Monday, November 26, 2001 Volume 67, Issue 65



Houston named U.S.' 'dirtiest city'

By Heather Nicholson
Daily Cougar Staff

While the debate continues as to whether Houston or Los Angeles is the nation's "smoggiest city," a report released this year by the
Environmental Protection Agency named Houston the "dirtiest" city in America in terms of air pollutants.

The EPA, the federal agency charged with enforcing the nation's environmental regulations, has established a National Ambient Air Quality
Standard for air pollutants. 

The agency imposes standards on pollutants and emissions, investigates areas found to be in violation of the NAAQS standards, and
designates deadlines for areas to come into compliance with the standards.

The agency defines smog as "pollution made up of a combination of primary components: carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide,
ozone, lead, volatile organic compounds and particulate matter."

Ozone is a reactive form of oxygen. When found in the troposphere, or at "ground level," it can have adverse effects on humans, animals and
vegetation. The number of days that a metropolitan area experiences excessive amounts of ground-level ozone is the usual benchmark for the
"dirtiest city" title.

The Houston-Galveston Metropolitan statistical area is composed of eight contiguous counties: Harris, Galveston, Brazoria, Fort Bend, Waller,
Montgomery, Liberty and Chambers. The EPA monitors "ozone exceedances" in these eight counties daily. An "exceedance" occurs when the
number of smog particles exceeds 125 parts per billion, the maximum deemed healthy by the agency.

According to the EPA's report on the Houston area for 2000, the area was in violation of the standards 43 times. Through the end of October this
year (with two months of monitoring left), the area had been in violation 30 times.

The EPA separates ozone exceedances into three categories: 125-164 ppb is unhealthy for sensitive groups (children, the elderly); 165-204
ppb is unhealthy for the general population; and 205-404 is very unhealthy.

The leading factor driving the Houston-Galveston area's pollution problem is the petrochemical industry. The cities of Pasadena, La Porte, Deer
Park, Channelview and Baytown are home to 36 petrochemical plants and oil refineries.

In 1999, a letter to the EPA from the community group Galveston-Houston Association for Smog Prevention said, "Any winds coming from the
east blow toxic chemical pollutants towards downtown (Houston) and many neighborhoods where people work and live."

Through the end of October, the southeast Harris County area claims the highest number of days of pollution exceedance for any county in the
nation with 14.

A survey of the petroleum and petrochemical industries in Texas conducted by scientists at Rice University reported that of the 39 refineries
along the Texas coast, 12 are located around Galveston Bay. Of the 74 gas processing plants, 22 are on the bay.

Between '96 and '99, the American Lung Association, in its "State of the Air" reports, gave the Houston-Galveston area a rating of "F" in
comparison to other regions in the United States.

The people who are most likely to be adversely affected are those who work in the petrochemical industry.

James Chadwick, a lifelong Deer Park resident, has been an employee of a Lubrizol Corporation petrochemical plant for 30 years.

"Chemicals aren't the best thing to work around, but these plants are the only jobs available (in Deer Park) and I can't afford to be picky, even if
there are health concerns," he said.

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