ENVIRONMENT Experts: Social distancing has helpedHarris County’s air quality
Ground-level ozone concentrations decreased 17% orders. Data was collected from March 11-April 13 compared to a historic six-year trend over the same time period. During the coronavirus... Houston Advanced Research Center data shows air quality in the Greater Houston area during stay-at-home A closer look
concentration—was given a nonat- tainment designation per National Ambient Air Quality Standards, Beydoun said. “Houston does have an air quality problem, specically with respect to ozone,” he said. “With air quality, ... the lower the concentration, the better, because that means it’s less of that pollution in the air. The less pollution it is and the less exposure, the less problematic it is from a public health perspective.” Bakeyah Nelson, the executive director of nonprot Air Alliance Houston, which advocates for cleaner air, said despite pollutants decreasing across the region, there are still specic Houston-area neighborhoods dealing with chronic air quality issues. Communities of color and low-income neighborhoods adjacent to large industrial facilities are particularly vulnerable to high levels of pollutants, she said. Nelson said she believes regula- tory agencies need to install more air monitoring stations across the Houston area to get a better idea of air quality standards on a local level.
BY KELLY SCHAFLER
Protection Agency. Mustapha Beydoun, chief oper- ating ocer and vice president of HARC, said the lowering of these three pollutants was due to stay- at-home orders limiting people’s mobility as well as reduced industrial production across the Houston region. Harris County saw a 30% reduction in average distance traveled during the outbreak, according to the HARC’s mobility analysis report. Data showed ground-level ozone concentrations decreased an average of 16% on weekdays and 17.5% on weekends fromMarch 11-April 13 compared to a historic six-year trend over the same time period. BTEX emissions saw a 39% drop, and nitrogen oxides saw a 46% drop. Prior to the pandemic, the Greater Houston area’s air quality—spe- cically for ground-level ozone
Research shows the Greater Hous- ton area’s air quality improved as a result of social distancing and work from home orders in place during the coronavirus pandemic. But, a Hous- ton-area organization said air quality in communities near major industrial sectors still need attention. Houston Advanced Research Center, an environmental research organization, published a report in late April showing several common pollutants in Harris County decreased fromMarch 11-April 13 compared to historical data. Pollutants include ground-level ozone, nitrogen oxides, and a group of volatile organic com- pounds comprising benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylenes, or BTEX. Data was collected frommonitor- ing stations maintained by either the Texas Commission on Environ- mental Quality or the Environmental
BTEX* decreased 39% Nitrogen oxides decreased 46%
*BTEX STANDS FOR BENZENE, TOLUENE, ETHYLBENZENE AND XYLENES EMISSIONS.
SOURCE: HOUSTON ADVANCED RESEARCH CENTERCOMMUNITY IMPACT NEWSPAPER
“We have many air monitors, com- paratively speaking, in the Houston region, but we have such a density of industrial facilities throughout our region that we don’t have near the amount of air monitors that we need,” she said. “We don’t really have a sense of whether air quality has improved at a neighborhood level.”
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