About the Equitable Gas Leaf Blower Phase-out

Black man with a red hoodie, gray jeans and a green hat uses an electric leaf blower in his yard.
Switching from gas to electric equipment will benefit our local environment and improve quality of life for workers and neighbors.

The City of Portland and Multnomah County are working to develop an ordinance that would help Portland transition away from gas leaf blowers to electric leaf blowers.

Health impacts, environmental justice, and equity

Electrification of lawn equipment provides health benefits to leaf blower operators and residents by reducing noise and air pollution. Gas leaf blowers may be a nuisance to neighbors, but their negative health impacts are disproportionately felt by landscape workers and other GLB operators. With 46% of landscape workers nationally identifying as Latino, this proposed ordinance is vital to address the equity and environmental justice impacts that disproportionately affect workers of color.

Gas leaf blowers are widely known to emit unhealthy levels of noise and air pollution. Gas leaf blowers produce low frequency noise that can lead to negative health outcomes such as stroke, high blood pressure, heart attack, tinnitus and hearing impairment. The higher frequency noise created by electric leaf blowers has less severe health impacts on users compared to GLBs.

Gas leaf blowers also emit significant amounts of air pollution. A recent study demonstrated that running a GLB for just one hour produces the same level of pollution as driving a midsize sedan 1,100 miles – the equivalent of Portland to San Diego. Exhaust from GLBs also poses significant health risks to operators and the public, including stroke, cardiovascular and respiratory disease, cancer, neurological conditions and prenatal development issues.

Electric models are cheaper to operate over time as they require less maintenance and remove the need to purchase fuels. However, the City and Multnomah County recognize that upfront costs of electric leaf blowers are higher than GLBs. To address this, work will be done to develop a program to offset costs for small businesses that would experience a disproportionate hardship.

The City also recognizes that the proposed complaint system for enforcement can disproportionally impact members of historically marginalized communities. Communities with a history of positive government experiences may be more willing to report – and may disproportionately report members of historically marginalized communities. We will prioritize outreach and education in the community and work with key contributors to design an enforcement system with Multnomah County that considers potential impacts to all communities.

Proposed ordinance

This proposed ordinance would amend the Chapter 8 health code to phase out the use of gas handheld or backpack leaf blowers on public and private property within Portland city limits. Beginning January 1, 2026, the proposed ordinance would prohibit property owners from using, or hiring contractors that use, GLBs between January 1 and September 30 each year. Although electric lawn equipment technology is rapidly advancing, the City recognizes that electric leaf blowers are not yet powerful enough to practically move wet leaves during the winter season. Therefore, from October 1 to December 31, the use of GLBs would still be allowed until the end of 2027. Effective January 1, 2028, GLBs would be prohibited all year.

The proposed policy originated in 2018 when Multnomah County Commissioner Jessica Vega Pederson and City of Portland Commissioner Nick Fish began exploring a policy to phase out GLBs in our community. Since then, local government leaders have continued to pave the way to develop a policy that can equitably phase out the use of GLBs within city limits.

Timeline - 2018: Multnomah and Portland begin exploring a policy to phase out GLBs in Portland. 2019: Portland City Council directs Portland bureaus to transition away from GLBs. 2021: Multnomah Board of Commissioners direct County departments to phase out GLBs. 2022: Portland and Multnomah County convene a workgroup that presented a recommendation to phase out the use and sale of GLBs. 2023: Commissioner Rubio directs BPS staff to develop a policy to equitably phase out use of GLBs in city limits.

This proposed ordinance was shaped by stakeholder input from the public, private and nonprofit sectors. We welcome your feedback on the proposal through our public comment system. Public comment will be open January 17-31, 2024, and the proposed ordinance will be heard by Portland City Council on Wednesday, March 6, 2024.