New York City slashes harmful soot pollution

Black smoke from dirty heating oil in New York City

This New York City building is burning a type of heavy heating oil, creating soot emissions that cause respiratory diseases.

Credit: Patti McConville

Case study

A unique public-private partnership tackles one of the biggest sources of air pollution in New York: buildings.

  • 65%less soot from buildings compared to 2008.
  • Problem

    Soot is a major air pollutant, triggering respiratory diseases and other health problems. Through our own research and that of others, it was discovered that New York City’s soot problem stemmed mostly from the burning of heavy heating oils—and not vehicle exhaust, as previously assumed.

  • Solution

    In partnership with the city, we helped launch NYC Clean Heat, a program to help building managers or owners switch to cleaner heating fuels in a cost-effective way. While the program is still in progress, the city is already benefitting from much cleaner air.

  • Results

    Since 2008, more than 4,000 buildings converted to cleaner heating sources. Many buildings report lower overall energy costs after they switch, meaning they recouped their investments quickly. 

  • Lasting impact

    Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced rules that will eventually eliminate all heavy heating oils from buildings. The public health benefit could be “second only to our achievement in reducing the city’s smoking rates,” said Dr. Thomas Farley, the city’s then-health commissioner.

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