Queens Chronicle: Heating oil hurts NYC’s air quality

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by Paula Neudorf, Associate Editor 

Thursday, December 15, 2011 

The city will be stepping up efforts to phase out dangerous heating oils still being used throughout Manhattan and the boroughs, according to a representative of the Mayor’s Office who spoke at a recent meeting with Queens Borough President Helen Marshall.

Under city legislation passed last spring, all boilers burning No. 6 oil must switch to a lighter oil by 2015; no new boilers can burn No. 6 or No. 4 oil; and any boilers burning No. 6 oil by 2030 will have to be modified or replaced.

At the meeting, Ibrahim Abdul-Matin of the New York City Clean Heat Program said the emissions from buildings using these heating oils — which he called “dirtier than coal” — accounted for more soot and air pollution than all the cars and trucks in the city combined.

Thirteen percent of the 10,000 buildings now using these oils are located in Queens, Abdul-Matin said.

And it’s not just homeowners who are to blame. At least one hospital and several schools in Queens burn No. 6 or No. 4 oils, he said, noting that “New York City schools were the last ones to burn coal.”

Abdul-Matin urged community board leaders in attendance to “find out who owns these buildings, who makes the decisions about boilers.”

For its part, the city will be targeting the top 25 burners on its own, and will help pay for the transition to cleaner heat in some cases.

According to published reports, soot pollution can irritate the lungs and worsen conditions like asthma. It also increases the risk of heart attacks.

Marshall seemed particularly concerned for residents of Astoria, asking whether the numerous power plants in the area use No. 4 and No. 6 oils. Abdul-Matin could not provide an answer. Astoria has notoriously poor air quality

One of the overarching goals of Bloomberg’s administration is to make New York’s air quality the best of any metropolitan area in the country.

But in 2009, the American Lung Association ranked New York as one of the 25 most polluted cities. However, it fell far behind Los Angeles, the dirtiest city in the country in terms of ozone pollution and the second dirtiest by year-round particle pollution. New York was ranked 17th and 21st dirtiest, respectively.