Energy & Environment

Harris County expands its community air monitoring program with a new mobile unit

The mobile unit, known as the “RAAM,” will be able to detect a wide array of compounds and provide real-time data to the county’s pollution control dashboards.

Energy company Luminant announced last month that it was closing the Sandow Power Plant along with two other plants.

Harris County Pollution Control Services on Thursday unveiled a new mobile unit designed to rapidly monitor air quality on the go — expanding the county’s ever-growing air monitoring program.

The mobile Rapid Ambient Air Monitoring unit, known as the "RAAM," will be able to detect a wide array of compounds and provide real-time data to PCS’ online dashboards.

Pollution Control Executive Director Latrice Babin said the county will strategically plan the mobile unit routes to collect baseline air quality data and address environmental racism.

“The RAAM is going to be out in every community in Harris County, especially communities of color,” Babin said. “We are going to pull data to connect the dots on the environmental risks that our communities are facing.”

On top of gathering baseline data, the mobile unit will also be used for emergency response during chemical fires and other disasters, like multiple chemical incidents that occurred in the Houston area in July — one of which left 2 dead and 30 hospitalized.

The $500,000 mobile unit is the latest investment into the county’s air monitoring network, according to Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo. Since the ITC fire in 2019, the county has allocated more than $11 million to place several air monitors across the region and to increase the size of the county’s pollution control department, Hidalgo said.

“Our residents should never have to worry about the quality of the air they breathe or the environmental conditions in which they’re raising their families,” Hidalgo said. “With millions of people in Harris County living and working in close proximity to industrial facilities, it is vital we move beyond the days of looking the other way or simply hoping the worst won’t happen.”

Additional reporting by Katie Watkins.

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