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New York City (NYC)
NYC set an ambitious goal: to achieve the cleanest air of any large city in America. This will not be an easy accomplishment because, in spite of decades of progress, the levels of fine particulate matter (PM 2.5) and Ozone in the NYC metropolitan area remain among the highest of any large American city. Particulate matter is a complex mixture of very small solids and droplets (less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter) suspended in the air. These pollutants directly come from fuel combustion, heating oil and electric power generators. Others are formed in the atmosphere when products of emission react with sunlight. At times the pollution levels are high enough to be a serious health threat. The city's strategy is to find cost effective ways to reduce pollution, pursue natural solutions to improve quality and, finally, to measure ground level air pollution systematically- something no American city has ever done.
Until recently no comprehensive study was carried out on air quality at street level in NYC. This fact substantially hindered the clean air initiatives in NYC. While pollution that originates beyond NYC tends to impact the five boroughs relatively evenly, the local sources and their impact vary by neighborhood. Realizing the importance of local data for pollution control, the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene launched the New York City Community Air Survey (NYCCAS) in December 2008. It measured the variations in street-level air pollutants in 150 locations throughout the city during every season of the year and then incorporated factors such as proximity to roads, truck traffic and building density into the measurements. The study revealed the location of the most important contributors to air pollution are pointed out where the air quality improvement efforts need to be made.
Federal regulation has set new, stricter emission standards to reduce air pollution in the nation. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations on emissions from large fossil fuel combustion sources are projected to reduce air pollution levels in the eastern U.S. The EPA also set emission standards for heavy duty trucks, buses, gasoline passenger vehicles that reduce the sulfur content in diesel fuel and gasoline. NYC attempts to move ahead of the federal initiatives and take them a step further.
The 2011 Green Taxis Act, which is a modification of the original 2009 Act, was announced in March 2011. If passed, the modified federal law for which NYC has heavily lobbied, would give local governments the power to enforce their own fuel efficiency standards on taxis. It will enable the city to move ahead on a mandate that calls for all of New York’s taxis to be fuel efficient by 2030. Currently, over a third of the city's fleet - 4,500 out of 13,237 taxis - are fuel efficient, making it the largest fleet of clean taxis in the country. These vehicles have already shown dramatically reduced emissions and fuel costs.
To further address the issue of vehicle pollution, the City Council passed Local Law 61 in 2009, requiring all school buses to be retrofitted with cabin air pollution filters and lowered the retirement age for the older buses. This enabled the Department of Education to take the oldest buses off city streets. While older buses account for only 11 percent of the entire school bus fleet, they were responsible for a disproportionate amount of air pollution. Law 61 also requires that the replacement buses comply with the EPA emission standards.
NYC also came up with initiatives to equip public and private ferries with cleaner engines and pollution control equipment. The Staten Island Ferry has already undergone significant upgrades and engine retrofits - its ferries are fueled by Ultra Low Sulfur Diesel (ULSD). This is accomplished well in advance of the EPA 2012 deadline for the use of ULSD by ferries and similar vessels.
The city works closely with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PANYNJ) to develop a clean air strategy for the port facilities. This collaboration led to a plan to reduce maritime emissions. In March 2010 PANYNJ and EPA also unveiled an agreement to replace the old trucks with vehicles that comply with stricter pollution standards. This $28 million truck replacement plan, partially funded by federal government grant, is set to cut harmful diesel pollution from the busiest port on east Coast. The city also secured funding to install plug-ins for refrigerated containers at NYC's marine terminals and other locations and is studying the feasibility of a hybrid-powered tug and ferry program.
Buildings significantly contribute to air pollution in NYC. Residual heating oil (no.4 and no.6) is the dirtiest fuel permitted to heat buildings and is used more in NYC than anywhere else. These residual oils are made of low-quality end products of the oil refining process and are primarily used to power ships and heavy machinery. In NYC, many condominiums, apartment complexes and large commercial buildings use these fuels for heating, because they are relatively cheap. Unfortunately, what make these fuels cheap are its many impurities, which cause inefficient combustion and unhealthy black emissions. This is a significant concern, because boiler emissions are not regulated. Many of the boilers are inefficient, oversized and poorly maintained. These boilers are responsible for 14 percent emissions of PM 2.5 into the city air.
The NYC Community Air Survey winter monitoring also indicated that in densely populated areas the levels of SO2 were 150 percent higher, owing to a high concentration of residual oil burning units. Many of the city's high income neighborhoods suffer from some of the city's worst street level air pollution. Over 9,000 buildings in the city produce disproportionately high emissions by burning the highly polluting residual oil. In addition, high concentrations of metals like nickel in residual oil emissions produce the type of PM 2.5 which is particularly harmful.
About one third of the city's public schools rely on no.4 and no.6 residual oils for heat and hot water. To reduce pollution, the city launched the initiative to replace boilers in many public schools with clean, efficient fuel systems. To maximize health benefits the city decided to start conversions in neighborhoods with the highest asthma rates. By 2017, the City will modify the boiler systems in 100 of 478 public schools. By June 2010, ten schools have been converted with additional 25 boiler conversion projects underway. The replacement of old, dirty boilers with new, clean and fuel efficient models will lead to a 50 percent reduction in CO2and a 44 percent reduction in soot emissions at these locations.
In addition to boiler conversion project, the Department of Education began installation of fuel catalysts and economizers at 19 additional schools. Previous trials indicated that boiler catalysts lead to a minimum of 5 percent reduction of fuel use, while economizers result in 17 to 62 percent decrease in fuel consumption. These upgrades also result in less soot and other by-products, while improving boiler performance and lowering maintenance costs.
In summer of 2010, NYC Mayor Bloomberg signed 194-A into law, which mandates lower sulfur content in no. 4 and no. 6 heating oils. That law requires that after October 1, 2012 heating oil burned in NYC contain no more than 1,500 parts per million of sulfur. It also requires that after October 1, 2012 all heating oil used in the city must contain at least 2 percent biodiesel.
The city also pursues natural solutions to improve air quality. The Department of Parks and Recreation has launched the Trees for Public Health (TPH) initiative, and identifieds six neighborhoods as its prime targets. These neighborhoods - Far Rockaway, East Harlem, Morrisania, East New York, Stapleton and Hunts Point - were selected because they have fewer than average street trees and higher than average rates of asthma among young people. Trees in these neighborhoods will reduce pollutants that trigger respiratory disorders. The goal is to completely green these neighborhoods with new trees on both public and private land. Since the launch of the initiative, East Harlem, Far Rockaway, Stapleton and Morrisania have been fully stocked with trees. By 2010 the city had planted 10,368 trees in those neighborhoods.