Selected category: Ozone

Houston gets an extension on meeting air standards, but for what purpose?

houston skyline 4.19.16

EPA’s decision to grant the Houston region a new deadline to meet clean air standards may delay air pollution mitigation measures.

Last year was a troubling one for Houston air quality. Some areas recorded ozone concentrations not seen since the early 2000s. Overall, more than half of the regional monitors recorded smog at levels that exceeded the 2008 national health standard for at least four days. This unhealthy air affects everyone, but vulnerable populations such as the young and the elderly are especially susceptible to health effects of poor air quality, including asthma and lung disease.

This is why EPA’s recent decision to grant the Houston region a one-year extension to meet the federal health standards represents a missed opportunity for clean air action. The original deadline for Houston to meet the 2008 health standard was July 2015. Often, EPA grants extensions to areas that are close to attaining the standard. In this case, Houston’s air quality had been improving but took a significant step in the wrong direction last year with a large number of exceedance days.

Why Does it Matter? Read More »

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Unhealthy Ozone Hits Houston Early

Cars drive on an eight lane expressway in Beijing on January 29,2013. Residents across northern China battled through choking pollution on January 29, as air quality levels rose above index limits in Beijing amid warnings that the smog may not clear until January 31. AFP PHOTO / WANG ZHAOIt seems too early in the year to worry about smog, right? Ozone is typically thought of as just a summertime problem. Unfortunately, not this year – and the health risks are troubling.

March 1 marked the beginning of ozone season in Houston – and April 3 was the first day in 2016 that a regulatory ozone monitor in Houston measured above 70 parts per billion (ppb), which is the level of the health standard established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. No other official air monitor in the state had recorded levels above 70ppb, meaning Houston is winning the early race for unhealthiest Texas air – which isn’t winning at all.

While stratospheric ozone plays a beneficial role by absorbing harmful ultraviolet rays, not all ozone is considered “good.” Ground-level ozone is a form of pollution, also known as smog, which can result in dangerous consequences for public health such as asthma attacks, and heart and lung disease. Read More »

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Part III: Flawed Logic at Texas Environmental Agency Results in Costly Lawsuits and Poor Public Health Policy

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There is robust agreement on the dangers of ozone pollution in the medical health community.

Part I of our series on ozone described how 2015 was a bad year for Houston ozone. Part II reviewed recent research from leading Houston scientists that explains why more ozone pollution is harmful to our health. Part III explains how faulty logic and erroneous assumptions had led to costly lawsuits and poor public health policy across the state. Part IV will identify some solutions to Houston’s ozone problem and suggest measures to protect the health of Houston area residents.

There has been quite a bit of activity related to the proposed U.S. ozone regulations in the past year. As part of a four part series on ozone in 2015, we’d like to take the time to rebuke some of the scientifically-flawed testimony provided by state environmental officials, including Dr. Michael Honeycutt, toxicologist for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), the state environmental agency. We feel that the agency has presented health information in a way that is misleading and contradicts the robust opinion of the medical health community on the issue.

First, a little context is important. We at Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) have participated in the public process involving the ozone standard and provided testimony to Congress on the health effects of ozone exposure. TCEQ has challenged the health-based standards in an aggressive way, and their efforts have been fodder for expensive and frivolous lawsuits filed by the state. Read More »

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Part II: Studies Show Health Risks Associated with More Ozone Pollution

ozone image 3 1.21.16

High ozone days, particularly in sequence, increase the risk of an asthma attack requiring EMS intervention.

In Part I of our series on ozone, we described how 2015 was a bad year for Houston ozone. Why does this matter? In Part II, we’re reviewing recent research from leading Houston scientists that explains why more ozone pollution is harmful to our health.

Scientists have known for a long time that ground-level ozone, or smog, is harmful to human health. Smog is associated with adverse health effects like asthma, bronchitis, emphysema, and lung disease. Children, the elderly, and individuals that spend lots of active time outdoors are even more susceptible to high ozone levels and thus considered sensitive populations.

Fortunately, recent research on exposure to lower levels of ozone prompted the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency this year to strengthen the national health-based standard to 70 parts per billion (ppb). The new standard means cleaner air and healthier lungs in Houston, where studies from area scientists have demonstrated local, negative health implications of high ozone levels. Read More »

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Part I: Why Are Houston’s 2015 Ozone Levels Cause for Concern?

This is Part I of our four-part series on Houston ozone and how it affects your health.

ozone image 2 1.20.16

Ozone pollution affects everyone, no matter where they live.

Though the region has made progress on air quality in recent years, Houston suffered a setback in 2015 with a significant spike in its ozone levels. Ozone, also known as smog, is harmful to health and can result in respiratory symptoms such as cough and chest tightness. And with considerable industrial and population growth expected in the next few years, experts are understandably worried about public health risks.

To protect public health, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sets national standards for ozone concentrations, or limits on the amount of harmful ozone pollution in the air. In 2008, EPA strengthened the standard to 75 parts per billion (ppb), and this year the agency set a more protective standard of 70ppb. A lower number means there is less smog – and less smog means cleaner, healthier air. (In order to evaluate the public’s exposure to ozone, scientists and health officials look at regional monitoring data to determine when ozone levels exceed those federal health-based standards. Read More »

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Texas Takes Backseat Controlling Its Massive Methane Problem

3829465133_78b173bff0_bA new study published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, finds that methane emissions from oil and gas facilities in North Texas’ Barnett Shale are likely as much as 90 percent higher than previous estimates based on data from the Environmental Protection Agency.

This is no small matter. Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas rapidly accelerating the rate of climate change. But it’s also emitted with other harmful pollutants, like Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) that contribute to smog levels, as well as the cancer causing compound benzene. One study estimates that oil and gas production in the Barnett Shale Region in Texas contributes 19,888 tons of VOCs per year while estimates for the Eagle Ford Shale region just south of San Antonio project oil and gas operations could produce up to 1,248 tons per day VOC by 2018. Both the DFW area and San Antonio are struggling with high smog levels.

And based on the findings of the new methane study, we now know that there are instances where the magnitude of oil and gas emissions is even higher than previously thought. That is especially troubling for the more than 6 million people living in the DFW area who are at risk of developing or exacerbating respiratory and other health problems as a result of this unnecessary air pollution. Unnecessary because recent analysis concludes that emissions can be drastically reduced by implementing cost-effective and “off the shelf” pollution reduction technologies and practices – begging the question: why has Texas, the leading oil and gas producing state, not been a leader on reducing this harmful pollution?

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