New York City Targets Buildings' Heating Oil to Improve Air Quality

New York City Targets Buildings' Heating Oil to Improve Air Quality

Hazardous smoke rises from a building using heavy oils. Courtesy Environmental Defense Fund/Isabelle SIlverman
Hazardous smoke rises from a building using heavy oils. (Courtesy Environmental Defense Fund/Isabelle SIlverman)

What’s your building burning? Some 10,000 buildings in New York City are stuck on the dirty stuff—heavy heating oils—to keep warm, which is polluting the air across the city. But as of the first of this month, the city has begun to phase out these feuls in favor of more environmentally-friendly and health-conscious alternatives. As part of plaNYC’s initiative to remake New York City with the cleanest air of any major U.S. city, NYC Clean Heat aims to achieve a 50 percent reduction in fine particulate matter (PM2.5) by the end of 2013.

While used by only one percent of the city’s buildings, heavy oils No. 4 and No. 6 emit more emissions than all of the cars and trucks on New York’s streets. The elimination of the use of these heating oils in favor of cleaner fuels, such as No.2 oil, Biodiesel, natural gas, and steam, is estimated to save 120 lives a year, as well as prevent 200 respiratory and cardiovascular related emergency room visits, and 77 hospitalizations.

The three types of heating oil. (Courtesy NYC Clean Heat)

Currently, three grades of heating oil are used in New York City: No. 2, No. 4, and No. 6. Quite literally the “bottom of the barrel,” No. 6 heating oil resembles tar, and like No. 4 oil, can contain sulfur, nickel, and other impurities which create soot when burned, thus polluting the air and lessening boiler efficiency. The byproduct, PM2.5, lodges in lungs and aggravates respiratory illnesses, while nickel inhalation can lead to heart disease. With PM2.5 concentrations 30 percent higher in neighborhoods that rely heavily on heavy heating oils, and nickel concentrations over nine times higher than those of any other major U.S. city, it is no surprise that 300,000 New York children suffer from asthma.

NYC Clean Heat aims to cooperate with property owners, building managers, tenants, and environmental organizations to achieve its goals. Check out this map to see what you and your neighbors are burning, and contact NYC Clean Heat for additional information getting your building converted.

Map showing wintertime ground-level PM2.5 concentrations—as measured by the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene at 150 monitoring sites across the City – overlaid with the locations of buildings that burn No. 6 oil. (Courtesy NYC DOHMH)