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The Philadelphia Enegry Solutions (PES) Refinery Complex is located in South Philadelphia. (Photo by Doc Searls | CC BY-SA 2.0)

Lawmakers in Philadelphia are lobbying to ban some of the dirtiest oils used for heating buildings in the city, WHYY reported Thursday.

The Philadelphia City Council's Committee on the Environment unanimously approved a bill to phase out the usage, sales, and storage of heavy fuel oils over the next five years. These oils have sulfur levels that are 300 times higher than those of lighter oils, and they release greater quantities of pollutants such as nitrogen and sulfur oxides that are linked to asthma, heart disease, and lung diseases. Buildings that use these oils would have to switch to lighter oil alternatives, natural gas, or other cleaner alternatives. 

The bill, introduced by Councilmember Blondell Reynolds Brown last month, targets dense fuel oils classified under the numbers 4, 5, and 6. These heavy fuel oils are still used to power furnaces and boilers in some of the city's oldest commercial and residential buildings, including at Temple University. However, a Temple representative told WHYY that these fuels are only used as a backup. 

“We are aware of the proposed bill, and we are working internally and with city officials to ensure Temple University meets the environmental requirements intended within the bill. The project likely will be completed in the next calendar year,” spokesman Christopher Vito told WHYY. 

New York City passed a similar measure banning heavy fuel oils in 2011, leading to large improvements in air quality. However, Philadelphia Health Commissioner Thomas Farley told WHYY that the effects would be smaller in Philadelphia since fewer buildings use these oils.

Environmental groups supported the measure. 

“It will substantially improve air quality in Philadelphia,” Clean Air Council Director Joe Minott told WHYY, adding that “it’s a very dirty fuel.”

Lobbyists for Councilmember Brown’s bill are hoping to see a reversal of trends regarding Philadelphia’s air quality. In 2017, environmental advocacy group PennEnvironment announced that Philadelphia is the second-smoggiest city in the Northeastern United States. 

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