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Cleanest air in 50 years! How did New York do it?

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Since then, air quality has steadily improved – even as energy-hungry industries and a population with a voracious appetite for carbon-based fuels have continued to expand. At the same time, however, the emissions that spew out the six most widespread air pollutants have dropped, the ALA reported.

Despite the improvements, these pollutants remain a concern for those with conditions diagnosed as asthma, diabetes, and other lung-related illnesses. And the ongoing release of carbon-based emissions continues to contribute to global warming – which is likely to get significantly worse if efforts to limit these are not accelerated soon, according to climate scientists meeting in Stockholm, who released their report Friday.

Mayor Bloomberg, who has been outspoken during his last two terms about the need to address climate change, attributed the dramatic improvement of air quality in New York to the city's “Clean Heat” program, which phased out the use of the most heavily polluting heating oils.

“The continued health benefits of this conversion to cleaner heating fuels will make it the single biggest step to save lives since we began our comprehensive smoking control program,” said Bloomberg, who led the ban of smoking in most public spaces in the city, even outdoors. “City government’s No. 1 responsibility, I’ve always thought, is protecting the health and safety of our people.”

The cleaner air prevented 800 deaths and led to 2,000 fewer emergency room visits and hospitalizations from lung problems, compared with 2008, the city said.

These improvements came as the city's program targeted 10,000 mostly older buildings, each with furnaces burning the highly polluting heating oils. Since 2011, some 2,700 were converted to burn cleaner fuels, with another 2,500 now in the process of converting.

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