Staten Island Advance: Islanders can soon breathe easier

(July 27, 2010)


Published: Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Peter N. Spencer

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. -- New heating oil standards could mean a breath of fresh air for Staten Islanders. 

The city and state have teamed up with a pair of laws that will drastically reduce the amount of sulfur in home and residential heating oil -- and, hopefully, the risks of asthma and lung disease along with it. 

Mayor Michael Bloomberg and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn announced legislation that cuts in half the amount of sulfur allowed in No. 4 heating oil -- used mostly older high-rise buildings -- to 1,500 parts per million. The legislation, expected to be passed at a City Council meeting Thursday, also requires all heating oil used in the city to contain 2 percent biodiesel fuels, which are often made from used grease collected at city restaurants. 

Another law, passed by the state legislature and signed by Gov. David Paterson last week, sets a sulfur limit of 15 parts per million for No. 2 heating fuel oil, which is used in almost all houses and some commercial buildings. Currently, such fuel averages up to 2,000 parts of sulfur per million, and legally can reach 10,000 parts per million. 

Both laws will kick in by the fall 2012. 

"This legislation will dramatically improve the lives of the more than 1 million New Yorkers who suffer from asthma and struggle to breathe every day," said Scott T. Santarella, President and CEO of the American Lung Association in New York. 

Though many have already converted to more efficient, cleaner home heating oil, there are about 10,000 large buildings that still use more toxic types -- No. 6 and No. 4, which is a mixture of No. 2 and No. 6. Those buildings account for about 90 percent of the soot pollution in the city -- fine particles, elemental carbon, nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide -- elements that increase risks of asthma, cancer and lung disease, according to health studies. 

Some of the building owners argued the cost of retrofitting their boilers and heating systems would be prohibitive, while others fear that heating oil providers would pass on the cost of new refining process to homeowners. 

The legislations' sponsors argued that because the build up of sulfur makes heating less efficient and is costly to clean, building owners would make up the cost of retrofitting by saving on maintenance. State legislators have also argued that reducing sulfur content in home heating oil would be inexpensive because the process is already used for automobile diesel fuel. 

Bloomberg estimated it could raise home heating oil price by about 3 to 5 cents per gallon. 

"The bottom line is it's a trade off. I hear what their complaints are, but everyone here is breathing bad air, everybody is getting sick, everybody's life expectancy is getting shortened," he said.