The air in New York City is the cleanest in 50 years, saving 800 lives per year, according to a new report:
"Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg today announced New York City’s air quality has reached the cleanest levels in more than 50 years, with dramatic reductions in pollutants in the air since the launch of the Administration’s comprehensive, long-term sustainability blueprint, PlaNYC. Since 2008, the levels of sulfur dioxide (SOx) in the air have dropped by 69 percent and since 2007 the level of soot pollution (PM2.5) has dropped by 23 percent. The largest contributor to the reductions is the PlaNYC’s Clean Heat program, which phased out use of the most heavily polluting heating oils in New York City. The cleaner air enjoyed by New Yorkers today is preventing 800 deaths 2,000 emergency room visits and hospitalizations from lung and cardiovascular diseases annually, compared to 2008."
So what did NYC do to dramatically clean its air? Regulation and gas displacing much dirtier heating oil.
"Three changes contributed to the winter season air quality improvements over the past several years. Only three years ago, nearly 10,000 buildings in New York City burned Numbers 4 and 6 heating oil, which emit significant amounts of PM2.5, sulfur dioxide (SO2), nickel and other dangerous pollutants. Through the efforts of the NYC Clean Heat Program, over 2,700 buildings have converted to cleaner fuels since 2011 and an additional 2,500 buildings are actively pursuing conversions. Second, additional emission reductions have come from State rules that limited the sulfur content of #2 heating oil to 15 parts per million (a 99 percent reduction) and City rules restricting the sulfur content of #4 oil to 1,500 parts per million (a 50% reduction). Third, the expansion of the regional natural gas supply and local gas distribution infrastructure operated by Con Edison and National Grid has encouraged buildings to save money and reduce emissions by converting to natural gas. As a result, citywide concentrations of SO2 have declined by 69 percent and nickel by 35 percent. Neighborhoods with the highest density of emissions reductions from boiler conversions – such as northern Manhattan, northern Queens, and the South Bronx – saw the greatest improvement in air quality."
The gains in NYC air are real, but they must not come at the expense of unhealthy air in gas producing areas. And they need not do so. Effective pollution control technology exists. Regulation must require the use of the best pollution control technology on compressor engines and other equipment that produce the gas that is displacing heating oil in New York City buildings.