A quiet revolution in air quality with potential major health benefits is underway in Riverdale.
Dozens of conversions from oil to gas as the heat source for buildings in Riverdale have helped improve air quality in the vicinity from among the worst in the Bronx in 2008 to roughly average in 2013, a shift in keeping with citywide air quality improvements.
Data from years of monitoring by the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene show levels of sulfur dioxide — one of several substances that come from burning oil — in Riverdale, Kingsbridge and Marble Hill’s air fell from 5.9 parts per billion in winter 2009-10 to an estimated 2.3 parts per billion in winter 2012-2013.
The Department of Health says sulfur dioxide can exacerbate asthma and that, combined with other substances from burnt oil, sulfur dioxide can contribute to other breathing problems and worsen heart disease. A comprehensive 2013 Department of Health report shows the east Bronx has had far lower levels for years.
While changes in sulfur dioxide levels were not available for the entire city, other measures suggest the shift in Riverdale, Kingsbridge and Marble Hill parallels citywide trends. Fine particulate matter, a potentially harmful substance that also comes from burning oil, has dropped from 18.2 parts per billion in 2001 to 11.5 parts per billion for all of New York’s air, according to data collected by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that is available on the city’s Environmental Public Health Tracking Portal.
Experts attribute the shift to former Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s mandate requiring buildings to replace heavy types of heating oil with cleaner sources. A city government body called NYC Clean Heat is working to help all kinds of buildings make the transition.
But an associate at the Center for an Urban Future, which recently published a report charting widespread infrastructure problems in the city, said the well-to-do are best positioned to switch from oil to gas.