Energy & Environment

Houston’s communities of color are hit hardest by worsening air quality, new report says

The report from the Environmental Integrity Project found that the highest concentrations of smog in the Houston area were found near Latino, Black or lower-income communities.

The LyondellBasell refinery, located near the Houston Ship Channel, is seen in Houston, Texas, U.S., May 5, 2019.
Loren Elliott/REUTERS
The LyondellBasell refinery, located near the Houston Ship Channel, is seen in Houston, Texas, U.S., May 5, 2019.

Houston’s communities of color are being disproportionately affected by worsening air quality, according to a new report.

The report from the Environmental Integrity Project found that several Houston-area air quality monitors measured smog levels that violated federal standards and that the highest concentrations of smog were found near Latino, Black or lower-income communities.

According to the EIP report, people of color made up about 76 to 94 percent of those living within three miles of at least nine locations in the Houston area where monitors recorded smog levels that exceeded federal health-based standards.

MORE: Houston Matters discusses this report

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“The Houston Health Department is very concerned about these high ozone levels, not only because they occur in environmental justice communities, but also because these same communities suffer from asthma attacks and cardiac arrest at higher rates than the rest of the city,” said Loren Hopkins, chief environmental science officer for the Houston Health Department.

Additionally, four air monitors near the Houston Ship Channel — located at Haden Road, Clinton, Houston East and Park Place — were among a total of six monitors across the county that recorded the Houston-area’s worst daily smog levels in 2023, ranging from 100 to 114 parts per billion, far surpassing the federal standard of 70 ppb. Additionally, people of color made up more than 90% of those living near the ship channel, and according to the report.

The report also found that low-income Harris County residents made up about majority to those located within three miles of the monitoring locations near the ship channel.

“While pollutants like nitrogen oxide can travel a great distance, it is no accident that some of the worst smog levels in recent years have been recorded near freeways and in areas along the Houston Ship Channel that are lined with oil refineries and chemical plants,” the report read.

Overall, the report found that smog levels in the greater Houston area surpassed federal standards on 55 days this year, the highest number of violation days for the Houston area in more than a decade. The report also found that smog levels throughout Houston have seemingly stayed consistent or gotten worse over the last decade.

The report recommended that local governments, like Harris County, be given more authority from the state legislature to “protect their most vulnerable residents by establishing and enforcing air pollution control requirements within their boundaries.”

However, according to Eric Schaeffer, the executive director of the EIP, the likelihood of state officials allowing counties to take control of their own air quality enforcement is “a long shot.” As a result, the report also recommends that the Environmental Protection Agency increase its level of oversight in Texas.

Read the full report below: