Harris County Gets New Tool to Test Dirty Air

Harris County has a new tool in its battle against dirty air, a state-of-the-art monitoring station in Pasadena that samples and records even the tiniest particles of pollutants. Houston Public Radio's Jack Williams reports.

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In a parking lot outside Pasadena city hall, the county's latest weapon against polluted air works around the clock, continuously testing for airborne compounds using computers inside a small, trailer-sized room and an antenna outside.

"It uses a technology called a Fourier Transform Infrared backed up with ultraviolet sensor technology, so it's probably one of the more sophisticated pieces of equipment that you can get on the market today."

Bud Karachiwala is the Director of Harris County's Environmental Public Health Division.

"It monitors more than 100 of the 189 hazardous air pollutants that have been listed in the Clean Air Act and it monitors it down to very very low levels, as low as one part per billion, that's with a b."

"Let's assume that this was today and you saw that and then you would then call, I mean, how do you determine exactly where it's coming from?"

Harris County Commissioner Sylvia Garcia watches as the pollution data shows up on a computer screen, with colored graphs that show what kind of compounds are in the air.

"For the person who says, well what is the county doing, well this is what we're doing and we're going to bring all the resources and tools that we can muster to get a better handle of what's in the air so that we can do a better job of monitoring and a better job of ensuring compliance. We all want clean air."

The $500,000 station wasn't paid for with taxpayer money, but was instead funded by industrial polluters themselves through fines they've paid for clean air violations. Harris County Public Health and Environmental Services executive director Dr. Herminia Palacio says officials and residents will have instant access to the information.

"What this will do is it will answer the question that we have heard from our community which is what's in the air that we breath. And not only will we know what's in the air, but we'll know it quickly. We will get this data in real time and we'll make this data available to the general public in real time on our internet at www.harriscountyhealth.com and anybody can go in and look at what's in the air in this area."

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