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A government environmental expert predicted yesterday that sulfur pollutants in Boston area air could jump to four times the present levels this winter if the current fuel shortage continues.
The Boston Department of Public Health is relaxing its current pollution laws in the face of more than 300 requests by area industries for permission to use higher-level sulfur fuel.
"If we ease the current pollution standards it could be dangerous, "Elise M. Comproni of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said yesterday. "It's a choice now between getting pneumonia from the cold or bronchitis from dirty air. Hopefully enough low level sulfur fuel will be available this winter to eliminate the problem."
Since 1970 Boston industries have been required by the EPA to burn fuel with a sulfur level no higher than .5 per cent. As this fuel becomes scarce, industries are being forced to utilize fuel with a pollutant content of 2.2 per cent or higher.
New England Petroleum, which supplies fuel for nearly 30,000 Boston residences and businesses, has less than ten days of the low sulfur fuel left. "The situation is deteriorating daily--we haven't the slightest hope of getting a barrel more," a spokesman for the company said Wednesday.
The Cambridge Electric Company, which supplies Harvard with steam heat and electricity, was granted a variance earlier this week that will allow the plant to burn the 2.2-per-cent-more-polluting fuel.
"These pollution laws are arbitrary and capricious," Kenneth A. Dery, productions manager for the company said Wednesday. "They were implemented at a time when everyone wanted to do their utmost for the environment, but our studies have shown that the high and low levels of sulfur in fuel maintain about the same level of pollution."
The industries that are granted variances by the EPA must first submit a sworn affidavit from their fuel supplier stating that they have completely run out of the cleaner fuel.
The companies are also required to retain a three day supply of the low sulfur fuel for emergency use in the event of dangerous pollution levels caused by adverse weather conditions.
The EPA has not lifted the ban on coal burning in the metropolitan area but it is a possibility, according to Comproni. "I hope we won't see any coal burning this winter, but we are walking on a tightrope now. We'll either freeze if the restrictions aren't lifted, or see the health effects if they are," he said.
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