2011-12-14 / Features

Heating Oil Phase-Out Will Reduce Pollution, Asthma


New regulations ending the use of Nos. 4 and 6 heating oil over the next 20 years will reduce fine particles in New York City air from all sources by five percent. In addition, the city Department of Health estimates some 200 deaths, 100 hospitalizations and 300 emergency room visits for diseases caused by air pollution each year could be prevented by the improvement in air quality.

Among pollutants in New York City, heating oils are not as recognized as sources of pollution as are emissions from cars and trucks. But the burning of Nos. 4 and 6 account for more soot pollution in New York City than all the cars and trucks combined, Ibrahim Abdul-Matin of the New York City Clean Heat Program said.

An estimated 10,000 buildings, representing just one percent of the entire building stock in New York City, have boilers burning Nos. 4 and 6 fuel oils, the dirtiest of all heating types available. Nos. 4 and 6 possess significantly higher levels of sulfur, nickel and other pollutants, compared to other heating fuels.

In Queens, about 1,300 buildings are burning Nos. 4 or 6 fuel oils. “These are mostly [large] residential buildings with elevators,” Abdul-Matin said during a presentation of the City’s Clean Heat Program at the December 6 meeting of the Queens Borough Cabinet. In April, new regulations went into effect requiring all boilers in New York City to burn low-sulfur Number 2 oil, natural gas, or any fuel that is as clean or cleaner by 2030.

The phase-out of Nos. 4 and 6 heating oil officially began on May 23 with the requirement that all new boilers issued permits by the city must burn No. 2 oil. In accordance with Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s PlaNYC goal to make the air in New York City the cleanest of any big U.S. city, burning No. 6 heating oil will end by 2015, followed by the phase-out of No. 4 oil by 2030.

A streamlined approval process for converting boilers to cleaner fuels has been instituted to help building owners with conversions. The simplified program, developed by the city Departments of Environmental Protection (DEP) and Buildings (DOB), gives incentives for early compliance with the new regulations by reducing paperwork. It will also save building owners on average 80 percent of the upgrade design costs (approximately $3,000 per boiler), although owners will still have to pay for the physical work of converting their boilers.

“We are trying to help building ownership to see if we can accelerate the process [of converting],”

Abdul-Matin said. “Clean heat is about cleaning the air and saving people’s lives.”

Air pollution contributes to an estimated six percent of all annual deaths in New York City. In Queens County, about 50,000 children with pediatric asthma and almost 200,000 people with adult asthma are at risk because of fine particulate pollution, according to the American Lung Association.

Increased exposure to fine particulate matter is also known to be linked to lung and heart conditions and to contribute to asthma.

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