Last week our Pasadena Community Mapping and Training Workshop continued. Our partners from Harris County Pollution Control Services, Neighborhood Centers Inc., and the Pasadena community joined us for more mapping and a visit to a local air monitoring station. The workshop is part of a two-year project in Pasadena generously funded by the Houston Endowment.
The City of Pasadena is home to 150,000 people, making it Texas’ seventeenth largest city. It is located south of the Houston Ship Channel and is home to Houston’s infamous “Refinery Row,” State Highway 225, which runs east-west through North Pasadena. Air Alliance Houston is working in Pasadena to address local health impacts of air pollution, from the toxic emissions of oil refineries to the diesel exhaust of heavy trucks and trains.
Through mapping we can understand–and help residents to understand–the resources and challenges in a community. Our first mapping workshop created a “Treasure Map” of community assets. In last week’s session, we asked participants to map community challenges, from high traffic areas to large industrial sources of pollution.
No one knows about a community better than its residents. As a community advocacy organization, Air Alliance Houston depends on local knowledge to understand a community and its challenges. Community mapping is a great tool for us to learn what residents are concerned about and where it is located.
In return, we offer community members tools to advocate for their own health and environment. These tools include air monitoring, public participation in the permitting and enforcement process, and relationships with local regulatory agencies. Once we learn from residents what they are concerned about, we can help them determine which tools to use. (In the third and final session in this workshop series, we’ll teach participants how to use some of our air monitoring equipment and how to become their own personal ‘air monitors.’)
Another tool in our toolbox is the regional network of ambient air monitors that deliver air quality data to regulators and the public. Houston is one of the most heavily monitored areas on the planet, and there is a wealth of air quality data available for those who know how to access it. (Although we don’t usually recommend non-experts try to access air quality data, you can check out ozone pollution in Houston with our Houston Clean Air Network map.)
So there are air quality monitors all over Houston, but they produce data that most Houstonians will never see. One way to help people “see” air quality data is to take them see an air monitor itself. Last week we took our workshop participants to see the air monitoring site located on Clinton Drive, just across the Ship Channel from Pasadena. The tour was graciously offered by our friends at the Houston Health Department, Bureau of Pollution Control and Prevention. Air Alliance Houston has a number of ongoing project partnerships with the Health Department, including monitoring for particulate matter and benzene. They are kind enough to let us access their air monitoring site on Clinton Drive for these projects. They also host guided tours of the Clinton Drive air monitoring station by request.
Last week, our Pasadena partners were invited on a tour of the Clinton Drive monitor hosted by Dr. Wei-Yeong Wang (pictured) and his colleagues Dr. Ramesh Nepal and Dr. Shamsideen Ojelade at the Houston Health Department. Together we learned about air monitors that measure everything from ozone and particulate matter to carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, volatile organic compounds, and other hazardous air pollutants.
Now that Pasadena residents have seen air monitors in action near where they live and work, we hope they will start to think more about the quality of the air around them. You don’t need to access air quality data to become an advocate for your air. That can be as simple as writing down when you see or smell something unusual in your community. Or calling Air Alliance Houston or TCEQ with a concern. No community is alone in its fight for its own health and safety. Local regulators, community leaders, and advocacy organizations like Air Alliance Houston are here to help.
Thank you to the Houston Health Department for an educational and enjoyable visit!