Bridge to Clean Air
What We Did
In 2015, Air Alliance Houston teamed up with Rice University on a project to monitor the air quality of Houston’s roadways.
The project, named “Bridge to Clean Air”, studied air pollution levels at the Hazard Street bridge at U.S. 59 – a Houston traffic hotspot that borders a residential neighborhood.
The aim of the project was to raise awareness about air pollution along busy highways more generally and at the selected location more specifically, and ultimately to reduce it. The project also aimed to demonstrate that air pollution is not just a problem for those living near refineries, but that all Houstonians are at risk for breathing harmful air pollution.
With the help of monitoring equipment from the City of Houston, a group of Rice University students gathered air samples during morning and afternoon rush hours over several months in spring 2016.
Using statistical analyses, the team examined levels of fine particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide, air pollutants that have been linked to increased risk of cardiac arrest and asthma attacks in Houston.
The results showed notably high concentrations of both pollutants at the bridge site: More than 25 percent of the hourly measurements of fine particulate matter were high relative to the 24-hour national air quality standards. The concentrations were also higher than those at locations that routinely monitor for fine particulates in other parts of the city. The most elevated and troublesome concentrations occurred during the morning sampling periods.
Based on these findings, the project recommended installing equipment near the site to remove fine particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide from the air. The results also highlighted that additional air pollution monitoring should be undertaken along Houston highways, especially segments that are adjacent to residential areas.
The findings were shared with the Houston Health Department and the Environmental Protection Agency.
Following the analysis, the students worked toward the installation of a system that would use a smart city lighting technology to inform road-users in real-time about air pollution levels. However, implementing the lighting scheme with the bridge lights was deemed unfeasible by TxDOT due to driver safety concerns.
The Bridge to Clean Air project was a collaboration between the Rice University’s Center for Civic Leadership and Air Alliance Houston, the City of Houston Health Department, Houston Wilderness, and supported by a grant from the Baxter Trust.