More than a few New Yorkers are panicking right now. That’s because the New York City Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) will soon vote on how to enact a rule that aims to cut down airborne particulate matter from wood- and coal-fired pizzeria ovens installed prior to 2016. The New York Post reports that this move has both pizza fans and pizzeria owners worried about the state of their pies. But fear not, New Yorkers—this is all a big misunderstanding about what’s actually happening.
The clean air rule has been on the table for much longer than people seem to realize. In fact, it’s been around since 2016, and it’s not a regulation that targets pizzerias specifically. Instead, it’s a rule that applies to all commercial kitchens in New York, The Guardian explains. Pizzerias are unique in that some use fuels such as wood and coal to make certain styles of pizza, which naturally emit smoke when burned, but all New York restaurants are affected in some way.
The actual goal of this regulation is to slash particles emitted out into the air by up to 75% (which is different from carbon emissions, by the way). Any pizzerias containing ovens that produce such particulate matter are being asked to install emission control devices, known as air scrubbers, which help prevent that stuff from being released into common air.
The clean air rule applies to all commercial kitchens, not just pizzerias, but the New York Post reporting got some pizza fans worried. Many voiced concern about what air scrubbers might do to the quality of the pizza, while owners noted the cost of the installation of the scrubbers.
If a pizza oven itself has to be modified, that’s a big issue for the end product: Temperatures, cooking surfaces, and heat sources all can change the qualities of a finished pizza. But the thing is, air scrubbers are installed at the entrance of the chimney to trap smoke before it can get into the atmosphere. The oven, therefore, isn’t affected whatsoever, and neither is the pizza.
Many pizzerias across New York have already installed the scrubbers. It’s only reasonable not to pump smoke into the air for the sake of one’s neighbors, especially in a city as dense as New York. The devices can cost around $10,000 up to $20,000, which is certainly a large sum for any business, but most owners understand the importance of scrubbers and see it as a cost of doing business.
New York pizza tour business owner Scott Weiner explained how all of this works in a recent Instagram post, noting that a lot depends on when and how the rule will actually be enforced—a decision that will be made at the end of July.
Weiner told The Takeout that it really just boils down to an air purity issue, and that’s it. The overall rule extends to any appliances that use solid fuel to cook food, meaning it affects, say, barbecue restaurants more than it does pizzerias. Italy already enforces a similar rule, and one of the leading companies that sells air scrubbers is actually based in Italy for that very reason.
“It does suck for a pizzeria to be told, ‘You have 10,000, 20,000, 25,000 dollars’ worth of costs coming up,” Weiner said. “You can still be pissed, you can still say small businesses are getting slammed, that’s all true. But get mad about the right thing, right?”