Trouble in the Air: Houston experienced 110 days of polluted air in 2018

For Immediate Release:

HOUSTON– Houston suffered through 110 days of poor air quality due to air pollution in 2018, according to a new report from Environment Texas Research & Policy Center, Frontier Group and TexPIRG Education Fund. The report calls reducing pollution from transportation, supporting clean and renewable energy, and increasing regulation of industrial polluters, protecting and building upon progress made by the Clean Air Act.

The report comes after a string of high profile incidents at chemical facilities and in the midst of several contested concrete batch plants hearings that highlight air quality issues in Houston and a need for increased regulation of and enforcement against polluters. 

“No Texan should have to experience one day of polluted air -- let alone 110 days,” said Catherine Fraser, Clean Air Associate with Environment State Research & Policy Center. “Air quality will only get worse as our climate warms, so we have no time to lose. We must make progress toward clean air.”

For the report, Trouble in the Air: Millions of Americans Breathed Polluted Air in 2018, researchers reviewed Environmental Protection Agency air pollution records from across the country. The report focuses on ground-level ozone and fine particulate pollution, which are harmful pollutants that come from industrial facilities, like petrochemical plants, oil refineries, and concrete batch plants, transportation, the burning fossil fuels such as coal, diesel, gasoline, natural gas, and from other sources. 

“As the new Environment Texas report makes clear, there is indeed trouble in the air. In Houston, where in 2018 we experienced 110 days with high pollution, we parents have cause for real concern,” said Catherine Flowers, Houston Field Organizer with Moms Clean Air Force. “As a mother of an asthmatic son raised in Houston, I know firsthand that he suffers most on high pollution days. But my son is not alone. There are thousands of children suffering from asthma in Houston. It’s why we need to strengthen, not weaken, our clean air protections. As parents, we have a responsibility to do everything we can to protect our children. Clean air is a right!”

“Ozone is a respiratory irritant that can worsen people’s respiratory condition who have underlying asthma or COPD while particulate matter exposure can increase the risk for people to develop cardiovascular disease. Both of these pollutants are caused by the combustion of fossil fuels,” said Dr. William Perkison, MD, MPH, an assistant professor at UTHealth School of Public Health. “Children are particularly susceptible to the effects of air pollution because their respiratory rate is faster than adults and they have a smaller lung surface area that is exposed each time they inhale.  The good news is that levels of both pollutants can be reduced by improving emissions standards in both transportation vehicles and in manufacturing processes. A reduction in emissions will improve the conditions of people with respiratory disease and decrease their risk of developing cardiovascular disease.”

The report’s troubling findings come at a time when the federal government is further endangering air quality by dismantling protections under the Clean Air Act.

“The data show that America’s existing air quality standards aren’t doing enough to protect our health,” said Elizabeth Ridlington, Policy Analyst with Frontier Group and co-author of the report. "As the climate warms, higher temperatures and more severe wildfires increase air pollution and the threat to human health." 

Recommendations in the report include calling on policymakers at all levels of government to reduce emissions from transportation, support clean renewable energy, and expand climate-friendly transportation options with more transit, bike lanes and walkways. The study also calls on the federal government to strengthen ozone and particulate pollution standards, and support strong clean car standards instead of rolling them back

“Instead of undermining clean air protections, our government -- at all levels -- should be taking every opportunity to clean up the air we breathe,” said Fraser. “Since transportation is the most polluting sector of our economy, we need to transition to electric cars, buses and transit. ”

The Texas Emissions Reduction Program (TERP) provides financial incentives to individuals, businesses, or local governments to reduce emissions from polluting vehicles and equipment, including school buses, light-duty and heavy-duty vehicles, and diesel vehicles. In 2019, the Legislature approved HB 3745, which will triple the funding available for TERP starting in 2021. 

“Texans want cleaner air and they deserve to know that their tax dollars are used for the purpose intended," said Representative Cecil Bell, Jr., "HB 3745 establishes truth in taxation and assures the dedicated fees and taxes collected are fully available to fund TERP, addressing air quality in non attainment regions.”

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Environment Texas Research & Policy Center is dedicated to protecting our air, water and open spaces. We work to protect the places we love, advance the environmental values we share, and win real results for our environment. For more information, visit www.environmenttexascenter.org