Research Project Information

Research Project Summary Information

Determination of Sulfur/Mercury/Toxic Metal Concentrations in Heating Oil(ST10049-1)



Trace elements, including mercury, lead and arsenic, pose significant public health risk due to inhalation toxicity or carcinogenicity of certain compounds containing these elements. Recent studies of crude oil in North American markets have shown mercury levels to be substantially lower than those used in emission factors for distillate and residual oils. While mercury emissions may be lower than previously estimated, nickel and vanadium from oil combustion are rising in concern. Recent research is suggesting an association between nickel and vanadium concentrations in fine particulate matter and average daily mortality risk. This work was undertaken to determine whether or not available emission factors for oil are appropriate for use to develop trace elemental emissions inventories in New York State. The substantial market for both oils in the Northeast, particularly in the New York City area, supports a measurement campaign to better understand the emissions potential for mercury and other trace elements that may be of concern. Trace elemental profiles from in use oils could also prove useful to scientists performing source apportionment analysis of fine particulates (PM2.5).

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Project Description

Working with major oil distributors in the New York State market, samples of various oil grades were collected, including home heating oil, biodiesel, onroad diesel, and residual oil. Samples were analyzed for sulfur content and the trace elements mercury (Hg), vanadium (V), manganese (Mn), cobalt (Co), nickel (Ni), zinc (Zn), arsenic (As), antimony (Sb), selenium (Se), and lead (Pb). A total of 137 fuel samples were collected and analyzed from fuel oil terminals in Albany, the Bronx, and Long Island, NY; and Revere and Quincy, MA, along with another 36 duplicate samples that were taken from the same storage tank, but collected, shipped, and analyzed separately.


Research results presented in this report provide up-to-date trace elemental composition of fuel oils currently used in New York State as well as the northeastern United States. This information improves the understanding of the relative importance of oil combustion in regional emissions inventories for the analyzed trace elements, along with fuel oil sulfur content. The results can be used to assist air regulators when (re-)developing regulations. The project also reiterated the emission reductions by switching to ultra low sulfur heating oil.

Project Results

Trace elemental composition of light distillates appears to be 5 to 69 times lower than estimates based on the USEPA’s AP-42 emission factors. The trace elemental composition of residual oil typically far exceeds that of lighter distillates. In NYS, mercury emissions associated with residential fuel combustion would reduce to 1% from 15% using the revised emissions factors and SO2 emissions would reduce to < 1% from 9% of statewide emissions when using ultra low sulfur heating oil.


89 South Street Suite 602
Boston, MA 02111

Principle Investigator

Paul Miller

Universities Involved


Project Type:

Research Study

Technologies Types:

Building Systems
Heating, Ventilation, & Air Conditioning

NYSERDA Contact Information

Nathan Russell


R&D - Buildings Research

Contract Details

Start Date: 1/11/2010
Project Status: Active
Contract Number: ST10049-1

Last Updated: 7/30/2014