Local ozone readings reach high average

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David Minton/DRC file photo
A Texas Department of Transportation electronic sign tells drivers along Interstate 35 that Sept. 6 was an air pollution action day and encourages them to carpool to reduce the number of cars on the road.

The North Texas ozone season ended Thursday with readings at Denton Enterprise Airport reaching an average as high as those in Houston. 

According to preliminary records with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, the three-year, eight-hour average of ozone readings in Denton was 87 parts-per-billion. That average is the highest for the region, and ties with the average at a Houston monitor for the highest in the state. 

The North Texas Clean Air Steering Committee is scheduled to meet Tuesday morning in Arlington to hear presentations on the problem and discuss strategies to address it. The meeting, which is free and open to the public, will also include representatives from TCEQ and the Environmental Protection Agency. 

North Texas has not been able to meet an eight-hour standard for ozone, 85 ppb, since it was set in 1997. Now, TCEQ must write a new plan to meet a stricter standard, 75 ppb, by 2018. 

In mid-October, the World Health Organization declared air pollution a human carcinogen, after a panel of experts reviewed thousands of scientific papers. An individual spending the day outdoors doing intermittent work in ozone at 60-70 ppb could experience injury to lung tissue and other health effects, according to the EPA. 

The meeting agenda includes presentations on improvements made at the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport along with local research initiatives, according to Chris Klaus, senior program manager with the North Central Texas Council of Governments. 

Success stories, especially those that include cost savings, can inspire others to make improvements, which can help the region’s air quality without waiting for state or national mandates, Klaus said. 

The main part of the meeting will include a presentation from TCEQ on the model that will be used to predict whether the next round of strategies to be proposed in the state’s plan will clean the air, Klaus said. 

Decreasing automobile emissions have gone a long way to clean the air in North Texas and around the country. But progress appears to have stalled in Texas and Oklahoma, even as air quality in many other cities continues to improve. In its annual report known for grading cities on their air quality, the American Lung Association found that 12 of 27 cities with the most ozone reported their fewest unhealthy days between 2009 and 2011, the years included in the 2013 report. Most of those cities seeing this improvement were in California and the Northeast. 

But, for the first time, Oklahoma City, Tulsa and Beaumont-Port Arthur moved into the association’s “most polluted list.” Moreover, the greater Houston area and North Texas reported more, or worse, ozone days from 2009 to 2011, a distinction shared by just seven other cities. 

Technicians at TCEQ must build a model that can replicate conditions and ozone in one particular year before they can use the model to predict what will happen in future years, Klaus said. 

If TCEQ again uses 2006 pollution and meteorological data for the model, he expects some controversy with the decision, Klaus said. 

“It’s expensive to build those models,” Klaus said. 

Jim Schermbeck, a member of the committee, said that planning should be based on a more recent year, particularly since progress toward meeting the standards appears to have stalled in 2006. 

He also is part of Downwinders at Risk, a local nonprofit that advocates for clean air strategies. 

“We need to be reflecting the ‘new normal’ with the increasing drought conditions,” Schermbeck said. “It also doesn’t take into account much of the Barnett Shale [oil and gas development] that has come in since then.” 

Klaus said the meeting will wrap up with the committee starting its discussion of local strategies. The committee is part of the state’s process to put strategies in place, but state officials don’t have to adopt the committee’s recommendations. 

At its summer meeting, the committee learned that anti-idling measures might be helpful to the region, particularly with truck traffic from the oil and gas industry. Previously, cities and counties could prohibit idling if they agreed to stay within the boundaries of state rules. But a recent TCEQ rule change may make it possible for cities and counties to do more, Klaus said. 

He expects once that rule change is clarified, more cities and counties will adopt anti-idling measures.

Schermbeck said he has been working with officials in Dallas on another measure that could help close a loophole enjoyed by the industry. 

Unlike every other industry, oil and gas operators in the Barnett Shale have been exempt from the offset requirement of the Clean Air Act in non-attainment areas. In other words, if a company builds a factory in a region with poor air quality, they must seek pollution reductions at a certain rate, known as offsets, elsewhere in that region. 

In TCEQ’s 2011 plan to improve North Texas air, pollution from Barnett Shale production sites, compressors and pipelines were estimated to release more tons of smog-forming compounds in the region than by all the cars and trucks on the road. 

Schermbeck thinks that if city leaders in Dallas can make offsets work, the measure could be adopted by other cities. While the new requirement wouldn’t affect equipment already in place, operators that wanted to expand operations would likely be motivated to make reductions elsewhere in their current systems, Schermbeck said. 

The state’s plan to improve air quality is due to the EPA in 2015. The plan will need to include strategies not only for North Texas air but also for greater San Antonio, which recent research suggests also is being affected by shale oil production in the Eagle Ford. 

PEGGY HEINKEL-WOLFE can be reached at 940-566-6881 and via Twitter at @phwolfeDRC.


What: Dallas-Fort Worth non-attainment area air quality technical meeting

When: 9 to 11 a.m. Tuesday

Where: North Central Texas Council of Governments, Transportation Council Room 616 Six Flags Drive, Arlington

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