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Upper West Side buildings spew more pollutants than buildings in any other neighborhood, according to recently released data. The neighborhood has more than 500 buildings that still burn heating oil that is essentially unrefined sludge. By burning these oils, called No. 4 and No. 6, they are emitting toxic soot and sulfur dioxides into the air, which can cause serious health problems and exacerbate symptoms of asthma.

Screen Shot 2013-11-21 at 10.45.49 PMAs of 2011, about 10,000 city buildings used the dirty fuels; while that represents just 1% of total city buildings, those buildings emitted more soot than all the cars and trucks in the city. The average building using the heavy oils emits 222 pounds of particulate matter a year — just one pound can saturate a volume of air larger than the Empire State Building.

The city has passed laws to mandate that buildings begin using cleaner sources of heat, including natural gas and heating oil No. 2. The city’s Department of Environmental Protection has already stopped issuing permits for the dirtiest fuel, No. 6. The permits last for three years, so No. 6 oil should be completely phased out by 2015. No. 4 will be phased out by 2030.

Screen Shot 2013-11-21 at 10.35.22 PMSince 2011, about 160 of 700 Upper West Side buildings burning the sludge have made the switch to cleaner fuels, according to DNAinfo. About 45% of the buildings still burning the heavy oils are co-ops or condos, meaning owners have direct control over the process. Black soot makes the neighborhood’s glorious old buildings like the San Remo, at right, look like power plants. Luckily the Dakota applied to install a cleaner system earlier this year.

There’s no reason buildings should still be spewing pollution. Switching is cost-effective and makes building maintenance cheaper, city experts say. To learn if your building burns No. 4 or No. 6 oil, you can click here and enter your address.

NYC Clean Heat offers this guide to people who want to learn how they can get their buildings to switch. The organization is planing on hosting meetings in a few months for people interested in more logistics. To get more info, email info@nyccleanheat.org or dial 311 and ask for “clean heat.”

Photos via NYC Clean Heat and the Environmental Defense Fund.

NEWS, OUTDOORS | 2 comments | permalink
    1. denton says:

      some parts of the UWS you don’t even have the high pressure NG lines needed to convert to mod/con boilers. Years away, according to everyone’s fave local utility.

    2. Sue Susman says:

      Another source of pollution is buildings that still incinerate their garbage. I can see plumes of black smoke several afternoons a week from that.