“Bridge to Clean Air” Project Completes First Phase

Air Alliance Houston is working with Rice University to study air quality in a Houston traffic hotspot. Air monitoring results show elevated levels of dangerous air pollution.

The project, dubbed the “Bridge to Clean Air,” was conceived of by Air Alliance Houston and is generously funded with a grant from the Baxter Trust. The inspiration for the project was a billboard built in Lima, Peru in 2014 that removed particulate matter pollution from the air.

Brainstorming with our colleague Dr. Loren Raun at Rice University, we decided to investigate whether we Hazard Street Bridgecould use a bridge in Houston for a similar purpose. We wanted a traffic hotspot, so we chose the Hazard Street bridge over US-59 inbound. This portion of the highway, which runs through the Upper Kirby/Montrose area, is sunken below grade for perhaps a mile and a half. We decided to monitor the air under the bridge to see if there wee high levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and fine particulate matter (PM2.5), two common vehicle pollutants.

During the month of March, a Rice University Houston Action Research Team conducted air monitoring under the Hazard Street bridge. Samples were collected during rush hours, from 5:00 – 9:00 AM and/or 3:00 – 7:00 PM. Samples were collected on five days, though not each day included an AM and PM sample.

Our results were troubling, though not surprising. Our PM2.5 measurements exceeded those at nearby ambient air monitoring sites at Park Place and Clinton Drive. These sites are used to determine whether B2CA VeraHouston meets the federal pollution standard for fine particulate matter. If Houston’s doesn’t meet this standard, then people’s health is at risk. The region also risks getting designated “nonattainment” for PM2.5 pollution. This would have considerable consequences for the region. B2CA Will(Houston is already in nonattainment for ozone, but has never been designated nonattainment for PM2.5.)

The Clinton Drive monitor is exceptionally close to exceeding the PM2.5 standard. Air Alliance Houston has long argued that the Clinton Drive monitor might not accurately reflect PM2.5 levels throughout Houston. We have already shown that this may be the case in Galena Park. If samples collected at the Hazard Street bridge exceed samples at Clinton, that area of Houston may also not meet the federal PM2.5 standard. This could mean that people exposed to air pollution at that site are putting their health at risk.

Now that we know that air quality under the “Bridge to Clean Air” is not good, the next phase of our project will investigate what we can do about it. Early ideas include a system to communicate information about air quality to the public in real time, or a system akin to the Lima billboard to remove pollution from the air. Look for more updates about the project from Air Alliance Houston and Rice University.