nycity-skylineNew York City’s air quality has reached the cleanest levels in more than 50 years thanks in part to sustainability programs initiated by Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

“New York has the cleanest air now of any major American city,” he announced at a news conference Thursday.

Since 2008, the levels of sulfur dioxide in the air have dropped by 69 percent and since 2007 the level of soot pollution has dropped by 23 percent. The largest contributor to the reductions is the city’s Clean Heat program, which phased out use of the most heavily polluting heating oils in New York City.

The cleaner air enjoyed by New Yorkers today is preventing 800 deaths 2,000 emergency room visits and hospitalizations from lung and cardiovascular diseases annually, compared to 2008.

Five years ago city officials set up a ground level monitoring system that showed heavy heating oil to be one of the most serious sources of local air pollution. An innovative program was set up to assist building owners in converting to cleaner fuels, leading to a dramatic improvement in air quality.

“The Clean Heat program has succeeded in its mission to accelerate conversions to the cleanest heating fuels,” said Douglas Durst, Chairman of The Durst Organization and Chair of the NYC Clean Heat Task Force. “While our work is not complete until every building converts to cleaner fuels, today’s announcement demonstrates that New Yorkers are healthier today and will be for years to come because of Clean Heat. The program is a model for how government, utilities, and the private sector can work together to solve major public health challenges and to transform New York’s infrastructure.”

Only three years ago, nearly 10,000 buildings in New York City burned Numbers 4 and 6 heating oil, which emit significant amounts of PM2.5, sulfur dioxide (SO2), nickel and other dangerous pollutants. Through the efforts of the NYC Clean Heat Program, over 2,700 buildings have converted to cleaner fuels since 2011 and an additional 2,500 buildings are actively pursuing conversions. Second, additional emission reductions have come from State rules that limited the sulfur content of #2 heating oil (a 99 percent reduction) and City rules restricting the sulfur content of #4 oil to 1,500 parts per million (a 50% reduction).

(READ more from AP via ABC News)

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