Poor Air Quality Near the Port of Houston

An air pollution monitor near the Port of Houston is showing the highest levels of fine particles ever recorded in the area. Houston Public Radio's Laurie Johnson has more on the region's air quality issues.

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Houston has two major air pollution problems: ozone levels and fine particles. The state has been working for decades to address the ozone issue. But John Wilson, the executive director of the Galveston Houston Association for Smog Prevention says fine particles reached the federal limit of 15 for the first time.

"In reality the EPA says it has to be over 15.05 and so we're not sure whether we're going to be over 15.05. The average person breathes in probably about the equivalent of half a grain of sand of this kind of air pollution every day. It's a very minute amount of matter but it causes very serious health consequences over a lifetime. And the amount of pollution that's at stake in whether or not we will officially cross that line and be over that threshold is 1/20,000 of a grain of sand."

Fine particles are associated with asthma and other respiratory diseases and have been linked to some types of cancer. State Representative Ana Hernandez filed a bill to change air quality guidelines into enforceable standards.

"It really concerns me when you look around and you can't see out into the horizon. It's a very hazy day, we've got a lot of traffic here on this highway, 18-wheelers coming in and out of the port and we have neighborhoods right here, children that live and play in these neighborhoods. So it is a concern of mine that our constituents have a safe place to live where don't have to worry about their children playing outside."

The legislation isn't likely to make it onto the special session agenda, but Hernandez says she'll file it again in January if need be. Wilson says the state is making progress with regards to pollution, but the petrochemical industry has to be more aggressive in helping the region meet compliance standards.

"We are making a difference and in fact are seeing some progress. We had our first big victory on clear air rules over industry objections last year and we're seeing progress in a lot of areas. So I don't want to say that you know -- you know the glass is probably half full at this point, but right now we've got a better idea of what it's going to take to get clean air in Houston. And it's going to take attention to this problem."

The official monitor for fine particles is located on Clinton Drive, just a short distance from the Port of Houston. The main monitor recorded levels right at the federal cutoff of 15 mincrograms per cubic meter. But a backup monitor recorded an average level of 15.33. It's too early to know whether the EPA will find the region in violation of the air quality standard. Laurie Johnson Houston Public Radio News.

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