Leaf blower blow-by
A proposed bylaw to curb the growl of leaf blowers on smog days doesn't go far enough for Councillor Michael Walker, who wants them silenced completely in his St. Paul's ward.
Walker claims that while measures to toughen restrictions on the use of leaf blowers will also curb noise on Sundays and holidays, the city's new proposed bylaw, sent back to planning and transportation committee March 6, fails to address the motors' more pressing environmental effects.
Dr. James Deutsch of activist group Grassroots Hillcrest has been concerned for three years about the noise and health effects caused by leaf blowers.
"Cars are bad enough," he says. But "leaf blowers are vastly greater contributors to greenhouse gases. You can smell the exhaust and hear the noise blocks away."
Toronto Public Health reported in 2001 that emissions from leaf blowers can adversely affect the health of children, the elderly and those with heart and lung conditions.
According to Toronto Environmental Alliance senior campaigner Gord Perks, "Running a leaf blower for six hours a day creates more pollution than driving from coast to coast in Canada." Perks says it's the blend of oil and gas used in old two-stroke engines that is the real problem.
Says Monica Campbell, the city's health promotion and environmental protection manager,"It's not the most urgent and critical public health issue in the city, but anything that can be done to reduce air pollution is a good thing."
Transportation Services uses gas-powered leaf blowers, trimmers and lawn mowing equipment to maintain roads and sidewalks, while Parks and Rec says backpack blowers are rarely used for more than five minutes at a time, mostly to clean up after special events or in the fall for leaves.
"The general rule for all our smaller blowers is that they meet emission standards or exceed them," says Parks and Rec spokesperson Bruce Sudds.
A better solution, Walker says, is to "start picking up the old rake again."
No sweat, sort of
City workers may soon be sure their uniforms aren't made by child labourers in factories overseas after the administration committee endorsed an anti-sweatshop policy March 6.
Although the city already has a fair wage policy, a revision to that policy will also ensure that apparel comes from companies that follow fair labour practices - if council approves it.
"Numerous universities have adopted [no-sweatshop] policies just like the one before the city, and use their buying power to influence company behaviour," says Kevin Thomas of the Maquila Solidarity Network.
Other cities, most notably Vancouver and Los Angeles, have adopted a no-sweatshop, full-disclosure policy. The Toronto District Catholic School Board gave its own policy some teeth last month by agreeing to contract the Worker Rights Consortium to monitor its uniform manufacturers' factories overseas.
In 2004, Toronto spent $3.2 million for firefighters', ambulance attendants' and other public employees' uniforms. About one-third of these are made by suppliers outside Canada.
The Toronto Professional Fire Fighters' Association points out that more than 500 garment workers were killed in a fire last month in a Bangladesh textile factory with shoddy safety standards.
Asks TPFFA member Frank Ramagnano, "How can we ask the public to follow our mandate when we don't have policies in place to make sure we don't contribute to fire tragedies?"
But there's a snag.
Committee members agreed to recommend this plan to council next month provided the city isn't on the hook for the $50,000 it would cost to hire staff to monitor the policy.