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This Christmas, ask Santa for an electric leaf blower, mower, or chainsaw. Come summer, we’ll all thank you.

The little engines in gas-powered landscaping equipment generate a disproportionate amount of air pollution for their size. A commercial gas-powered blower produces the same amount of ozone-creating emissions in an hour as driving 1,100 miles, according to a new report by the CoPIRG Foundation. An hour of operating a commercial gas-powered mower equates to 300 miles on the road.

By replacing commercial and noncommercial gas-powered mowers, edgers, leaf blowers, chain saws, rototillers, and grinders with battery-powered and electric alternatives, the Front Range can reduce ozone levels, and we will all breathe a little easier.

The Front Range from Castle Rock to Fort Collins suffers from a brown cloud nearly year-round. In the winter, the region is prone to temperature inversions, wherein warm air traps pollution-saturated (mainly carbon monoxide and particulate matter) cold air at the surface. Come summer, high ozone levels create a different kind of unhealthy haze.

High up in the atmosphere ozone forms a protective layer that shields us from ultraviolet rays. When concentrated at the ground level, however, it is harmful to animals and plants. Most ground-level ozone is formed when manmade nitrogen oxides (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOC) react with sunlight and heat.

Nitrogen oxides are byproducts of fossil fuel combustion in automobiles and at power plants and industrial furnaces. Volatile organic compounds come from chemical fumes released from gasoline pumps, chemical plants, and certain paints. Forest fire smoke contributes to unhealthy ozone levels as well.

One study found people living in countries with the greatest concentrations of ozone had lower life expectancies. Sadly multiple areas along the Front Range have ozone levels equivalent to the countries in the study. High levels of ground-level ozone make it harder to breathe. Long-term exposure can cause lung infections, worsen asthma, and contribute to other health problems.

Recently the summer air in my native city has had the tail pipe-ashtray taste I associate with places like New Delhi. It’s not my imagination; over the past five summers, public health agencies have issued 232 Ozone Action Day Alerts warning Front Range residents to avoid exercising outside or to stay inside to limit exposure to high ozone levels. The stretch between Castle Rock and Fort Collins has experienced some of the worst ozone concentrations in the nation.

The region has failed to meet the 2008 National Ambient Air Quality Standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency for ozone pollution since 2012. In order to meet healthy air standards, these communities must reduce ground-level ozone emissions from 84 parts per billion (ppb) to 70 ppb.

Landscaping equipment accounts for around 2.5 ppb of the ozone. That may not sound like much, but it accounts for one-fifth of the needed reduction. Most gas-powered lawn equipment is powered by two-stroke engines that combine gas and oil. When combusted or leaked, the mixture produces more NOx than a four-stroke engine in an automobile.

Car engines keep oil and gas separated and employ emission reduction control technology. Pound for pound, they are substantially cleaner than their smaller counterparts. Gas-powered automobiles also perform an essential role in transportation and are much costlier to replace with electric alternatives.

Electric and battery-powered lawn equipment is affordable and more cost-effective over time than gas-powered counterparts. They are also quieter and easier to maintain. To help make the transition, the Regional Air Quality Council (RAQC) offers a $150 voucher to people who recycle and replace gas-powered mowers with electric and battery-powered ones.

When I still had lawn turf, I had an electric mower that purred so quietly I could talk on my cell phone while mowing. I dispensed with the leaf blower when I realized that leaves break down naturally and are eaten by worms. I tossed the smoky rototiller when I learned that tilling dries out the soil in the vegetable garden. I now filch bags of leaves from neighbors to add to my compost.

This year, I’m asking Santa for an electric chainsaw.

Krista L. Kafer is a weekly Denver Post columnist. Follow her on Twitter: @kristakafer


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