Air Toxics Lessons for Texas from a Friendly Rival

California has had success dealing with air toxics challenges similar to those facing Texas.

California has had success addressing air toxics challenges similar to those in Texas.

For all their differences, Texas and California have a few big environmental challenges in common: large populations that drive significant miles on roadways, major industry that drives economic sustainability, and the resulting air pollution. Specifically, high levels of air toxics are linked to ozone pollution, and thus associated with higher risks of cancer and respiratory problems.

Fortunately, California has a new study detailing successes the state has had in addressing these issues – and it contains valuable lessons for Texas. The “Ambient and Emission Trends of Toxic Air Contaminants in California” study, authored by the California Air Resources Board (CARB) and published last month in Environmental Science and Technology, demonstrates how emissions and health risk have decreased due to landmark clean air standards on air toxics. Between 1990 and 2012, CARB monitored the seven most significant air toxics that are responsible for cancer risk in California and found that the state’s efforts resulted in a staggering 76 percent decline in the risk of cancer from exposure to air toxics.

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California’s success story illustrates that a state can establish meaningful standards and facilitate reduction of toxic emissions, even with population growth and significant increases in trucks and cars on the roadways – if they have the right model.

“These impressive reductions in California’s most hazardous toxic contaminants in our air took place against a backdrop of more than two decades of steady growth in California, with a growing population, and increasing numbers of cars and trucks that used ever larger quantities of gas and diesel,” Air Resources Board Chair Mary D. Nichols said. “There is no way these improvements in public health would have occurred without a strong, well designed program to reduce public exposure to toxic air

Not only are California citizens already benefitting from decreased cancer risk and cleaner air, but cancer risk is expected to continue to decline thanks to the air toxics standards.

California’s drop in air toxics is the direct result of many years of actions aimed at cutting diesel emissions and reducing air toxics. These efforts began in 1990 with a reformulated diesel fuel program that included roadside inspection and standards for public transportation. In 2006, California began requiring ultra-low-sulfur-diesel fuel and eventually mandated the use of diesel particulate filters on trucks in 2008 to reduce soot and other harmful particles from entering the air. Diesel particulate matter from trucks dropped 68 percent.

Other notable harmful emissions that were significantly decreased by California’s efforts include emissions from dry-cleaners, such as per-chloroethylene and hexavalent chromium, which dropped 90 percent.

Texas and California may not see eye to eye on every issue. But clean air is a shared goal, and the results from California’s air toxics standards leave us wondering what Texas can achieve.


Photo credit: Lynn

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