New laws signed by Gov. Hochul will phase out dirty fuel oil and paving materials

Image courtesy of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Gov. Kathy Hochul signed two new laws that will phase out the use of grade-6 fuel oil and coal tar paving materials — two substances that contribute to air, soil and water pollution in New York.

The first bill (S.2936-a/A.5029-a) was sponsored by Sen. Todd Kaminsky, D-Long Beach, and Assemblywoman Amy Paulin, D-Scarsdale. This bill phases out the use of grade 6 oil fuel for heating buildings in New York state, starting July 1, 2023. 

The second bill (S.4095-b/A.518-a), sponsored by Sen. James Sanders Jr., D-Queens, and Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal, D-Manhattan, prohibits the use and sale of pavement materials that contain coal tar.

“The harmful effects of climate change and pollution have only heightened the importance of protecting the well-being of New Yorkers and the preservation of our state’s environment,” Governor Hochul said. “This legislation takes important steps to ensure that New Yorkers have access to clean water and a breathable environment free of harmful pollutants.” 

Grade 6 oil refers to a highly viscous oil that’s left over from the production of crude oil. This grade of oil — used mostly in large commercial applications under burn permits that are grandfathered in — is cheap but also dirty and among the most harmful to the environment. It has been phased out in New York City completely, with 5,300 buildings using grade 6 oil fuel transitioning into a more environmentally-friendly fuel in 2016.  

When combusted, it creates soot: incompletely combusted hydrocarbon particles that contain polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs, alongside other contaminants that contribute air pollution and harm respiratory health.

PAHs are a class of chemicals that naturally occur in fuels such as gasoline, crude oil, and coal. When these materials, as well as garbage, wood or tobacco are combusted, they release PAHs that can bind into small particulates in the air. The contaminants that come from the combustion of oil fuel are both carcinogenic and harmful to people’s respiratory systems. Alongside PAHs, grade 6 oil fuel contains “heavy metals, nitric oxide, sulfur dioxide, nickel, and black carbon,” that contribute to soot’s makeup.

According to the Governor’s Office and the bill sponsors, there are alternative energy sources for building heating that are not only less harmful to the environment but also cost less. Because of this, the use of grade 6 oil fuel will be prohibited starting July 1, 2023.

“This legislation takes aim at one of the prime causes of climate change and extreme weather:  air pollution,” said Paulin, the Assembly sponsor of the bill.” Fuel oil grade number 6 releases extremely harmful pollutants into our air. 

The second bill focuses on coal tar-based pavement sealants, materials used for paving roads that contain benzo(a)pyrene alongside other harmful PAHs that have been classified by the Environmental Protection Agency as carcinogenic, “particularly in children” as well as harmful to wildlife.

Recent studies conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey have shown that, while levels of most common environmental pollutants in waterways are consistently declining, levels of pollutants found in coal tar sealants are increasing. 

These carcinogens leach into soils and waterways through runoff, posing a toxic threat to waterways and aquatic life. Chemicals associated with coal tar-based sealants have also been identified in house dust at “alarming levels,” according to the Governor’s Office.

Under the new law, coal tar-based sealants will not be available for sale after Nov. 8, 2022 and they will be illegal to use after Nov 8. 2023.