Dirty Dozen: Study Lists the 12 Worst Air Pollutants in Houston

A new report ranks which air pollutants pose the biggest health risks in the Greater Houston Area and in which neighborhoods those airborne compounds and chemicals are the worst. Houston Public Radio's Jack Williams reports.

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The study was commissioned by Mayor Bill White last year and included input from eight health and science experts, mostly from Houston, who made up the Task Force on Reducing Air Quality Health Risks. It's the first time known air pollutants in Houston have been ranked according to their adverse effect on health. Dr. Stephen Linder is the interim director of the Institute for Health Policy at the UT School of Public Health and was the task force coordinator.

"There are at least a dozen compounds that pose a definite risk that is substantially higher than most of the other chemicals that we found and that are being tracked by EPA and agencies like California EPA. They were at sufficiently high levels for us to be alarmed, to address them as definite risks rather than probable or likely or something less than that."

Of the 179 compounds and chemicals studied, some of the worst were diesel particulate matter, chromium, butadiene, benzene and chlorine. Neighborhoods on the east side of the city and Harris County showed the largest concentration of these compounds, areas like Denver Harbor, Clinton Park, Magnolia Park and Lawndale.

"There is a disproportionate created in the greater Houston area by virtue of the location of these neighborhoods and by virtue of the other health risks that people in those neighborhoods face, regardless of the environmental risks. So those are added-on to the risks they normally face having to do with their standard of living and their access to health care and so on."

Houston city councilwoman Carol Alvarado grew up on the east side and lived there for much of her life. She says the task force findings are going to be hard to dispute.

"You have some of the finest, smartest, most respected people in the scientific world, in the medical world, who are translating it from a pollutant to an actual health effect. I think it's going to be very difficult for someone to be critical."

Mayor White says the report will set in motion a new effort by the city to monitor polluters in the city and to crack-down on companies that refuse to abide by clean-air rules. He says if that causes industrial jobs and companies to move elsewhere, so be it.

"If somebody says that they must put in highly toxic chemicals forever in our air to keep jobs in Houston, I think those jobs maybe ought to be somewhere else, because we need to look at the jobs for most Houstonians and the lives of our citizens."

You can find a link to the report on our website, KUHF.org.

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