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Role of Small Gas-Powered Engines in Air Pollution

A lot of people rarely attribute air pollution to small gas-powered engines like lawnmowers. However, emissions from lawnmowers represent a crucial source of air pollution. These small engines are a significant source of carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, and hydrocarbons, all of which are actively involved in the formation of ozone (Werner 2). More than half of all ozone-forming pollutants are generated by small engines such as lawnmowers. Of particular note are the gasoline-powered lawnmowers. In a study carried out in Sweden in 2001, it emerged that cutting grass using a gasoline-powered lawnmower contributes the same amount of air pollutants as riding an automobile for 100 miles (Westerholm para. 1). At the same time, the U.S Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reckons that over 54 million Americans mow their lawns every other weekend using gasoline-powered lawnmowers and that they could be contributing to nearly five percent of air pollution in the country.

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The reason why small engines such as lawnmowers result in big pollution problems is that they tend to emit significantly large quantities of volatile organic compounds, nitrogen oxides, and carbon monoxide, and this causes smog (Werner 3). This has a drastic effect on human health because smog-laden air is linked to inflamed and damaged lungs, reduced oxygen levels in the bloodstream, enhanced risk of asthma attacks, as well as an aggravation of heart conditions (Werner 3). According to a study by Christensen and Westerholm (2167), the mower exhaust contains some 26 different types of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), the same as the emissions by a car that has traveled for more than 150 kilometers. Part of the PAHs is 100 micrograms of benzo[a]pyrenes, a compound that is categorized as a carcinogen. The same study revealed that a lawnmower emits over half a kilogram of carbon dioxide, in addition to a few grams of hydrocarbons, nitrogen oxides, methane, and smoke particulates.

Considering that gasoline-powered lawnmowers have been identified as one of the leading causes of air pollution, the EPA has had to implement new regulations that require new garden and lawn equipment to reduce air pollution by 35 percent, starting from 2011. The move was aimed at saving nearly190 a million gallons of gasoline every year, in addition to saving over 300 premature deaths each year. To achieve such a reduction in emissions, lawn manufacturers are required to add catalytic converters to the equipment to facilitate a reduction in emissions of greenhouse gases (Christensen and Westerholm 2168). However, this has proven to be a controversial issue with some of the lawnmower manufacturers and policymakers arguing that the addition of catalytic converters to lawnmowers could spark off fires. On the other hand, preliminary studies conducted by the EPA have revealed that the use of catalytic converters on lawnmowers was not linked to any safety problem.

Apart from enforcing regulations that lead to reduced emissions by small gas-powered engines like lawnmowers, other solutions to this problem would include encouraging homeowners to minimize the use of gasoline-powered lawn mowers and instead, replace them with electric or hand-powered lawnmowers. On the other hand, the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute has raised the issue of how impractical it is to use catalytic converters for small machines such as lawnmowers. Estimates by the group show that installing a catalytic converter to a lawnmower would drive its cost up. The group has also argued on the impracticability of using electric-powered machines by consumers (Lawson para. 4). In addition, homeowners should also consider landscaping in a bid to minimize the quantity of grass on their front or backyards. Another solution would be to minimize mowing time by using grass/flower seed mixtures or low-maintenance turf grasses that grow slowly and hence need less mowing.


Christensen, Anders and Roger, Westerholm. “Measurement of Regulated and Unregulated Exhaust Emissions from a Lawn Mower with and without an Oxidizing Catalyst: A Comparison of Two Different Fuels”. Environ. Sci. Technol. 35(2001): 2166-2170. Print.

Lawson, Willow. “Study: lawn mowing equals car trip”. ABC News, 2012. Web.

Werner, Erica 2008, EPA limits lawnmower emissions to stem pollution. Web.

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Westerholm, Roger. One hour of grass cutting equals 100 miles worth of auto pollution”. Science Daily, 2001. Web.

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