Part IV: Reducing Pollution to Protect Houston’s Health

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Houston must demonstrate clear political will and a strong commitment to make health a top priority.

In Part I of our series on ozone, we described how 2015 was a bad year for Houston ozone, and in Part II we shared research from local scientists that explains which health risks go up when ozone levels are high in Houston. Part III deconstructed some of the flawed arguments and logic put forward by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) in challenging the health-based standard. Now, in Part IV, we’ll take a look at how Houston can breathe cleaner air by reducing emissions and implementing response strategies.

Houston has always been a solution-oriented city, and that’s how we hope leaders will approach the ozone challenge. The air quality data, health studies, and growth trends make it clear that Houston needs to double down on efforts to reduce ozone pollution. The region also needs better planning to ensure that emergency responders have the best information available to protect the health of all residents, especially on high ozone days.

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Recent research from Houston shows continuing health concerns from air pollution. And in 2015, we saw a spike in ozone levels. This demonstrates the need for more action on air quality, including:

  • Reducing pollution from industrial facilities like refineries and other stationary sources
  • Reducing pollution from vehicles and equipment like heavy-duty trucks and other mobile sources
  • Health interventions that use more refined air quality information to enhance resource assignments

The long-term solution to air quality problems is reducing emissions of harmful pollutants from a variety of emissions sources.

At a time when the Port of Houston Authority is setting growth records, special attention to the heavy-duty diesel equipment that powers transportation infrastructure is warranted. Ports can pursue more sustainable practices like idling reduction, renewable energy, and cleaner equipment to help clean up mobile sources. In addition, ports across the state should review the recently issued “Clean Air Guide for Ports & Terminals” for additional strategies to help the marine transportation sector reduce emissions.

More broadly, the region and the state should accelerate the retirement of older diesel engines, require that low-emission engines be used in publically funded projects, and provide additional funding to clean technology deployment programs like the Texas Emissions Reduction Plan (TERP). These measures will help reduce emissions from private and public fleets and ensure a vibrant economy.

And power plants, petrochemical facilities, and other heavy industries can play a bigger role as well. Fortunately, new standards covering regional haze and refineries will help cut down on pollution from these sources. However, Houston needs even more emission reductions to ensure that you and your family have healthy air to breathe – which may be more difficult given recent limitations to the public’s ability to challenge permits.

In the near-term, public officials can take steps to mitigate the risks faced by Houstonians that breathe unhealthy air. Understanding how high ozone levels increases the risk of out-of-hospital cardiac arrests can help improve emergency response times during ozone warnings. First responders can consider where these emergencies are most likely to take place and which days are likely to result in an increased risk. Emergency services can then be targeted, which could result in a faster response to cardiac arrests associated with hazardous air quality.

Similarly, health officials can better understand the distribution of ambulance-treated asthma attacks and develop action plans to target high-risk areas. This could mean investing public health resources in community centers and schools located in neighborhoods prone to a higher level of asthma events related to air pollution. Ozone warnings are key to encouraging action and helping protect public health.

Houston’s growing population means that we need to harness this research into action on emissions mitigation to help ensure that all Houstonians breathe healthy air. These solutions stand in stark contrast to the obstructionism presented by Attorney General Paxton – instead of offering public health protections he is offering another costly lawsuit. The health risks are clear and we have effective, affordable technology to reduce emissions.

Now is the time to demonstrate clear political will and a strong commitment to make Houston’s health a top priority.

 

Image credit: Daniel Gillaspia/UponArriving

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One Comment

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