The air we breathe is one of the most important natural resources that we use every day, since we can’t survive than 15 minutes without breathing. But in that case, why is the air quality in New York in such a bad state? In 2019, The New York Community Air Survey (NYCCAS) rated almost all the boroughs of New York with a smog rating of “F”, with the only exception being Brooklyn, (which only avoided the rating since it didn’t have enough data for it.) It soon became evident that air quality and climate change are closely correlated.
One big reason for the poor smog rating is that in 1993, it was discovered that summer heat leads to the production of smog or ground-level ozone. The increase in smog is relevant since it can lead to health complications and death. In 2013, it was estimated that 2,700 people died from interacting with the particle matter in the air. Another large contributor to the smog problem in New York is the widespread use of cars in the city, since smog is usually created in sunlight and it interacts with the chemicals that are found in gasoline. Manhattan alone has around 4.87 million registered cars alone. Multiply that by the fact that an average car produces 4.6 tons of carbon dioxide per year and you have a total of 22.4 million tons of carbon dioxide produced every year. All in all, New York has a serious air quality problem that affects the health and safety of all the residents of New York, but what actions have the citizens of New York made to improve the air quality of New York?
In April 2007, the then New York City Mayor, Michal Bloomberg, launched the first comprehensive sustainability plan to deal with the environmental problems in New York, also known as called PlaNYC. It was a plethora of initiatives and strategies that were made to decrease the city’s greenhouse emissions by 30% by 2030. PlaNYC led to the creation of NYCCAS, as mentioned earlier. In 2009, they found that much of NYC’s air pollution was made of sulfur dioxide and most of it was produced by buildings that were burning fuel oil, specifically No. 4 and No. 6 graded heating oils, which were the most common heating oils used during the time. The next year, the NYC City Council passed a legislation that mandated the reduction of sulfur used in No. 4 graded heating oil. By the year 2016, the NYC Department of Environmental Protection had phased out 99.8% of No. 6 heating oils and are now focusing on doing the same with No. 4 heating oils. These regulations even reduced the sulfur content of No. 2 heating oils from 2000 ppm to 15 ppm in July 2012, dropping sulfur dioxide and particulate matter emissions rates by 95%.
Another initiative created thanks to PlaNYC is MillionTreesNYC, which focuses on planting a total of 1 million new trees. This course of action ideally leads to the city’s urban forest increasing by 20%, which will lead to lessening the impacts of climate change, improving air quality, and lowering the air temperature in the summer months. The organization plans to plant about 70% — seven hundred thousand — of the 1 million trees personally in parks around the city. The remaining 30% — three hundred thousand — trees will be planted by other sources like private organizations, homeowners, and community organizations at various places around NYC.
The organization hopes that the added trees will store 1.35 million tons of carbon dioxide from the air and completely remove around 42 thousand tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere per year, possibly slowing climate change from around the area. This plan will also lead to an improvement in the air quality of New York by removing 2,200 tons of air pollution from the atmosphere every year. Finally, this plan will lower the summer air temperature thanks to the returning humidity of the air by evaporating any water the tree has stored in a process called evaporative cooling. In addition, the trees also give shade to buildings and concrete. As you can see, there are a plethora of organizations and strategies made to clean up the air pollution problem that our city has now.
- “Benefits of NYC’s Urban Forest.” MillionTreesNYC, milliontreesnyc.org/html/urban_forest/urban_forest_benefits.shtml.
- “Smog in Manhattan Part Two.” Manhattan Street Pollution 18252019, 4 Dec. 2019, blogs.lt.vt.edu/clay10/2019/12/04/smog-in-manhattan-part-two/.
- “Health Department Releases Report on Improvements in Citywide Air Quality.” Report on Air Quality – NYC Health, www1.nyc.gov/site/doh/about/press/pr2019/health-department-releases-report-on-air-quality.page.
- MillionTrees NYC – About MillionTrees NYC, milliontreesnyc.org/html/about/about.shtml.
- “New York City Air Quality Programs Reduce Harmful Air Pollutants.” New York City Air Quality Programs Reduce Harmful Air Pollutants | Healthy People 2020, www.healthypeople.gov/2020/healthy-people-in-action/story/new-york-city-air-quality-programs-reduce-harmful-air-pollutants.