New York City DEP sets record straight on pizzeria regulations to help curb pollution

Sonia Rincón Image
Wednesday, July 26, 2023
NYC sets record straight on pizzeria regulations to curb pollution
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Reporter Sonia Rincon has more on the pizza pollution pushback.

NEW YORK (WABC) -- New York City's Department of Environmental Protection commissioner is speaking out about the efforts to reduce pollution emitted from pizzerias in the city.

The regulations, which stipulate that businesses could not use a new oven without an emission control device, were actually passed back in 2016. Businesses needed to be compliant by January 2020, but that was delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The coal oven isn't going anywhere, but the city is asking pizzeria owners to install a scrubber, which recirculates the smoke into clean air.

It's not just the taste, but the texture of wood and coal oven pizza that makes it so delicious -- that texture is produced by the extreme heat.

But because those ovens burn wood and coal, the smoke contains dangerous particulate matter -- like the Canadian wildfire smoke, but for those in very close proximity to it.

"What that is, is really dangerous for our bodies, it's so small that not only does it go into our lungs and cause pulmonary disease, it goes through our lungs into our blood and causes cardiac issues," said DEP Commissioner Rohit Aggarwala.

That's why the city is asking around 50 remaining restaurants and bakeries that haven't installed a filter on their chimneys to do so.

Paulie Gee's restaurant in Greenpoint has had a filter on its chimney for three years, and Gee said he has no regrets.

"Even though I had to spend $20,000 to purchase it an install it, I was happy that my neighbors weren't upset anymore, and it really has not negatively affected our pizza whatsoever," Gee said.

In fact, many of the filters already in use in New York City are made in Italy, where most cities require restaurants with these ovens to have them, for the sake of local air quality.

"There's no impact on what's going on inside the oven, I don't think Italy would require them if it actually degraded the pizza," Aggarwala said.

While Gee says he's happy he installed his filter, he would hate to see other restaurants have to spend $20,000 or more, if they can't afford it.

"They're a part of New York's fabric, to force them to spend that money or have to do away with coal is changing the city's history," Gee said.

Aggarwala says there's a lot of misinformation about the law and that it's not about climate change or changing the way pizza is made.

And for restaurants that have a financial hardship, there will be small business loans available, and if they physically cannot retrofit their chimneys because of space constraints, the DEP can grant a variance.

"So, we're eager to work with restaurants," Aggarwala said. "This is certainly not intended, and I don't think it will have the effect of, putting anybody out of business. It's just about cleaning up the air around those restaurants."

The NYC Department of Environmental Protection is holding a rules hearing on Thursday.

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