles area, according to the South Coast Air Quality Management District, drying
oil-based paints release more smog-forming compounds than all the Southland's oil refineries and gas stations combined.
Plant trees! Trees take in carbon dioxide, which the leaves' chloroplasts use to manufacture sugars and starches, releasing the unused oxygen into the air. Some 300 trees can counterbalance the air pollution one person produces in a lifetime.
This week, I'm doing my part for cleaner air. I'm not firing up a grill, not cranking up the lawnmower and definitely not painting the house.
I hope that monster leaf blower is quiet for the rest of the week. But the wind
was blowing today, and you know what that means. Crazy.