On 671 West 162nd Street: No Smoking, Please


In which The Gay Recluse does some investigative reporting and follows up with a complaint.

As we’ve documented many times, thick black smoke — a function of improperly maintained or outdated boiler systems — is pretty much a constant of life in Washington Heights. (No coincidence, asthma rates are pretty much through the roof.) Although any number of apartment buildings are guilty of the offense, one in particular has been issuing an almost constant stream of noxious exhaust for the past 100 years few months. Here are some pix.

This was fifteen minutes ago, but it’s happening again as we type (wtf.)

Here’s a “greatest hit” from a few days ago.

We like this one, too.

This was street level, yesterday.

We love how people were making fun of us as we took the pix: “Oooh, a fire!” said some kid with derision and sarcasm. Whatever, we probably did look kind of stupid.

Thanks for all that smoke, 671 West 162nd Street!

We called 311, who turned it over to 911, who — somewhat embarrassingly (for us) — turned it over to the fire department. We emphasized that it wasn’t exactly an emergency, but that there was a regular stream of thick, black smoke from a nearby chimney. (In short, we felt like a hysterical queen, especially when the fire department called us back and gruffly said: “You’re reporting a fire?” and we were like: “no, but there’s an excessive amount of thick black smoke and it’s giving us lung cancer!” We didn’t mention that our cat Dante actually does have asthma, poor little guy!)

It seems like this problem should go somewhere else besides the fire department: department of health, or buildings? HPD? (LOL!!!) We’re at a loss if anyone has any ideas (and to preempt any wiseacres: don’t tell us to move; “that joke isn’t funny anymore.”) Somehow we don’t see this situation improving anytime soon, but we’ll keep you posted.

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10 Responses to “On 671 West 162nd Street: No Smoking, Please”

  1. 1 Steven Kopstein

    It’s outrageous that an administration that prides itself on being green, fighting global warming and otherwise posturing itself as pro-environment allows these types of offenses to continue unchecked. What is this, the London of Charles Dickens?

    We have a similar violator down here in Hamilton Heights – on Edgecomb around 148th St. I did some research to try to find out if the burning of trash was illegal, as I assumed it would be.

    My hunt through nyc.gov yielded little information, so I wrote an email to the city’s equivalent of the EPA, the DEP. Here’s their response –

    Dear Mr. Kopstein:
    I am writing to provide you with the regulations concerning refuse burning equipment in New York City. Please find the applicable sections that are contained within the New York City Administrative Code. I have also included the regulation from the Department of Buildings (the last paragraph), whom you may wish to contact directly concerning the regulation of incinerators. If there is a specific location that is emitting black smoke, please contact 311 and an inspection will be conducted by the DEP. Thank you.

    § 24–118 Installation of refuse burning equipment, other than municipal, prohibited; new installation. No person shall cause or permit the installation of refuse burning equipment. This prohibition shall not apply to refuse burning equipment operated by:
    (1) Any hospital, biological laboratory or other medical facility required to incinerate dressings, biological and obstetrical wastes, contagious and infectious materials, disposable syringes and needles, amputations, and general rubbish under the public health law or regulations thereunder; or
    (2) The department or the department of sanitation in connection with sewage treatment plants and solid waste disposals; or
    (3) The department of transportation in connection with waterborne marine transportation facilities operated under its jurisdiction.

    § 24–119 Refuse compacting systems; multiple dwellings after May twentieth, nineteen hundred sixty-eight. All multiple dwellings erected after May twentieth, nineteen hundred sixty-eight which are four or more stories in height and occupied by more than twelve families, or which are “class B” multiple dwellings as defined by the multiple dwelling law shall be provided with a refuse compacting system constructed, maintained and operated in conformity with all applicable laws and rules.

    § 27–835 Permitted types of incinerators. When permitted by sections 24-118 and 24-119 of title twenty-four of the administrative code, incinerators shall conform to the following:
    (a) Semiautomatic incinerators. Semiautomatic incinerators shall be limited to capacities not exceeding one million seven hundred thousand Btu/hr. in other buildings. Semiautomatic incinerators may have manually operated grates, but shall have automatically operated flue gates, gas or oil burners with temperature controls, overfire air fans and nozzle system, emission control devices, and clock controlled cycles.
    (b) Automatic incinerators. Automatic incinerators shall be required for capacities exceeding one million seven hundred thousand. They are optional for smaller capacities. Automatic incinerators shall have power operated grates, and automatically operated flue gates, gas or oil burners with temperature controls, overfire and underfire air fans and nozzle system, emission control devices and clock controlled cycles.

    Gerry Kelpin
    Director, Air/Noise Policies/Enforcement

    It seems like incineration is still allowed as long as the building is pre May 20, 1968 – that’s a lot of buildings. It’s 2008. Maybe it’ time to conduct a little get tough campaign?

  2. 2 Brad

    The DOB is in charge of black smoke emissions from buildings. You should take this complaint to the DOB. They will send an inspector (in theory). You will need the address of the building(s).

  3. Thanks for those comments, Steven and Brad. In my experience, the DOB is a complete joke (as the recent UES crane incident has shown). I also live next to a vacant building that is basically on the verge of collapsing, and trying to get them to do anything about it has been well, a joke (but a sad one). That said, I’m pretty sure the fire department did something yesterday afternoon, because the smoke did let up for the first time in about a week. We’ll have to wait and see if this holds…I’ll keep everyone posted. In the meantime, I recommend that everyone keep calling 311 whenever you spot this happening (and make sure you have the address it’s coming from).

  4. 4 David

    FYI -asthma is caused more by a bad diet than by the air we breathe.
    Love your site, but the “asthma is caused by dirty air” myth should be stopped.

  5. Thanks, David. Is it really a “myth” that dirty air causes asthma? I was under the impression that the true “causes” of asthma are not fully understood, but that the symptoms appear to be triggered by any number of conditions ranging from food allergies to pollen to smoke and air pollutants; which can be problematic when you’re trying to pinpoint the exact cause in a particular individual (or in our case, an individual cat.) Also, you seem to imply a downside without explaining exactly what it is: i.e., do people focus on bad air at the expense of bad diet? Any additional info you can provide would be great…thanks!

  6. 7 P. Toomey

    in regard to black smoke emissions from refuse burning incinerators. To my knowledge all refuse incinerators have been replaced by compactor units. What is being seen, thick, heavy black maybe caused by the improper mixture of air and fuel oil causing the smoke. The amount of oil must be monitored to assure that there is not any excessive smoke when the boilers are fired. Usually, there will be a slight amount of smoke but if the supt. fireman, engineer adjust the amount of oil the problem si solved in under a half minute. Fines are levied if the smoke exceeds the limits set by the DOB. Inspectors will be sent to the building if the address is provided. P.T.

  7. 8 annoyed

    It’s such a shame you rich, white people have to put up with these inconveniences as you gentrify with no self-awareness yet another neighborhood. Oh, your poor, little yuppie lungs!

  8. Congratulations, annoyed! You’re now in the lead for leaving the dumbest comment ever! Seriously, I’m impressed!

  9. 10 David from Harlem

    Buildings that emit thick black smoke is also an every day occurance in the West 110s on the Harlem side of Morningside Park. I just called 311 related to 375 Manhattan Avenue (on the southwest corner of West 116th Street) which emits black smoke 5 times per day for 5 minute blasts. There are several other buildings just within a few block area that I see regularly polluting. 311 says an inspector from the Department of Buildings will send an inspector. No action yet though. Thanks for your excellent, insightful reporting on this pervasive problem in northern Manhattan. I searched the New York Times but found no reporting on this issue.

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