"If you bought a brand new mower, it would emit 93 times more pollution on a gallon per gallon basis than a brand new automobile."
Jeff Buss was standing beside the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency's lawn mower. It is electric, so it doesn't emit any pollution. Jeff Buss was touting its benefits, and answering questions about how manufacturers of gasoline fueled lawn mowers are going to be required to add catalytic converters to clean up the exhaust.
"The emissions that come off the lawn mowers form smog," he said, "and summer time is mowing season. It's also smog season. It's when those pollutants are recombining in the atmosphere through heat and sunlight to form smog or ground level ozone that impacts people's health."
Jeff Buss is mobile sources coordinator in the MPCA air quality division. He figures federal requirements have cleaned up exhausts from cars quite well. Now it's time to use technology developed to clean car exhausts, to begin cleaning up the fumes coming from lawn mowers.
"It's not just that you have hundreds of thousands of homeowners mowing their lawns every weekend," he says, "but each of those people are huffing and puffing and breathing in that exhaust and that's carbon monoxide and there's a number of air toxics that are there, too."
Jeff Buss said a catalytic converter for a mower would be about the size of a golf ball, and would add between five and seven dollars to the cost of a mower.
"It's very difficult to retrofit a regular mower with a catalytic converter, although with the new standards that the EPA is proposing for lawn mowers, manufacturers would be required to put one on."
Such requirements take effect January 1, 2007 in California. There is, at present, no deadline for the rest of the country.
It's not as if manufacturers haven't been cleaning up emissions from their engines.
"In fact," says Connie Kotke, Manager of Corporate Communications and Public Relations for the Toro Company, "the walk power mower engines that are on models today are about 70 per cent cleaner than the models that were out in 1990."
The reporter's own mower, a four-year-old, 21-inch-
swath Lawn-Boy uses a two-stroke engine. It smokes a little, but runs fantastically well, but its exhaust is too dirty for today's standards.
"We're not allowed to manufacture the two-stroke engine for our walk power mowers, so everything that Toro produces is the four stroke [engine],"
said Toro Spokesperson Connie Kotke.
Inside its Bloomington headquarters, the Toro Company shows off many of its mowers. Most are gasoline powered mowers. But three electric mowers were among them.
"We sell those in Europe," said Connie Kotke.
"They sell well, there. We put them on the market here, but there was no demand."
Jeff Buss hopes to change that.
Buss mowed the small lawn in front of the PCA building to demonstrate. The mower he used, Neuton EM 4.1, has a 14-inch swath. It is light... weighs about half as much as a gasoline powered mower.
Buss said an average gasoline powered lawn mower emits about 80 decibels of sound.
"If you were operating that at work, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration would require some kind of hearing protection," he said.
Buss said the Neuton runs at 54 decibels... about as loud as a normal conversation.
He said the Neuton costs about $450 to purchase, but a group of Twin Cities area churches is promoting the use of the mowers. Congregations Caring for Creation offers a special deal on its Web site. Click here to access that site.
You can learn more about putting catalytic converters on lawn and garden equipment by clicking here.
Minnesota's Pollution Control Agency has lawn and garden information on its web page .
By Ken Speake, KARE 11 News
(Copyright 2006 by KARE. All Rights Reserved.)