A Veterinarian Weighs in on Leaf Blowers

From Sonoma veterinarian Vallard Forsythe:

In support of local efforts to ban gas leaf blowers and improve the quality of life in Sonoma and drastically reduce unnecessary harmful particulate matter in the air we breathe, I wanted to contribute a few statements and my opinion from the vantage point of a working small animal veterinarian in Sonoma.

It is very well known that particulate matter such as dust, dirt, and debris from the environment can pose a tremendous health challenge for dogs, cats, and virtually all other mammals. While the normal changes in seasons, weather, rainfall, and pollen counts can all affect animals, extra particulate matter such as the debris aerosolized by leaf blowers poses a sharply increased risk for a variety of health problems for our domestic species. Among those most notably seen by me directly are:

  1. Significant flare up of cough, wheezing, and “respiratory” issues that encompass both infectious and inflammatory types of diseases.
  2. Eye problems of unknown origin–either in one or both eyes: owners report a clear discharge from the eyes or a “pink eye” situation with no previous known injury.
  3. Nasal discomfort: rubbing and snorting, as if to remove a “foreign body” that is not there, but rather a minute irritant that was substantial enough to bother the mucous membranes and irritate the pet’s nasal passages.
  4. Skin issues, including itching and scratching. These clinical signs are usually blamed completely on atopy or “allergy.” There is well documented, long standing scientific evidence that the irritation in the skin is secondary to allergens that the pet has inhaled.

In addition, because pets are so sound sensitive, the use of leaf blowers can startle animals and cause outdoor pets to dart away from yards and potentially scare them into more dangerous situations such as traffic or other precarious situations.

The blasting “on and off” sounds made with gas leaf blowers has a definite impact on small animals’ “fight or flight” response, causing an immediate release of cortisol into the bloodstream. Especially with cats, this taxes the body and leads to a surge in blood glucose almost instantly. In my opinion, this is a good example of the loud noise made by gas leaf blowers having a negative impact on animals all around our town—it is not an obvious impact, but once you realize what is going on inside their bodies on a cellular level, you realize that maybe the impact is farther reaching than we previously realized.

The information and examples I have stated above are only a small sample of the deleterious effects that leaf blowers have on the small animals of Sonoma. I hope that my words will help get some conversations started that emphasize the importance of considering the quality of life for our pets in Sonoma as people make an effort to decide the fate of leaf blowers in our community.

I would be happy to answer any other questions regarding this topic as my time and schedule permit.


Vallard Forsythe, DVM ~ Broadway Veterinary Hospital

Support Sonoma’s Blower-Free Businesses


Are you a SONOMA BUSINESS that refrains from using gas-powered leaf blowers? We want to acknowledge you!

A few weeks ago we witnessed a man in a wheelchair with an oxygen tank forced to endure clouds of dust from a gas-powered leaf blower as he tried to wheel his chair up a ramp to get a coffee on Broadway. Because of this, we decided we couldn’t wait until November for the ban on gas leaf blowers to be decided. So we hit the streets to ask business owners to voluntarily stop using them to clean their properties. Just as we expected, we received 100% support from everyone we spoke to.

Sonoma CALM affiliates include Sonoma Market (Manager Al Minero: “This falls in line with our new green plan”), Fine Line Art Supplies (Owner Zac McCormick: “It’s good for business”), MacArthur Place (Manager: “Why would we want to bother our guests?”), Get Reel Lawncare, Bolt Staffing, Broadway Veterinary Hospital, The Sonoma Valley Museum of Art, Sisters Consignment, G’s General Store,  Three Dog Bakery, GT Designs,  Sonoma Old School, EJ 588 Studio, En-Er-Gy Studios, and many more. 

We will publish a full list soon with contact information so you can support these businesses and promote emissions-free, quiet landscaping!

The Sonoma Valley Unified School District has also ceased using gas-powered leaf blowers (Superintendant Carlomagno: “…to protect the children and staff”) and the Sonoma Valley Hospital, with its healing gardens, and Vintage House, followed suit.

If you are a landscape company  working without leaf blowers, or willing to do so, we want to spotlight your business as many Sonoma residents are asking for this kind of service.

And remember, use a rake and broom, and ask your landscaper to do the same. After all, he/she is employed by YOU and it’s the neighborly thing to do. Plus, your landscape workers will no longer be exposed to dangerous noise levels, toxic emissions, and fine particulate matter.

Please visit and “like” our Sonoma CALM Facebook page.


Ballot Language

Here is a recent Letter to the Editor from Sonoma CALM members that explains the status of the language for the upcoming Ballot Measure. Sonoma CALM will be helping to draft the Argument to uphold the City Council’s recent ordinance banning gas blowers while allowing electric- and battery-powered blowers. Everyone already knows the arguments for continued use of gas-powered blowers – time, jobs, personal rights, etc. Time and time again, groups across the country working to ban gas-powered blowers have proven that these arguments don’t stand up when weighed against risks to public health, contributing to green house gas and other toxic emissions, depletion and desiccation of top soil and leaf litter, noise pollution, and neighborly discourtesy.


Letter: Leaf-blower ballot language – approved without public input?

Posted on July 5, 2016 by Sonoma Valley Sun

On March 21, the Sonoma City Council approved an ordinance to prohibit gas-powered leaf blowers in City limits, while allowing electric and battery powered blowers. City staff made the questionable decision not to notify the public about the ordinance, which was to take effect July 1, because a referendum to overturn it was being organized by Jerry Marino. This decision caused widespread confusion, and most people did not know an ordinance had passed, including some of the referendum signature collectors, and many who signed it.

Once the signatures were vetted, the ordinance was suspended and the Council had three options: to rescind it, put it on the November ballot, or call a special election. At the May 16 Council meeting, Council asked staff to prepare all three options for discussion, to be voted on at the June 27 meeting. At that meeting, the Council voted unanimously to send it to the November election.

Unbeknownst to at least some Council members, but recently confirmed by city staff, in voting to send the ordinance to the ballot, the Council tacitly approved the ballot language. This was not made clear in the agenda packet or in staff’s discussion of the item – but should have been.

Members of the public had expressed concerns about the ballot language at past meetings, as had Council members. They stressed the importance of having the opportunity to review the language. The ordinance title was deemed confusing, as it did not specify that only gas blowers were prohibited. Because the title does not have to be repeated verbatim on the ballot, at issue was how to describe the ordinance to make it clear what people were voting on.

At the May 15 meeting, the City Attorney said staff would “…bring back to the Council…some optional language to insert into the ballot…” So it is understandable that many expected the language to come back at a future meeting.

Members of the public made recommendations about the language during public comments on June 27, and although staff knew it was already bundled with the resolutions, they said nothing about that. Where is the transparency in this process? Nobody seemed to know what was going on except for city staff, and they must have been aware that others didn’t, given public and Council comments.

City staff works for the City Council, not the other way around, and the Council works for the public. That ballot language slid in under the radar, setting a dangerous precedent for future ballot initiatives, which are, by nature, complex and difficult to navigate. Ultimately the approach of City staff created an opaque process around this issue that did not serve the public.