Houston named U.S.' 'dirtiest
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
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,
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
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
"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.