Air pollution is a significant environmental threat in New York City, contributing to an estimated 6 percent of all deaths annually. While the city’s Air Pollution Control Code has been amended from time to time, it has not been comprehensively updated since 1975, says the New York City Council.

“It has been 35 years since New York City took a critical look at the quality of the air we breathe,” said Council Member Donovan Richards of the Rockaways, chair of the Council’s environmental protection committee.

“Air pollution has contributed to deaths, high rates of asthma and hospitalizations for respiratory related illnesses,” Richards continued. “Clearly something needed to be done to address this growing public health issue as our city continued to fail national Ambient Air Quality Standards set by the EPA.”

The New York City-metro area is currently in “non-attainment” of 2008 federal ozone standards, but has made major progress in reducing levels of particulate matter pollution.

A briefing document prepared for a February, 2014 City Council oversight hearing on air quality asserts that the city’s progress in reducing air pollution “while significant, does not mean that the air is healthy to breathe in New York City.”

Moving into compliance with tougher federal standards

Legislation sponsored by Richards, and passed by the Council earlier this month, will bring the city’s Air Pollution Control Code into compliance with more stringent air quality laws, rules and regulations promulgated by the federal government and the State.

The legislation seeks to make boilers operate more efficiently; force diesel engines and generators to run more cleanly; diminish fuel consumption citywide; and reduce airborne particulate matter by thousands of tons of per year.

Now awaiting signature by Mayor de Blasio, the Council’s expansive bill amends the New York City charter, along with the city’s administrative, building and mechanical codes. Richards described the legislation as “historic,” saying it would establish a “new air quality standard of our city for generations to come.”

Fighting for the title of “cleanest air of any large American city”

The long term goal? That New York City will have the cleanest outdoor air quality of any large city in the United States, notes the Council.

Updates to the city’s air code focus on phasing out “dirty” technologies, and expanding oversight to a greater number of air pollution sources. Some of the many changes to the code include:

  • Requires the most stringent EPA certified emissions standards for newly registered non-emergency stationary engines (generators) after 2018.
  • Codifies the phase out of No. 6 heating oil by 2020, and No. 4 heating oil by 2030.
  • Limits emissions from currently uncontrolled sources, including commercial char broilers, fireplaces, cook stoves, outdoor wood boilers, mobile vending units and wood burning heaters.
  • Limits future construction and the use of fireplaces and wood burning heaters as a primary source of heat to emergencies only.
  • Requires that pre-2007 Type A and Type B school buses (which do not utilize a closed crankcase ventilation system) be retired by 2020.
  • Waives fees for food vendors using an auxiliary engine if the engine meets tier four emissions standards within 18 months of the law going into effect.
  • Creates a multi-agency advisory committee that will offer suggestions on increasing pollution controls to the city’s Department of Environmental Protection.
  • Simplifies the registration process for more of the city’s boilers, and streamlines the emissions permitting process by allowing on-line permitting.