Air Quality

Birds flying through the City

New York City’s air is becoming progressively cleaner. Over the past several decades, actions taken at the federal, state, and local levels have dramatically improved air quality. New York City’s particulate matter (PM2.5) concentration has decreased more rapidly than in most other big U.S. cities, declining by about 25 percent between 2008 and 2013. As a result, the city’s air-quality ranking among major U.S. cities improved from seventh place as recently as 2008-2010 to fourth place in 2011-2013.

Despite this progress, air pollution remains a leading environmental threat to the health of New Yorkers. Levels of air pollution in New York City continue to cause serious health problems, contributing to a number of hospital admissions and deaths, mainly from heart and lung problems. It is estimated that particulate matter (PM2.5) contributes to more than 2,000 deaths and over 6,000 emergency visits and hospitalizations for cardiovascular and respiratory disease each year. All neighborhoods are affected by these health impacts, but they disproportionately occur in high poverty communities and among vulnerable populations. The rate of emergency room visits due to PM2.5-attributable asthma is three times higher in the most disadvantaged neighborhoods compared to more affluent ones. The public health benefits of even modest improvements in air quality are substantial because everyone is exposed to air pollution.

Our goal is for New York City to have the best air quality among all large U.S. cities. We are committed to reducing disparities in ambient pollution level exposures within the city by 20 percent for PM2.5 and 50 percent for sulfur dioxide (SO2) by 2030 relative to 2013. Meeting this goal will require significant reductions in air pollutant emissions. We will need to implement local strategies, as well as continue working with state and federal partners to reduce emissions from upwind sources. In addition, New York City will need to outpace improvements in other cities to attain this goal.

Improving our air quality is feasible and has been demonstrated in recent years. Reducing the disparity in pollutant levels across the city is also attainable, as demonstrated by declining differences in community SO2 concentrations. Between 2008 and 2013, the difference between the highest and lowest community district
SO2 concentrations declined by more than half while overall concentrations declined by 70 percent, mainly due to State efforts to reduce sulfur content in heating oil and the City’s efforts to phase out the use of heavy heating-fuel oil in buildings.

There are many sources of air pollution, mainly derived from fuel combustion within and outside the city. Based on best estimates of current emissions, for PM2.5, 49 percent of emissions are from buildings, 24 percent from traffic, 19 percent from non-road mobile sources, and 7 percent from electric-power generation (one percent from other sources). For SO2, 61 percent of emissions are from buildings, five percent from vehicles, 14 percent from non-road mobile sources, 17 percent from electric power generation, and 3 percent from other sources.

This plan focuses on reducing local PM2.5 and SO2 emissions. While they are not the only harmful pollutants, they are the two most important pollutants for public health that the City is able to substantially reduce through local emission controls.