Emissions Control Devices Required for Char Broilers, Wood/Coal Ovens in Largest Update to NYC Air Pollution Code in 35 Years


New York City Council and Mayor de Blasio passed a sweeping update to the air pollution control code in April. Char broilers and commercial wood/coal fired cooking appliances are targeted to reduce the emission of particulate matter and its associated health risks. Emissions control devices will be mandated on new installations effective April 2016, with a grace period until 2020 to retroactively outfit all existing installations.

New York City restaurants using char broilers cooking over 875 lb of meat per week, or cooking, grilling or smoking with solid fuel should pay heed. The Department of Environmental Protection is tasked with monitoring new and existing restaurants across the 5 boroughs to ensure their compliance in the next 1 to 5 years, and handing out fines to those who refuse to comply.

“It has been 35 years since New York City took a critical look at the quality of the air we breathe,” said Council Member Donovan Richards. “Air pollution has contributed to deaths, high rates of asthma and hospitalizations for respiratory related illnesses. Clearly something needed to be done to address this growing public health issue as our city continued to fail national Ambient Air Quality Standards set by the EPA.”

Effective one year from the law’s date of passage all new wood or coal fired cooking appliances, such as pizza ovens, grills, and smokers, as well as chain driven-char broilers and char broilers cooking over 875 lb of meat per week, will not be approved for permits without the inclusion of an emissions control device approved by the Department of Environmental Protection. By 2020, all existing installations must comply regardless of installation date.

Some restaurateurs already made the decision to install emissions control devices years ago. “I installed the Smoke Zapper [emissions control device] in both of my pizzerias several years ago,” said Roberto Caporuscio, owner and chef of renowned Neapolitan pizzerias Kesté and Don Antonio. “It reduces the smoke and odor for my neighbors. This technology has been required in Italy for decades and I knew the results. It’s the right thing to do for the neighborhood and city.”
Electrostatic precipitators were the emissions control device of choice in previous decades, however, they are often prohibitively expensive and bulky, requiring thousands of dollars in maintenance. Smoki USA is the forerunner of a patented wet scrubber system which allows char broilers and wood/coal fired ovens to comply with particulate matter levels set by the EPA. They offer two discreet systems to specifically target wood/coal fired ovens and char broilers/solid fuel grills. The Smoki USA technology has already met with success in restaurants such as Danny Meyer’s Marta and Michelin-starred chef George Mendes’ Lupulo in midtown Manhattan.

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“We have been aware of the particulate matter issue for decades, which led us to bring this technology to the USA and provide a more affordable and simple solution for restaurateurs,” said Peter de Jong, Smoki USA CEO. “Char broilers and solid fuel cooking appliances are very different than a regular cooking line. They create heavy pollution and send live embers into the chimney, which can easily overwhelm many emissions control systems and even create chimney fires. That’s why we turned to developing wet scrubbing technology, which douses the embers in water and cools the flue gasses while eliminating particulate matter and grease.”

Previous studies by air quality researchers from around the USA support the steps taken by the New York City Council. “Emissions from cooking hamburgers on commercial charbroilers are a very significant uncontrolled source of directly-emitted particulate matter… if left uncontrolled they emit more than twice than all of the heavy-duty diesel trucks,” said Bill Welch, air quality researcher at UC Riverside. “For comparison, the average diesel-engine truck on the road today would have to drive 10 miles on the freeway to put out the same mass of particles as a single charbroiled hamburger patty.”

What happens to city restaurants that don’t comply? “According to the new legislation, the DEP will be tasked with keeping an eye on restaurant exhaust across the city and maintaining records concerning each restaurant’s cooking equipment and in the case of char broilers, weekly meat consumption,” said Peter de Jong. “In other jurisdictions, air quality officials and sometimes even the local police force are trained to visually monitor the opacity of smoke for red flags. When the smoke is too opaque, that restaurant could be earmarked for particulate matter testing by a certified laboratory,” he said.

According to the legislation, if “…the results of [particulate matter] tests conducted… show that the equipment or fuel is in violation of this code, the commissioner shall order the owner to cure the defect within thirty days.” The Department of Environmental Protection could pursue fines or even the shutdown of the restaurant in instances of continual non-compliance.

“No one in the city wants to put a restaurant out of business,” says Peter de Jong. “That’s why these sorts of novel systems [wet scrubbing technology] are what’s going to make it possible to cost-effectively handle this health problem.”
To read the legislation, visit legistar.council.nyc.gov and search “Int 0271-2014”

For more information on an emissions control device, visit smokiusa.com