Leaky Lawnmowers Are Lethal According To The EPA

This weekend and a weekend in May. Durham County, NC residents can trade in their gas mowers for electric mower and get up to 57% off the price of the electric mower. Every year Americans spill 17 million gallons of gas while using lawn equipment. There is a link the the Durham mower exchange on Randy Emmitt’s website.Greener Durham

Leaky Lawnmowers Are Lethal According To The EPA

Fill up your lawnmower with gasoline, crank her up, and follow the trail of toxic fumes. You just accomplished two things. You have contributed to volatile organic compounds or VOCs as air quality engineers call it. You have probably contaminated our streams and rivers if you leaked any petroleum products in the process. Depending on the age of the lawn mower and its condition, it could cause a great deal of harm to the environment.

While reading a recent post at the blog diggin’it by Judy Lowe, it became clear that our lawnmowers might be more dangerous than our vehicles. Judy’s post points out the fact that spilled gases from our lawn mowers is a real concern to the EPA. One of the solutions involved is a government small engine buy back program. Then you ask the question, can one small spill from my recklessness cause such a situation?

Doesn’t gas just evaporate? Some of the gas evaporates but there are petroleum chemicals left over that get washed off with rain water and enter our ground water levels. Gas leaks in grassy areas may have time to leech through the ground and filter those toxins. Gas that makes it to the storm water drains during a significant rain event can make it directly to the streams. Roads being slick as it begins to rain is one indication that gas residue is on the road. Looking at puddles and seeing chemical rainbows is another indication of petroleum products present after the gases have dissipated.

One of the sources Judy uses to support her findings provided further insight. The EPA has statistics measuring the pollutant possibilities from small engines such as lawn mowers, weed-eaters, and blowers as some examples. Following a link from the EPA site, the small engine buy back program is one of the solutions. Newer lawnmowers according to this link can emit up to 1/3 less pollutants.  This link gives an example of how Oregon was able to implement a program buying back older lawn mowers from citizens. The buy back program was implemented to improve air quality and strive to meet the EPA standards for air quality in that region.

Another program addresses pollution of our rivers, lakes, stream beds, and under ground springs. A storm water program is phasing in for many of our states. Fees are collected from each resident to pay for the program.In the state of NC, this is a mandatory action. Each town’s responsibility or phases of the storm water program are set according to size. A small town will be required to implement on phase 1 while a large town may have several phases.

Educating the public is a large part of the program. Stopping the spilling and purposefully dumping of chemicals in to the storm water drainage system is a priority. Each town uses the money collected from these fees to meet the special needs specific to their area. For instance, improvements in the existing culverts changes the rate for water flow. Allowing the water to flow smoothly without backing up, means less collection of debris along the way.

One way the storm water program halts further contamination is requiring new construction guidelines. New construction guidelines dictate that holding ponds are designed for every facility having parking lots and impervious cover of a certain percentage. In other words, store the storm water run off allowing it to free up contaminants before reaching our waters. For smaller build outs, the percentages require there is enough land on site to hold the water long enough to leech through the ground purifying as it goes.

How can a city pay for a buy back program? The EPA or their local department has awarded grants to towns that exceed air or quality standards helping them to achieve more favorable VOC levels. It is possible to use storm water collection fees where it can be proved that the buy back program will benefit waters and streams also.

Why doesn’t every town have a buy back program? Most towns are strapped for money and raising taxes is not an option. Not all towns qualify for grants or have a storm water program. Those towns that do collect fees have a list of must needs before want needs. The must needs are priority and can quickly consume those monies. Review of new construction site plans is costly to a town also. They must hire someone to review those plans which dips into the fee source leaving less money to fix the needs issue. And lastly, towns are unable to offer the program because additional employees must be hired to run the storm water program.

There are towns who qualify for grants, have the extra money in their storm water fees, raise taxes, or pay for it out of a fund balance. The buy back program does work according to the study in Oregon.

If your city does not offer a buy back program, will you take it upon yourself to improve air and water qualities by trading in the old leaky small engine equipment? How far are you willing to go to address the issue?

7 Comments Add yours

  1. Donna says:

    great post…my husband is so meticulous he literally never spills and keeps his mower clean but we would go with a better mower if they offered it..


  2. Randy Emmitt says:

    This weekend and a weekend in May. Durham County residents can trade in their gas mowers for electric mower and get up to 57% off the price of the electric mower. I heard every year Americans spill 17 million gallons of gas while using lawn equipment. There is a link the the Durham mower exchange on my current post at my blog.


  3. Good research, nicely presented. Interesting stuff. I hadn’t heard about lawn mower buy-backs, but it does sound as if it might hold some promise.

    *** Thank you for suggesting that I follow up on this topic after commenting on your blog. Together, we’ve made folks aware of the pollutants and responsibilities. Every time I visit your blog, I get inspired to write something else.


  4. A buy-back program would be an abismal failure around here because most of the lawns are cut by landscaping crews with their behemoth mowers that are louder & dirtier than regular mowers. Out of all the houses on my street & behind my house, only a handful of us cut our own lawns. It stinks, literally.

    ** I can just imagine cause it is awful around here too. Thank goodness as old lawnmowers are replaced, they will have new emission standards.


  5. Cynthia says:

    Interesting post Anna. I hate my lawn mower. It is not old but it is loud and I hate lawns as I see them as a huge waste of space and water. We are gradually replacing our lawn filled backyard with gardens.

    **That will be really pretty and using drought free native plants is helpful as you know. I think you are doing a grand job with your garden. I think it’s a challenge for each of us to figure out how we can be good stewards.


  6. PGL says:

    Very informative & environmentally conscious post today Anna. Thanks for the great need to know info. We all could do our part in keeping our waterways safe & chemical free.

    ** Glad you enjoyed the post. We are under mandatory restrictions for what goes in the storm drain. You have to pay heft fees if you are caught dumping.


  7. Cinj says:

    Hmm, makes me think maybe I should buy a herd of goats to keep my grass cut short. They probably wouldn’t eat all of those thorny blackberry bushes from the places I don’t want them to grow though!

    *** We’re getting a new lawn mower this year. Not cause I’m such a good person—we need one. Our yard is too big for an electric one. I told dh he could push it with one of those old fashioned types. He just rolled his eyes.


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