By Jeff Mays
HARLEM — With some of the highest asthma rates among children in the country and eight public schools that burn the dirtiest type of heating oil, a city plan to phase out the pollutant should begin in Central Harlem, Community Board 10 said.
"Because of the adverse affects of asthma in Central Harlem we should be first," said CB 10 chair W. Franc Perry.
Perry cited the black smoke billowing from Harriet Tubman elementary school on West 127th streets between Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard and Frederick Douglass Boulevard.
"The black smoke comes out first thing in the morning," said Perry.
Under Mayor Michael Bloomberg's PlaNYC, boilers that burn heating oils No.4 and No.6, which emit black soot that increases asthma, heart attacks and premature deaths, would be phased out by 2030.
Boilers using the dirtiest form of oil, No. 6, must switch to a lower sulfur form of No. 4. By 2030, even No. 4 would be phased out in favor of cleaner alternatives.
Of the 10,000 buildings in New York City that burn the dirtiest type of oil, about 280 are schools. Some studies show that Harlem has the highest asthma rates among children in the country with a quarter of youngsters who have the disease.
"It's one of the easiest things we can do to tackle the asthma issues our children are facing," said CB 10 District Manager Paimaan Lodhi.
The Department of Education and city have been vague about the timetable to phase out the oil in city schools and Harlem officials fear schools in the area will not be prioritized.
The board unanimously approved a resolution calling on the DOE and city to clarify the process of removing dirty heating oil from the schools, while providing the funds to do so and prioritizing Harlem schools.
City officials say seven school boilers have been switched to cleaner fuel since June 2010 and another 25 boiler conversions are underway.
"We need to make sure our schools are not the source of asthma for our kids when they are breathing enough pollutants just by walking down the street" said state Sen. Bill Perkins an asthmatic who recently sponsored legislation signed into law that reduces the amount of sulfur in heating oil.
"If we don't speak up now, we will be last," said Hazel Dukes, chair of CB 10's health committee.