Comment of the Day: Follow the Smog

COMMENT OF THE DAY: FOLLOW THE SMOG Map of Ozone Levels Over Houston, August 6, 2012“You do not escape smog in Houston by moving to the burbs. In the summer, Houston has a circular wind pattern that takes ship channel pollutants for a ride out to the suburbs. Go to the Houston Clean Air Network website and set the animation for Aug. 6, 2012. You will see a big area of ozone form over the ship channel that gets blown out to Pearland, then Sugar Land and spends the late afternoon in Cinco Ranch and just east of Katy before starting to drift back east. The worst of the smog slides south of the City and never really gets north of I-10 inside the loop. Ship channel industries account for about 2/3rds of the smog. The rest is motor vehicle emissions. Ship channel industries have made significant progress in reducing and controlling emissions. But more sprawl and more traffic threaten to offset the progress made on the ship channel. Thus, the smog issue is a very real consequence of sprawl that is not escaped by sprawl either.” [Old School, commenting on Holding Back on That Downtown Hotel Push; The Beer Garden, Greenhouse, and Food Court Growing in Prohibition’s Basement] Image: Houston Clean Air Network

18 Comment

  • This sounds like more excuses for the EPA to intrude on my freedoms! Smog is a hoax! Human made Nitrogen Oxide and Carbon monoxide are completely natural trace gases that have NO effect on atmospheric conditions. I read that in Senator Inhofe’s PhD thesis on Atmospheric science… and since he’s a senator, he’s correct.

  • Ozone, or smog, is formed by the photochemical reaction of nitrogen oxides (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in the presence of sunlight. As a result, it will generally be worse on hot, sunny, stagnant days.

    NOx is a product of combustion. Cars, boats, planes, trains, power plants, refineries, and even lawn mowers can contribute. EPA and TCEQ have been working to reduce emissions from major point sources in the regions petrochemical and power facilities, and we have made dramatic progress over the last 20 years. However, the continued growth in industry and population will continue to make air quality a challenge. Now, automobiles and other mobile combustion sources are becoming the major concern for regulators.

    Please consider a carpool, bus, bike, or walk as your means of commute, especially during Houston’s summers. Fuel efficient vehicles also help reduce emissions.

    Finally, just my comments on the Ozone map shown above. In the worst conditions, when a high pressure system settles in during the summer, the atmosphere is stagnant and the only air flow is a lazy breeze off the Gulf… You’ll see the urban air mass, ozone and all, disperse in a north-northwest direction. The pollution tends to settle tight over Kingwood or the Woodlands in the afternoon.

  • This post seems to have an intention to say that pollution is equally bad all over town, not true. There are many types of pollution and “ozone” is only one of many types. Airborne particulate matter, most nasty vapors, and accidental chemical releases tend to stay pretty close to the source, hence East End and Pasadena have some of the worst pollution and highest health problems than any other area of town.

    I remember back in the day our school was downslope from a chlorine storage facility and since an accidental release will make the chlorine settle under air and “flow” down we had to do emergency evacuation drills.

  • If we keep moving away from the smog how will we ever evolve the ability to breathe it?

  • I made a post previously in the original thread that basically echoes what commonsense just said, but more in context with the conversation that was going on over there. Its true, the subject of pollution-related epidemiology requires a vastly more nuanced approach than the graphically-visualized events of August 6, 2012 can possibly elucidate.

  • I do appreciate the irony of those wanting to drive out to the burbs to escape the smog, being major contributors to smog (and air pollution) by fact of their long distance commute and wasteful burbs lifestyle.
    Same irony as when some high MPG commuter poo-poos my car because it doesn’t get high mileage. Well guess what? I also drive 2k miles a year because of where I live. So let’s look at Gallons Per Year. Unless his car gets 100+mpg, he’s dumping more into their air than I am.

  • @Cody, if I recall correctly, you drive a CTS-V, kudos, never apologize.

    People who drive Priuses are usually angry little people of no consequence and are actually malinformed about their militant stance on transportation… As numerous sources show, that Prius over it’s lifetime has an environmental impact on the planet equivalent to a Hummer H2 if you factor in the mining of minerals fro the battery, their processing, shipping by cargo carrier all the way around the world, and eventual need for proper disposal or recycling.

  • commonsense, the worst thing that most people have to worry about in the east end, regarding chemical release, is the wind blowing the smell of roasting coffee from the maxwell house plant their way.
    you make it sound as though there is a chemical plant on every corner in the east end, so far as I know, the closest thing is the valero refinery outside of the loop. maybe I’m missing the chemical plant in my backyard, it would be good of you to point out some of these chemical plants you are referencing. maybe you are referencing the coffee plant, as they do create truck loads of the chemical C8H10N4O2, which can be deadly in high enough dosages, so I guess they technically are a chemical plant.

  • @ Commonsense

    I am a car guy and have no problems with someone driving a CTS-V, but your comment on Priuses is based on a flawed study that has been soundly debunked. It was based on worst-case scenario assumptions for the Prius that failed to account for the fact that all cars these days source parts from around the world. No, the reason to hate on non plug-in hybrids is that they are a flawed stop-gap technology that is being replaced with plug-in hybrids and full electrics. 500ft lbs of torque at 0 RPM? Yes please. Your v8 can’t do that.

  • For me it’s less about the smog and more about the quality of life. Traffic is torture. It’s stressful. And it often seems like certain roads in Houston are always already jammed.
    That said, I expect that moving out to Sugar Land will actually be a wash for my family, in terms of how much we drive. Our son already goes to Preshchool out there – so instead of driving from Houston to Sugar Land and back every morning, we’ll just be driving in from Sugar Land. We do most of our grocery and other shopping out there, too – or at Meyerland Plaza, which is only a little closer and on stop-and-go surface streets.
    It’s frustrating because everyone should drive less. Cody is absolutely right. But if there are no decent schools and stores near your house, what are you going to do?

  • I understand why people move to escape pollution….They are simply choosing what is best for themselves and their families. They may be further exacerbating the problem but they have the means to mitigate the effects on themselves.

    My wife teaches at a school in the East End and her doctor once asked her if she ever thought about getting another job because of the pollution and subsequent respiratory issues that she was having. I once called the TCEQ when I heard that a lot of the teachers were coughing and having breathing issues. They told me, ‘oh yeah, that whole area has been violating federal standards for 30 years’. I asked what I could do about it and they told me that I could vote and not much else.

    This isn’t the main reason for my wife and I to move away from Houston but it sure doesn’t help our calculations for our future and where we see ourselves. I could vote for stricter controls and support politicians in favor of those policies but very little will be done in the short term and possibly in the long term. In the end we will not live or work in a place with such terrible pollution because we can. We can move, we can work somewhere else, and we will because that is what makes sense for us. I really feel for the people that cannot live or work somewhere that has clean air to breath. They are the ones suffering the long term effects.

  • Ditto, Heightsresident, even a casual perusal of the savaging that report took from the auto-literati reveals that the “study” authors, uh, inadvertently scaled up the EV motor size to something like 800 kg, along the lines of something you’d find on a factory floor, to get those raw materials numbers.
    Then there’s the little matter of the original topic – as coal powers less and less of the grid, the picture just gets better for EVs:

    The WSJ is a very conflicted publication. I’ve noticed their op/ed page and their technology reporting exist almost as if unaware of one another. The reportorial side has never met a technology it didn’t like. The op-ed side has apparently never met a scientist.

  • Smog is Houston’s main pollution problem. We consistently rank in the top 10 for the worst in the nation for smog but do not even make the top 25 for particulates (toxics are too diverse and difficult for the American Lung Association’s rankings). Toxics that are heavier than air will have the greatest effect from the fence line outward depending on which way the wind is blowing. Particulates in Houston are mostly from diesel. The worst spot for particulates in Houston is Clinton Dr. on the East end due to the very heavy truck traffic from the ship channel, but particulates will be high anywhere there is high diesel truck traffic. But the fact that these sources effect one part of town more than another does not diminish the importance of addressing smog or the fact that smog is just as much a problem for the burbs as it is for any other part of town. Smog sends kids with asthma and the elderly with compromised cardiovascular systems to the emergency room. Its effects are not the subject of any controversy. If you stick an endoscope into someone after they go for a run on a high ozone day, you can actually see their lungs turn red from the irritation. It is little comfort that some people on the east side have to also deal with toxics and high particulates. Smog is bad. Smog is all over the city.
    Living close to where you work is a huge step towards reducing smog. However, the kind of vehicle you drive still matters, especially if you get stuck in traffic a lot. A hybrid will shut off in stop and go traffic, whereas a big SUV will just idle. SUVs that get 15 city will drop to the single digits when sitting in traffic. Hybrids actually get 70-80 mpg when sitting in traffic. So, the difference between someone commuting to the burbs at 50 mpg in a hybrid and someone sitting in traffic in the city going less then ten miles is not that significant.
    The Prius v Hummer comparison is so bad that it is embarrassing that it is even repeated. The environmental problems at the nickel mine are all old. Toyota makes up less than one percent of the demand for nickel from the mine in Canada. Most of the production is for chrome. The environmental destruction from the mine is thirty years old. The study also assumed that a Prius would be sent to the scrap heap after 109,000 miles and a Hummer would last 379,000 miles. With a big market for reconditioned batteries emerging and a drop in the cost of replacements, the mileage statistics should really be the reverse.
    In Texas, plug in vehicles are about even with hybrids when it comes to CO2 emissions, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists. ERCOT is a fairly efficient energy provider. UCS estimates that electric vehicles emit the equivalent CO2 emissions of a gas powered vehicle that gets 48 mpg. But if you add in the fact that the electric vehicles have zero tailpipe emissions, they are superior for smog reduction.

  • wasteful burbs…lifestyle…really……….yes we moved to the burbs from montrose, …..for better schools.. montrose is great for its cool hip eateries and its walkability. ……but the schools are crap, unless your doing private schools.. i did not want to pay high taxes and pay 20k to send my kids to private school……really wasteful …….go walk yourself..

  • @plug-in car owners everywhere.

    Where does my electricity come from?
    – “Most electricity in the U.S. today comes from converting the heat energy released from burning fossil fuels–coal, natural gas and oil.” Source:
    – “Coal-fired facilities account for more than half of the electricity produced by utilities nationally, followed by nuclear power and natural gas.” Source:
    – Nearly 80% comes from coal or natural gas. Source:
    – Texas Net Electricity Generation by Source, Nov. 2014: Natural gas 14.7 GWh, Coal 10.2 GWh, Nuclear 2.9 GWh, Other renewables 4.2 GWh. Source:

  • I wonder where the electricity used in the drilling and refining processes comes from?

  • @ Old School: I agree with your statements of fact, but I disagree with your opinion that smog is Houston’s worst problem. For that matter, I disagree with the treatment of any form of air pollution as a citywide problem. (Actually, I can’t possibly begin express enough condescension of overall city rankings as a substitute for assessing neighborhood-specific epidemiological issues in absolute terms. Rank-ordering this stuff is great clickbait, but is a terrible way to communicate the extent of a problem.) Furthermore, as your own statements elucidate, some air pollution is more of a problem for some people than others. If you’re a jogger and you can’t take a smoggy day off, its a big problem…for you. If you have asthma then smog is a big problem…for you…sometimes…but those few times can be disasterous. If you live near a concrete crushing facility or a scrap metal processing yard and those facilities adjoin the ship channel (I have two places specifically in mind, both in the East End), it pretty much doesn’t matter who you are, that’s a severe problem. It may not be as much of a problem if you live several blocks further away…except when weather conditions compound the problem and then it’d look positively terrible if somebody created a colored map of what happened on that particular day, even if it only happens on 1% of days. The point here is that the impact of pollution needs to be broken down into categories and zones in a manner that is similar to the approach taken for flood insurance purposes. That’s not perfect either, but the perfect is the enemy of the good and yet there’s lots and lots of room for improvement.

    I said in the other thread that we need to have a more nuanced conversation about pollution and you have demonstrated that my concern is valid. The others that have made fools of themselves on here, the ones arguing about Priuses and Teslas, that’s not an issue of nuance. That’s a matter of ignorant parroting of somebody’s disingenuous findings. That’s a different problem, but the perspectives of you and your ilk are a more vexing problem because they affects the reasoning and policy decisions of people that matter.

  • @Niche: Smog affects everyone. I just noted the fact that there are certain groups who see a very immediate and indisputable health affects from exposure to ozone. You can add anyone at risk for stroke or heart disease to people exercising, children with asthma and the elderly. Studies show that as little as 2 hours of exposure to high ozone can trigger sufficient inflammation to cause a heart attack or stroke. There is also research showing that healthy children who are exposed to ozone show increased formation of atherosclerotic lesions as they become young adults. Concrete plants are certainly bad actors and toxics from chemical plants are a very serious issue. But, ozone adversely affects millions in Houston without regard for geography, meaning that relocation of either the residents or the source is not a viable option. This is not just click bait but an environmental issue that is backed by substantial research. Ozone is without a doubt Houston’s single greatest environmental issue.