Amid Smoke and Ashes, Residents Demand Relief

For now, the city of Santa Cruz seems safe from the onslaught of the CZU Lightning Complex Fire thanks to the efforts of CalFire, volunteers, and other emergency responders, who continue to fight the flames still threatening mountain communities to the north.

As the fire burned through thousands of acres of redwood and chaparral, the winds blew towards Santa Cruz, sending unhealthy levels of smoke into town and raining ash down onto everyone and every thing.

Many of us now know that ash is not just something that’s a pain to clean up but a serious threat to health if inhaled. You can sweep up the visible white and grey ashes from your doorstep, but then you’re also sending a cloud of invisible, finer particles back into the air–when inhaled, they are small enough to lodge deep inside the lungs, and even enter the bloodstream. The fine particles disrupt normal respiration, and are even more dangerous to those with asthma and other respiratory or heart conditions. And if the ash contains particles like asbestos or arsenic from burned structures, it is even more dangerous.

As many residents are cleaning up the ash around their homes in ways that protect their health and that of others, they’re seeing landscapers firing up leaf blowers and blowing ash onto neighbors’ properties and sending the most dangerous particles right back into the air, risking other people’s health, again.

The ash settles onto other people’s cars, houses, and yards, where their landscapers may come through with their leaf blowers the next day and send the same ash back again.

This is insanity.

Residents were already running out of patience for leaf blowers, and since April, we’ve faced the pandemic, all its related stresses, and a heat wave, rolling blackouts, the fires, and the inescapable smoke. To now face leaf blowers blowing toxic ash back and forth between properties is a special kind of crazy.

Some of those using leaf blowers may not be aware of the health dangers they pose (which go well beyond ash from wildfires), but that’s where leadership comes in–residents are calling out for the city to finally regulate these machines, but we haven’t heard an answer, yet.

On Facebook and NextDoor, the anger is high. Residents are demanding that the council ban leaf blowers in the city, and in the meantime, given this pile-up of local health risks–smoke, ash, and the pandemic (read here about the effects of air pollution on Covid death rates)–pass an immediate declaration and use the city’s communications channels to discourage homeowners and landscapers from using them.

Even in the best of times, leaf blowers do not belong where people live. These are not the best of times.

Santa Cruz City Council: people are asking for leadership and action. Will you act?