09/30/13 1:00pm

COMMENT OF THE DAY: WHAT’S IN YOUR AIR “There are three big air quality concerns for Houstonians: toxics, smog and particulates. Living in the East End puts you on the front line for toxic emissions. Toxics tend to be heavier than air and do not travel very far from where they are released. Milby Park had almost off the chart levels of Butadiene 1,3 back in mid 2000 due to problems at the Texas Petrochem plant next door. That problem was fixed and levels have come way down. But, if there is a release or a leak that is sending off toxics, the East End gets the best whiff. On days where there is little wind, the East End is also the spot most likely to get smog (NOx+SOx+sun=ozone). If there is good circulation in the atmosphere, Pearland to Sugar Land can see pretty bad smog, especially with the old coal plant in Sugar Land. But so can everywhere from Memorial Park up to the Woodlands. Houston’s smog has improved dramatically thanks to some good work by regulators and industry in identifying and going after the highly reactive stuff that really drives ozone production. But Houston is still in the top ten nationally when it comes to ozone. . . . Particulates are not as big a concern in Houston as we do not have much steel or other industries that are heavy on particulates, but we are still just over the new Federal standard of 12 parts per somethingerother. The particulates on the East End are generally higher than in other parts of town due to all the industry in the area. The air quality on the east side is definitely worse than on the west side. But ozone (smog) can visit just about anyone in the Houston area.” [Old School, commenting on Comment of the Day: The Limits of Eastward Development] Illustration: Lulu

03/25/13 10:00am

NOW ON YOUR MOBILE DEVICE: WHY YOU CAN’T BREATHE A team comprising researchers at UH, Air Alliance Houston, and the American Lung Association have launched OzoneMap, an app that “monitors chemical weather,” reports John Metcalfe of The Atlantic blog Cities. And whether the app helps explain your coughing fit or alerts you to the chance of a really pretty toxic sunset, the best part is that it’s only available in Houston! And why Houston, of all places? Besides the industrial flares, that is? Here’s Metcalfe: “The Houston/Baytown/Huntsville region comes in eighth place for most ozone-polluted cities in America, as ranked by the American Lung Association. Persistently sunny weather, a battalion of petrochemical facilities and scads of fuming cars on the road make Houston a nightmare for anyone who’s chemically sensitive. For these folks, walking outside is like playing a lower-stakes version of Russian roulette, with 30 to 40 days of the year fogged with hazardous levels of ozone.” [Cities; previously on Swamplot] Map: Cities

06/02/09 9:47am

WHAT ABOUT THE FLARES? “An estimated 1,600 tons of smog-forming nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds are released in the Houston region each day. They mix with sunlight to form ozone, a colorless gas that can cause lung damage. Formaldehyde and other radical precursors matter because, without them, the volatile organic compounds emitted by cars, industry, paints and other consumer products would form much less ozone, [the Houston Advanced Research Center’s Jay] Olaguer said. Industrial flares burn off pressurized gases but also can shoot out massive amounts of noxious emissions. The Houston area has about 400 flare stacks, and they are among the largest and least- understood sources of pollution in the region, researchers said. A recent University of North Carolina study found that formaldehyde from flares may increase Houston’s ozone by as much as 30 parts per billion. In tandem with the pollution that blows into the region from elsewhere, that might be enough to keep Houston from meeting the new federal ozone limit of 75 parts per billion, scientists said. The state’s current plan for reducing Houston’s smog doesn’t consider formaldehyde and other precursors. ‘If there is a problem with flares, it upends the entire regulatory strategy,’ said Harvey Jeffries, an atmospheric chemist who conducted the UNC study.” [Houston Chronicle, via Off the Kuff]

09/24/07 10:11am

Picnic Area at Bayland Park, near Bissonnet and Hillcroft

Looking for a home in an in-town location, but don’t want to miss that exhilarating feeling you get from East Side neighborhoods near the Ship Channel?

Why not start your search near Bayland Park, at the corner of Bissonnet and Hillcroft, just west of Bellaire? It’s outside the Loop, far to the west of Houston’s industrial areas, close to some of some of the city’s most dynamic neighborhoods . . . and recently was rated one of the most consistently smoggy places in Houston.

That’s right: Smog is worse on the West Side.

The data may surprise many Houstonians who associate smog with the chemical refining and industrial byproducts that foul the air in East Harris County.

In fact, the highest ozone readings in the city are routinely captured by monitors located on Houston’s densely populated southwest side. Recent data shows Bayland Park, just west of Bellaire, to be one of Houston’s smoggiest neighborhoods. According to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, the Bayland Park monitor, located in the 6400 block of Bissonnet Street, recorded 45 days in the last three years when ozone levels violated public health standards.

During that period, the monitor registered ozone concentrations as high as or greater than those recorded by monitors in the Ship Channel region.

Howzat happen?

University of Texas chemical engineer David Allen analyzed data collected by the Bayland Park monitor in 2006. He and others determined that climate patterns explained the high ozone concentrations on Houston’s west side. Based on computerized modeling of weather patterns, Allen said nearly every incident of excessive ozone levels in Bayland Park that year happened on days characterized by the same weather pattern: hot and sunny, with still air in the morning and light winds from the east blowing in the afternoon.

“The east winds pick up Ship Channel air and carry it all the way into west Houston where it settles over neighborhoods,” Allen said.

That’s the smell of money.

Photo: Harris County Precinct 3