In Recognition of Earth Day, Health Department Releases Report on Improvements in Citywide Air Quality

The report covers seven years of data from the largest urban air monitoring program of any U.S. city

Average levels of particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide declined between 2008 and 2015

Higher pollutant levels recorded in areas of higher traffic and building density

April 20, 2017 — In recognition of Earth Day on Saturday, the Health Department today released the latest New York City Community Air Survey (NYCCAS) results, which found improvements in air quality between 2008 and 2015 and highlighted continued progress toward Mayor de Blasio’s OneNYC goal of achieving the cleanest air of any large U.S. city by 2030. The report summarizes seven years of data from the largest ongoing urban air monitoring program of any U.S. city. Between 2008 and 2015, levels of fine particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide, nitric oxide and black carbon have declined by 18 percent, 23 percent, 28 percent and 18 percent, respectively. The largest declines have been observed for sulfur dioxide, where levels are down 84 percent. This decline is mainly due to City and State heating oil regulations, including the City’s efforts to phase out residual heating oil. Despite declines, higher levels of these pollutants increased in areas of higher traffic density, building density and in industrial neighborhoods. These pollutants have been linked to a variety of adverse health outcomes, including an exacerbation of cardiovascular and respiratory disease.

“The latest community air survey has once again shown a decline in harmful pollutants in our air, which can cause health problems and exacerbate chronic health conditions,” said Health Commissioner Dr. Mary T. Bassett. “While we have made notable progress in recent years, this report also proves that air quality is often determined by the neighborhood we live in. We still have more work to do to ensure that all New Yorkers can breathe the same clean air, and Mayor de Blasio’s OneNYC is bringing us closer to that goal.”

The report and companion summary data brief show seasonal trends in air pollution levels from winter 2008-2009 through fall 2015. They highlight sources that contribute to high levels of pollutants in New York City neighborhoods and provide maps of neighborhood air pollution levels by year.

“Even as the federal government attempts to weaken critical environmental protection standards, New York City is successfully demonstrating how local action can protect the health of all New Yorkers,” said Daniel Zarrilli, New York City's Senior Director of Climate Policy and Programs and Chief Resilience Officer. “Today, we are excited to announce that our air is the cleanest it has been since monitoring began and that our OneNYC efforts to reduce emissions and improve air quality are working as we continue to build a more sustainable and equitable city.”

“The City is committed to the goal of providing all New Yorkers with the cleanest air of any large city in the U.S.,” said Mark Chambers, Director of the New York City Mayor’s Office of Sustainability. “This report demonstrates that the steps we have taken to dramatically reduce emissions and improve air quality — from helping hundreds of buildings convert to cleaner fuels through the NYC Retrofit Accelerator to phasing out polluting heating oil – have greatly reduced the air pollutants that contribute to harmful health outcomes citywide.”

NYC Community Air Survey Findings between 2008 and 2015

  • Annual average levels of fine particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide, nitric oxide and black carbon have declined 18 percent, 23 percent, and 28 percent, and 18 percent, respectively.
  • The largest declines have been observed for sulfur dioxide due to heating oil regulations — wintertime average levels have declined by 84 percent.
  • Summertime average ozone levels have remained stable.
  • High levels of fine particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide, and nitric oxide continue to be observed in areas of high traffic density, building density, residual oil boilers and industrial areas.
  • Higher sulfur dioxide levels are observed in areas with remaining residual oil boilers.
  • Ozone levels are higher in the outer boroughs, specifically in areas that are downwind of high emissions density. Meanwhile, areas with fresh combustion emissions actually reduce the concentration of ozone.

"New York City's efforts to reduce car and truck traffic are producing results in better and healthier air quality. My district has some of New York's busiest streets, so I know we have to keep working at traffic reduction to meet Mayor de Blasio's goal of making New York City's air the cleanest of any major U.S. city by 2030," said Assembly Member Richard N. Gottfried, chair of the Assembly Health Committee.

"The results of this community air survey are a testament to the judicious measures that our City and State have gradually implemented to improve the air quality for all New Yorkers," said State Senator Gustavo Rivera. "Even though we recognize that there's still much work ahead, especially in low-income communities, which continue to be heavily affected with high rates of respiratory diseases, this survey should encourage us at the City and State level to continue strengthening our environmental policies to protect our communities' public health."

About the New York City Community Air Survey and OneNYC

The de Blasio administration, through the Health Department’s NYCCAS and its OneNYC plan, is prioritizing the reduction of emissions and air quality improvement citywide. Among the many initiatives, in February 2016, the de Blasio administration and the Department of Environmental Protection announced that the 5,300 buildings which used the most polluting heating oil (No. 6 oil) in 2011 converted to a cleaner fuel as of December 31, 2015. This change will greatly reduce building emissions of sulfur dioxide and fine particles that contribute to premature deaths and hospital admissions from cardiovascular and lung disease. In September 2015, Mayor de Blasio launched the NYC Retrofit Accelerator, which provides free, personalized advisory services for building owners and operators to make energy efficiency improvements to their buildings. The program will prioritize assistance to buildings in high-poverty neighborhoods that are still using No. 4 heating oil, which also causes harmful pollution. More information on OneNYC can be found here.

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MEDIA CONTACT: Christopher Miller/Julien Martinez, (347) 396-4177
PressOffice@health.nyc.gov