Saturday, April 16, 2011

The Fight to Get Toxins out of NYC Schools

by guest blogger Krista Peterson

For the past decade, it seems like the number of schools, companies, and construction practices have all swayed towards more “green” materials and practices. Even with an overall positive swing in more sustainable materials and practices, there is still some material use that’s having a negative impact, primarily in many New York City schools. From the use of dangerous heating oil to toxic forms of insulation, many NYC schools are in need of a slight makeover.

It’s been recently estimated that around 9,000 buildings in New York are using a dirty heating oil to help sustain heat and create hot water; nearly 450 of them are schools. Essentially, these buildings are burning “sludge” to heat up their buildings. These buildings amount for nearly 90 percent of the city’s soot pollution, heavily topping the releases from all cars. This fuel, also dubbed “No. 6 oil” is essentially leftover petroleum that is extremely heavy and thick. The health problems associated with No. 6 oil include lung inflammation, emphysema, and possible cardiovascular issues.

State government and the city have both passed acts that are geared to clean up some instances of dirty
heating oil, but none affect the use of No. 6 oil, which is widely considered the most threatening and
dangerous. Mayor Bloomberg has even pushed through two laws on heating oil, but neither address no.
6. Luckily, the Department of Environmental Protection is reviewing a possible rule that would push out the use of No. 6 oil, forcing a switch to low-sulfur No. 4 oil. Still, administration refuses to outright ban the use of No. 6 oil because of the financial burden that would ensue.

The financial burden would be particularly heaviest on removal from schools. The mayor has plans
to reduce just over 100 schools from No. 6 use in the next 10 years. The problem with removal from
schools is that a number of obstacles present themselves in the process, adding the financial burden.
Before any type of switch to the piping and fuel could occur, asbestos would have to be removed
from the insulation. This is a commonly used fiber throughout the past century that is now commonly
removed because of its connection to diseases like mesothelioma and asbestosis. Having this material
removed before any type of piping work is necessary because of the possible life threatening health
risks to any of the workers, for example, mesothelioma life expectancy can be extremely severe after
repeated exposure and diagnosis.

Essentially, given the price that it would cost to even eliminate the oil from 100 schools, the total cost
for repair in all the effected schools would near $5 billion dollars. Maybe the smartest way to go about
the removal of this type of oil is to keep pressure on the talked about proposal from the DEP, that would
phase out use of the material, instead of an overall removal. In any case, even the proposal from the
DEP has yet to be pushed through. In the end, it will take the help and support of the administration to
get a removal process off the ground, at the least. In the meantime, it seems as if the DEP, Mayor, and
other city officials are stalling because of the possible financial problems that could ensue.
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