(This post was written by Grace Tee Lewis, EDF’s Kravis Postdoctoral Science Fellow)
August in Texas is not for the weak of heart or lung.
As temperatures rise, so do levels of air pollutants such as ground-level ozone – better known as smog. For those with asthma, being outside on high ozone days can lead to asthma attacks. Children, older adults and people who work outside are the most susceptible.
In Texas, asthma affects roughly 1 in 13 adults and 1 in 11 children. In 2014, this represented 1.4 million Texans aged 18 years or older and 617,000 children according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.
Yesterday, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finalized a rule aimed to address what’s known as “regional haze” that has been affecting visibility and health in Texas, as well as in our neighbors to the north (Oklahoma and Arkansas). The formation of haze occurs when sunlight interacts with particles in the atmosphere, and this interaction reduces visibility. A part of the federal Clean Air Act, the Regional Haze program requires that states and the federal government develop plans to address air quality in 156 national parks and wilderness areas.
For Texas, the program requires a plan to help improve visibility in Big Bend National Park and Guadalupe Mountains National Park. And the final Regional Haze Rule – released yesterday – will require certain outdated power plants in Texas to reduce pollution of sulfur dioxide (SO2), a hazardous pollutant associated with asthma and bronchitis and an important precursor for smog formation.
The finalized rule will allow us all to breathe easier – and better take in Texas’ natural beauty. Read More
Despite the well-known health risks from diesel emissions and the economic consequences of unhealthy air, clean air projects are often stalled because they lack money. Fortunately, funding options for transportation-related clean air initiatives are available at the national, regional, and state levels. One of the key national sources of funding has been the Diesel Emissions Reduction Act (DERA), administered through the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). DERA provides up to $100 million each year through 2016 for reducing emissions from existing diesel engines, and recently, EPA announced that roughly $9 million is available for agencies seeking to undergo clean diesel projects.
DERA typically funds replacement, repower, and retrofit projects for diesel vehicles and equipment to improve air quality and public health by reducing hazardous air pollutants, like particulate matter and smog-forming pollutants, among others. Through the Request for Proposals, eligible applications are required to have a partnership with a local government or metropolitan planning organization, a public or private fleet of vehicles or equipment, and other interested entities (e.g., technology providers, community groups, etc.). Because of these unique partnerships, DERA has been able to make federal dollars go even further. The DERA partnership approach attracts public and private funding that, when combined with federal funds, allow for more emissions reductions. Both partners stand to gain a great deal in the way of enhancing business operations and improving local health and are eager to participate. In the end, for each federal dollar awarded, as much as $3 from non-federal sources is added to the project, and together these funds provide up to $7 – $18 in public health benefits. Read More
Last week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit unanimously upheld the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) particulate matter (soot) pollution standard, ruling that EPA’s decision to strengthen the standard in 2012 was firmly grounded in science and the law. The ruling also upheld EPA’s new requirement that states install air quality monitors near heavy traffic roads, where soot pollution levels can spike. The court’s decision is the latest in a string of legal victories for critical health protections on air pollution.
When fossil fuels are burned in an automobile or power plant, they release soot pollution, very fine, ashy particles less than one tenth the width of a human hair. These particles are so small that the air can carry them for long distances. When inhaled, soot particles penetrate deep into the lungs, where they can cross into the bloodstream via the path normally taken by inhaled oxygen. Exposure to soot pollution can inflame and alter our blood vessels, cutting off the oxygen supply to our heart and brain, leading to a heart attack, stroke, or other serious cardiac event. Read More
This post was co-authored by Adrian Shelley, Air Alliance Houston Executive Director.
Estimated Distribution of Benzene Annual Concentration, Based on Retrieved Primary Source Location and Wind Direction Frequency
One year ago this week, EDF, along with Air Alliance Houston (AAH), submitted comments to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) regarding its proposal to remove Texas City from the state’s Air Pollutant Watch List (APWL). We believe the agency’s proposal to remove Texas City from the Watch List for benzene and hydrogen sulfide, two lethal air pollutants, was premature.
To date, the TCEQ has not addressed our public comments on the Texas City proposal, though it has found time to analyze and recommend two other areas for removal from the APWL. We believe that this reflects TCEQ’s misplaced priorities. The agency seems to prefer removing areas from the APWL — thereby lifting a burden on industry— rather than ensuring adequate protection for public health. Read More
Last week, the American Lung Association (ALA) released its annual State of the Air report, which reviews air pollution data compiled by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for two of the most hazardous types of air pollution: ozone and particulate matter.
Overall findings indicate that ozone pollution increased in metropolitan areas throughout the nation due to warmer temperatures. At the same time, fine particle pollution, or soot as it is most commonly called, decreased due to fewer emissions from coal-fired power plants and wider use of cleaner fuels and engines.
For a primer on ozone pollution and health, read here.
Unfortunately, Houston crept up in the rankings to 6th most polluted for ozone in the country (up from 7th last year). And with the exception of Dallas-Fort Worth, other cities in Texas followed the national ozone trend, reporting a greater number of unhealthy days this year. Texas cities did fare better on soot pollution, although a notable exception was El Paso, which was one of only five U.S. cities that saw an increase in year-round pollution. Read More