Air quality improvements are saving lives in New York City

Andy Darrell

Today, Mayor Bloomberg announced significant improvements in New York City’s air quality over the last five years. EDF has been a supporter of Mayor Bloomberg’s PlaNYC, the citywide sustainability program with 127 initiatives in action, from its creation. One of those initiatives is NYC Clean Heat, which helps buildings switch to cleaner heating fuels in the most cost-effective manner. EDF helped develop the program and manages it in partnership with the City of New York.

EDF is proud to be working with the City on this effort to improve air quality and the health of New Yorkers. This shows how effective it can be when government and the private sector work together towards a common goal.

The NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (NYC DOHMH) has been collecting street-level air quality data through the NYC Community Air Survey (NYCCAS) for the last five winters. According to the recently released report, wintertime sulfur pollution has been reduced by a remarkable 69%, nickel pollution by 35% and fine particulate matter (PM2.5) pollution, or soot, by 23%. NYC DOHMH estimates that these air quality improvements will save 780 lives per year and prevent 1,600 emergency room visits and hospitalizations each year. This is a 25% reduction in all health incidents attributed to air pollution:


Since 2008, sulfur concentration in New York City has declined by 69%



Since 2008, nickel concentration in New York City has declined by 35%


Where exactly do these reductions come from?

When No. 6 and No. 4 oils are burned, they emit fine particulate matter (PM2.5) due to their high sulfur content. One of the main reasons for the reductions in nickel and wintertime sulfur in New York City has been the elimination of No. 6 heating oil from buildings in New York City and the lowering of the sulfur limit in No. 4 and No. 2 oils, which EDF staunchly supported.

The NYC Clean Heat program brings together the resources needed to help buildings convert from highly-polluting No. 6 and No. 4 oil to cleaner fuels.

Five years ago, EDF first became interested in the issue of heating oil in NYC and produced The Bottom of the Barrel, a report that showed that heating oil caused more soot in New York City than all the cars and trucks combined. Around the same time, the NYC DOHMH released first-time measurements of actual air quality at the neighborhood scale. Their research showed that heating oil was the major reason that some communities - like the Upper Manhattan and the South Bronx – had higher concentrations of particulate matter and nickel than others.

Since then, EDF and New York City have teamed up to tackle the challenge, bringing together community and union leaders, as well as policy makers and leaders in the utility, real estate and finance sectors. Buildings in every affected neighborhood have become part of the solution, from iconic residential coops like the Beresford on the Upper West Side to institutions like St. Barnabas Hospital in the South Bronx.

So far, NYC Clean Heat has helped some 2,700 buildings convert to cleaner fuels. As a result, over 250 tons of particulate matter (PM2.5) has been removed from New York City’s air since fall 2011, which is the equivalent of removing over 800,000 vehicles from the road for an entire year.

These accomplishments show that the Clean Heat model works, and the EDF Clean Energy initiative is dedicated to applying this success elsewhere in the country and around the world.