Obtaining TCEQ Rules

Have you ever wanted or needed to learn more about the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and its rules? Many citizens find themselves becoming experts overnight in various rule regimes because of an issue that has touched them personally, such as a polluting facility opening next door to their home. Although these citizens often eventually seek expert help for their problems, they often find that a little bit of knowledge on the issue goes a long way.

If you ever need to learn more about TCEQ rules, but you don’t know where to start, you can actually go to the Commission itself. You can request FREE hard copy or CD versions of any or all TCEQ rules. You can learn what rules are available and how to request them from this flyer by the TCEQ: Obtaining TCEQ Rules.

Because I work in air quality advocacy every day, I am pretty familiar with TCEQ’s rules and how to find them. Of course they are available online, and you can use them there if you are comfortable searching the Texas Administrative Code.

So I know how to find and use TCEQ’s rules. But when I learned that TCEQ was offering free hard copies by request, I had to try it out. I called the phone number on the “Obtaining TCEQ Rules” brochure and requested that hard copies of several rules be mailed to the Air Alliance Houston office. I only made one phone call, and I only had to speak to two people. They didn’t ask why I needed the rules, or whether I could pay for them. Within just a few days, a box arrived at my office with the rules I had requested.

There are many reasons why you might want hard copies of rules. Maybe you don’t have reliable internet access. Maybe you don’t like the Texas Administrative Code webpage. Maybe you just need a hard copy you can mark up, make copies of, and take with you. Whatever the reason, you can get your hard copies for free thanks to the TCEQ.

We don’t agree with much that the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality is doing, but this is a good example of a service they are actually offering to the public, rather than just their “customers” in industry. We appreciate this effort by the TCEQ and we encourage citizens to take advantage. Don’t be intimidated or hesitant about calling the TCEQ. Ultimately, they do work for us, not industry. It’s up to us to remind them of that.

 

Three Ozone Action Days in Houston

Houston recently experienced its first Ozone Action Day of 2015.

Then its second. Then its third.

Yes, Thursday, April 30; Friday, May 1; and Saturday, May 2 were all Ozone Action Days in Houston. If you follow Air Alliance Houston on Facebook or Twitter, you likely saw quite a few posts from us that looked like this:

If you don’t follow us, you might not be familiar with “Ozone Action Days.” Ozone is the most common air pollutant in Houston, forming plumes that can travel throughout the eight-county “Houston-Galveston-Brazoria” ozone nonattainment area (a “nonattainment area” is one that does not meet a federal air pollution standard). Ozone is a pollutant that can cause everything from itchy eyes and shortness of breath to asthma attacks, cardiac arrest, and death. When high ozone is predicted, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) issue an “Ozone Action Day.” Ozone Action Days are announced online and via email. A few sources of action day announcements are below.

  • The TCEQ issues a daily air quality forecast and announces ozone actions days online. You can also sign up for email or text alerts from the TCEQ.
  • The TCEQ’s Twitter account also posts the daily air quality forecast during the week. TCEQ has never acknowledged this, but Air Alliance Houston takes credit for these daily posts. We gently criticized TCEQ for not using social media for several weeks before they began posting daily forecasts. Thanks again TCEQ!
  • The EPA posts daily forecasts at AirNow. The TCEQ forecast is pulled from EPA’s forecast, so either source works just fine.
  • The National Weather Service also allows you to search for air quality alerts by ZIP code.

If you are signed up for Ozone Action Day alerts from EPA or TCEQ, you will receive an email around 2:00 PM the day before an Action Day. During an Ozone Action Day, you should monitor ozone with the Houston Clean Air Network, our FREE website and mobile phone app for iPhone and Android.

The more we learn about ozone, the worse we realize it is for our health. (Did you know that ozone might even be linked to diabetes?) Research at Rice University has showed that multiple days of exposure to ozone pollution lead to cumulative and worsened health outcomes. The following statement about this impact comes from Dr. Kathy Ensor, one of the authors of several of Rice’s studies:

“For asthmatics, the biggest concern for Houstonians is a three-day exposure to elevated ozone levels, but there is also significant concern for elevated levels on a single day. Overall, the risk of an asthma attack increases by 5% when ambient ozone levels increase 20 ppb over a three-day period. Considering periods when the ozone levels are between 50 to 70 ppb, the increased risk of an asthma attack is 13% when ambient ozone levels increase by 20ppb during a three-day period. The increased risk is 10% for increases of this level in a single day. If we move to higher levels of ozone in the range of 70 to 90 ppb, these risks increase to 45% and 21%, respectively.”¹

This is troubling because multiple high-ozone days in a row is indeed what we often see in Houston. The three day period of April 30 – May 2 had elevated ozone in the 50 to 70 ppb range, with higher spikes at isolated times and places. This means that we would expect increased incidence of asthma attacks during that time period. Drs. Ensor and Raun continue to research this issue, as do other academics and advocates in the Houston region. Over the next months and years, we will continue to introduce tools such as houstoncleanairnetwork.com that allows citizens to monitor ozone, limit their exposure, and protect their health.

1. Key references:

Ensor, K. B., Raun, L. H. and Persse, D. (2013). A Case-Crossover Analysis of Out-of-Hospital Cardiac Arrest and Air Pollution. Circulation. V127, pp 1192-1199.

Raun, L. H., Ensor, K. B. and Persse, D. (2014) Using community level strategies to reduce asthma attacks triggered by outdoor air pollution: a case crossover analysis. Environmental Health, 13:58. http://www.ehjournal.net/content/13/1/58

Raun, L. and Ensor, KB. 2012. Association of out-of-hospital cardiac arrest with exposure to fine particulate and ozone ambient air pollution from case-crossover analysis results: are the standards protective? James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy of Rice University. HPF-pub-RaunEnsorParticulateExposure-101212.pdf

Earth Day Texas welcomes Air Alliance Houston

April–or “Earth Month” as many of us know it–is drawing to a close. With April’s end comes the end of a great series of events by Air Alliance Houston celebrating the tenth anniversary of Earth Day Houston. Thank you to everyone who participated in the celebration with us, whether you attended the environmental justice panel, the Earth Day Houston festival, the Earth Day Art Contest, or any of our other events throughout Earth Month.

For our part, the staff of Air Alliance Houston closed out the month with our big brother in Dallas, Earth Day Texas. Now in its fifth year, Earth Day Texas vies each year for the title of largest Earth Day event in the nation. The event is presented by a nonprofit organization whose mission is to present “an annual festival seeking to elevate environmental awareness and influence the way Texans think, live, and work.”

Earth Day Houston and Earth Day Texas (formerly Earth Day Dallas) have partnered for several years to learn from one another and share resources and contacts. This exchange led to Earth Day Texas featuring more Houston-based exhibitors then ever before.

 

The City of Houston booth at Earth Day Texas was located next to Air Alliance Houston.
The City of Houston booth at Earth Day Texas was located next to Air Alliance Houston.

 

In addition to sharing exhibit space with the City of Houston, Air Alliance Houston found itself near many of our peer organizations throughout Texas, including Public Citizen, the Texas League of Conservation Voters, Downwinders at Risk, and Environment Texas. While they share many of the same exhibitors and the same goal of celebrating planet earth, the festivals differ in many ways. Both events are free to the public, but Earth Day Houston is also a fundraiser for Air Alliance Houston. Earth Day Texas is much bigger, with more than 1,000 exhibitors and 75,000 guests.

Air Alliance Houston has drawn inspiration from Earth Day Texas as well. Most notably, Earth Day Texas includes carbon offsetting of the festival’s footprint and diversion of 70% of event waste from landfills. This year at Earth Day Houston, we worked with our title sponsor Waste Management to divert as much festival waste as possible. We set up waste sorting stations manned by volunteers and ably led by Steve Stelzer, Director of the City’s Green Building Resource Council and unofficial Earth Day Houston Waste Czar. You can read a firsthand account of Steve’s volunteer experience with Earth Day Houston here.

Earth Day Texas has in turn incorporated some of the activities and traditions of Earth Day Houston. This year was the first to feature Ozone Theater, our free youth education program about air quality and public health.

 

EDTx OT
Tifani teaches Ozone Theater to a youthful crowd at Earth Day Texas.

 

As you cans see, we enjoy this partnership and we hope that it will continue for many years to come. Thank you to all of our friends and partners at Earth Day Texas. We’ll see you next year!

 

On Composting and Recycling at Earth Day Houston

Guest article by Steve Stelzer, Program Director at City of Houston Public Works and Engineering

Houston is moving forward in the quest for greener living! This year, among countless interesting booths of eco-friendly organizations and activities, AAH Earth Day at Discovery Green featured three waste stations that enabled visitors to responsibly dispose of items, most notably food waste to ultimately be composted offsite. Volunteers manned the stations to make sure that well-meaning visitors would make the right disposal choice, as recycling is just complex enough to be confusing to the average person.

Earth Day also featured a Recycling Zone, hosted by the City of Houston Solid Waste Management Department. They had people from the ReUse Warehouse, Living Earth Technologies, Houston Furniture Bank, American Textile Recycling Services, and Friends of Foam (with a foam recycling machine).

It was an interesting study in human nature to answer questions about the different material end-of-life stories. People basically believe that all plastic is recyclable (yet we only recycle about 20% of all plastic bottles – go figure). So the big story at this event was about what the recycling vendors will take to recycle. Generally, they don’t take shrink wrap or bags or wrappers or styrofoam. Grocery stores take grocery bags, and hardly anyone is taking shrink wrap and food wrappers from you and me. You can take styrofoam to the city’s Westpark Recycling Center, and the Recycling Zone was taking it at Earth Day.

Each station had a 5 gallon bucket to empty the beverage containers, as most (but not all) people don’t seem to finish their drink when they want to get rid of their bottle. Isn’t that strange?

To recycle a food container, the food needs to be consumed or put in the compost bin. The container does not have to be spotless, but it needs to be thoroughly empty and rinsed. And regular paper coffee cups are not recyclable (although the cardboard sleeve is), as they have a petroleum based coating that paper recyclers object to. Isn’t that strange? Let Starbucks know you would appreciate a recyclable cup in the near future….

All in all, it was a very successful operation, and Earth Day Houstonians were glad to become more knowledgeable about recycling. Now that Houston is expanding the automated recycling bin program to all Houston neighborhoods, it was a great opportunity to spread the know-how.