City Council panel OKs measure to cut sulfur in home heating oil

City Council member Blondell Reynolds Brown proposed the bill to lower the sulfur limit in home heating oil.
City Council member Blondell Reynolds Brown proposed the bill to lower the sulfur limit in home heating oil. (STEVEN M. FALK / Staff Photographer)
Posted: June 13, 2014

A measure to reduce sulfur in home heating oil - saving lives and health-care dollars, as well as easing air pollution, its advocates say - passed unanimously out of Philadelphia City Council's environment committee Wednesday and heads to the full Council today.

The bill, proposed by Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown, would lower the sulfur limit from 2,000 parts per million - a level passed in 1978 - to 15 parts per million, putting the city in line with neighboring states.

Only Pennsylvania has a higher limit - 500 parts per million. Pennsylvania's limit does not apply to Philadelphia, which has been authorized to set its own air quality program.

Reynolds Brown credited the success of the measure to the fact that it was "reasonable and doable."

Seven people testified, all in support of the bill.

"Reducing the sulfur content will substantially improve Philadelphia's air quality and reduce illnesses, hospitalizations and associated deaths," said Thomas Huynh, director of the city's Air Management Services, which enforces city, state and federal air pollution regulations.

Sulfur is a component of oil that, when burned, releases sulfur dioxide. The chemical causes or exacerbates respiratory illnesses, including asthma.

Further, it leads to the formation of fine particulate matter, which can be inhaled deep into the lungs, often with other pollutants attached.

Sulfur dioxide also is associated with acid rain, smog and haze.

Saleem Chapman, director of environmental justice for the Philadelphia-based Clean Air Council, said the measure would benefit low income and minority groups, who are disproportionately exposed to environmental stressors that trigger asthma.

About 22 percent of Philadelphia children, double the nation's rate, have asthma.

The measure also drew support from officials in New Jersey and Delaware, both of which have adopted similar standards.

Advocates said fuel with a lower sulfur content would burn more efficiently, resulting in less fuel use and savings on maintenance costs - as much as 14 cents per gallon, said Andrew Sharp, director of outreach for the Pennsylvania environmental group PennFuture.

Ed Hazzouri, representing the employees of the refinery, owned by Philadelphia Energy Solutions, said the refinery already was producing fuel that met the new limit. "The refinery folks are happy to support this bill," he said.

While Kevin Stewart, director of environmental health for the American Lung Association of Pennsylvania, also expressed the organization's "strong support" for the measure, he also chastised the city.

In a letter to the committee, he said, "the fact that 37 years have passed between successive revisions of these standards is disturbing."

He noted that over the decades, medical science has found that air pollution "is harmful at levels much lower than were once thought to be safe," and he suggested Council revisit the standards every five years.

215-854-5147 @sbauers

comments powered by Disqus