Media contact: Riikka Pohjankoski, [email protected], 713.589.7079
Houston, TX – Petroleum refineries, power plants, chemical plants, manufacturing facilities, and other large industrial operations in the Greater Houston Area and throughout Harris County continue to emit air pollution that poses serious health risks to residents, particularly in communities of color. A new study conducted by Air Alliance Houston (AAH) sheds light on the alarming impact of industrial emissions on public health. It underscores the urgent need for stricter regulations and environmental improvements.
Using emissions data from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) 2018-point source emissions inventory, the study focused on the top 20 emitters (47 individual facilities) of three major air pollutants: sulfur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx), and particulate matter (PM2.5) in Harris County. The research utilized the AERMOD atmospheric dispersion modeling system to simulate the concentrations of these pollutants in the air resulting from emissions from the 47 facilities. It then calculated the associated annual health impacts at a zip code level and the related monetary costs of this excess health burden.
Key findings of the study include:
- High Concentrations of Air Pollutants: The modeling revealed that the highest annual average concentrations of PM2.5 were observed in Baytown and Deer Park, while the highest SO2 levels were found in Manchester/Harrisburg, Galena Park, Jacinto City, Cloverleaf, and along the north shore of the Ship Channel. Additionally, the highest NOx levels were recorded in Deer Park and Channelview.
- Health Impacts: The model was used to calculate excess mortality and asthma hospitalizations caused by exposure to these pollutants at a zip code level. Cumulatively, the study found that all zip codes within the study area experienced approximately 33 additional deaths per year due to PM2.5 emissions from the facilities of concern. Similarly, the zip codes that include and are neighboring the facilities with the highest emissions of SO2 and NOx recorded the highest incidence of adverse health outcomes.
- Monetary Consequences: The model also showed that the excess mortality caused by PM2.5 pollution exposure accounted for 99.99% of the total monetary valuation of all adverse health effects, totaling $313,488,635.91 annually.
- Disproportionate Impact: Lastly, the study highlights a correlation between high levels of air pollution, elevated exposure in surrounding communities, and negative health outcomes. It also highlights the acute disproportionality of these burdens as the vast majority of health impacts are experienced by residents living in the county’s eastern side along the Houston Ship Channel.
The study’s findings strongly indicate that current levels of air emissions from industrial point sources are unacceptably high and urgently require mitigation. Air Alliance Houston calls for the following actions:
- Improvements in industrial control technology and best management practices (BMPs).
- Stricter regulations to lower the annual permitted concentrations of pollution.
- Strengthening of environmental laws to ensure that they protect public health.
- More rigorous enforcement by the state regulatory agency of exceedances and other emissions events.
- Recognition by the public health and medical communities of how industrial pollution impacts health and how they can help patients living next to industry.
Dr. Inyang Uwak, Research and Policy Director at Air Alliance Houston, and study co-author, said: “The results highlight the deep-rooted environmental injustices caused by industrial pollution in our region. This study should serve as a wake-up call to our policymakers and industry to take immediate action to address the air pollution crisis in the Greater Houston region. The health and well-being of the community, especially those residing in the most affected areas, should be a top priority.”
Dr. Loren Hopkins, Chief Environmental Science Officer at Houston Health Department, said: “The city of Houston continues to support stricter controls on industrial air pollution emissions and vigilant enforcement of those controls so that all Houstonians have clean air to breathe. While continued work to understand the link between health effects in Houston and our air pollution is important, a key contribution of this work is attaching the monetary consequences to the adverse health effects. Let’s spend the funds on the front end on better controls to avoid the adverse health effects in the first place.”
Dr. Brett Perkison, Assistant Professor at UT School of Public Health, said: “This study provides excellent insight for the public to know what specific average air pollutants levels are in a local community within the larger Houston metroplex. The study’s results allow policy makers and community organizers to be able to work with industry to achieve quantifiable goals to lower these pollutants for the improved health of these at-risk populations.”
Air Alliance Houston is a non-profit organization working to reduce the public health impacts of air pollution and advance environmental justice through applied research, education, and advocacy. For more information and resources, please visit www.airalliancehouston.org.