New study shows air pollution effects are more harmful than anticipated

Air pollution from industrial startups and shutdowns is worse than experts have thought, according to a new study published by the journal Environmental Science & Technology.

Before Hurricane Harvey hit Houston, many industrial facilities had to shut down operations before the storm arrived and start up again once the rain and flooding stopped. As a result, more than 2,000 tons of air pollutants, including sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, and volatile organic compounds, were released, according to data compiled from the Texas Air Emission Event Report Database.

The emissions that result from startups, shutdowns or malfunctions are often referred to as “excess” or “upset” emissions and occur during the routine operation of many industrial facilities, sometimes in large quantities. The pollutants released from these emissions violate the U.S. Clean Air Act.

The study, carried out by Indiana University, looked at the number of excess emissions in industrial facilities in Texas from 2002 to 2016, finding that excess emissions in Texas frequently occur, sometimes in large quantities and likely result in significant health damages for individuals living in communities near where these emissions are released.

The researchers estimated that the health damages attributable to excess emissions in Texas averaged $150 million a year between 2004 and 2015.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt is revisiting rules regarding these air toxics, and Air Alliance Houston urges the agency to enforce stricter regulations and prioritize human health and safety over industry growth. Our organization remains committed to spreading awareness about the harmful effects of air pollution, particularly with regard to those in low-income communities.