1% of NYC Buildings Create 87% of Heating Oil Soot, EDF Says

Eighty-seven percent of the city's heating oil soot pollution is created by burning the dirtiest heating oils available in only one percent of all buildings in New York City, according to a new report released by Environmental Defense Fund.

As a result of burning No. 4 and 6 oil ─ which New York uses more than any other big city ─ 9,000 large buildings spew out about 1,000 tons of soot pollution every year. Soot pollution aggravates asthma, increases the risk of cancer, exacerbates respiratory illnesses and can cause premature death.

EDF's study, "The Bottom of the Barrel: How the Dirtiest Heating Oil Pollutes Our Air and Harms Our Health," shows that the city's levels of nickel ─ a heavy metal that increases the risk of cardiovascular disease by thickening the walls of arteries ─ are nine times higher than other U.S. cities.

"Dirty heating oil produces toxic pollution that millions of New Yorkers are forced to breathe every day," concluded Isabelle Silverman, a co-author of the report and an attorney for Environmental Defense Fund. "Our government banned leaded gasoline in cars and now requires cleaner diesel fuel used in trucks and construction equipment to protect human health, so by the same token, the city government should phase out the use of dirty heating oil. EDF stands ready to help city policy makers, building owners and managers to complete the job by 2020."

To encourage conversion now, EDF also launched a Web site that allows tenants to check if their building is burning dirty heating oil and offers advice on how to convert their building if it does so. Most burners that were installed during the last 15 years can burn any of the three heating oil grades (No. 2, 4 or 6) or natural gas. Low-income buildings can apply for boiler and burner replacement funding available from the U.S. Department of Energy.

The EDF report recommends a 10-year window for building owners to convert from No. 4 and No. 6 oil to much cleaner No. 2 oil or natural gas. The switch would reduce soot pollution from buildings burning No. 6 oil by 95 percent. Although No. 2 oil is about 10 percent more expensive to buy than No. 6 oil based on today's prices, the EDF report concludes that best maintenance practices and low-cost efficiency measures can significantly lower fuel usage and save buildings money. Natural gas is actually cheaper to buy than No. 4 or No. 6 oil.

A New York City Department of Health report showed that buildings using No. 4 and No. 6 are a major cause of the city's high air pollution levels.

Some of the city's most iconic structures burn No. 6 oil in their boilers, including the Flatiron Building, San Remo, The Dakota, and The Beresford.

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