Houston's Proposed Benzene Reduction Plan

City of Houston officials are holding informational meetings to share details of the proposed Benzene Reduction Plan. In addition to informing the public, they are hoping to have a dialogue with industry. Houston Public Radio's Capella Tucker reports.

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The Benzene Reduction plan would work with a neighborhood nuisance ordinance that city council is considering. Health and Environmental Policy Director Elena Marks explains the ordinance would make it a nuisance to emit certain levels of toxins based on health risks.

"What the nuisance ordinance would do will be to set a standard of the allowable ambient levels based on risk, and based on risk determined by scientists, not by politicians. And then that level will be the law at a particular point in time."

Marks says industries that improve technology will reduce emissions including benzene. University of Texas School of Public Health's Stephen Linder is associate director for the Institute for Health Policy. He was part of the Mayor's task force that analyzed air pollutants and prioritized the list for the city based on health risks. He says the city's approach is different from that of state regulators.

"The state's concern is not principally for health affects. It's to manage the acute emissions that occur and to identify trouble spots where you are way above what's expected."

City officials say they are looking for input from industry. East Harris County Manufacturers Association Spokesman Dave McKinney says they agree with continuing to clean the air. But he says they don't think the reduction plan is necessary.

"Most of the plants that have benzene have had projects in place for many years and will in the future to reduce benzene emissions. In fact benzene levels in Houston have declined by 80 percent since 1989. So what we're doing is working and we don't see the need for above and beyond what's already happening."

McKinney says the door is open to talk about the issue. The Greater Houston Partnership issued a resolution at the beginning of the month supporting the City of Houston's efforts while at the same time balancing the interests of employers in the region. It called for interested parties to review the process before council takes action on the matter. The nuisance ordinance and the benzene plan are expected to come up again before city council next month. Capella Tucker, Houston Public Radio News.

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