Smog

alexander-pst mask 2Recent & Upcoming

From November of 2013, throughout the summer of 2014 and ending on February 11th, 2015, Downwinders at Risk intervened in the drafting of a new "State Implementation Plan" for ozone pollution in DFW.

Despite the lack of an organized air quality planning process at the local level, Downwinders and others used meetings at the North Central Texas Council of Governments in Arlington to question the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) assumptions and assertions driving its "plan" – which was revealed to be a wait for federal gasoline changes in 2017 that the state hoped would reduce smog-forming pollutants by the deadline in 2018. 

We gained information about gas compressor pollution that had not been previously disclosed. We uncovered the scattered and hidden nature of total gas drilling and production air pollution that the state was obviously trying to minimize. We challenged the state's commitment to new pollution controls and the link between industrial air pollution and regional ozone levels.

In the end, the state remained committed to drafting a plan that does nothing to encourage cleaner air in a part of Texas that has been in continual violation fo the Clean Air Act since at least 1991. Contrary to what the Act demands, TCEQ's plan to meet the 2008 federal ozone standard of 75 parts per billion calls for no new pollution controls on any major sources of air pollution, including the Midlothian cement plants, the East Texas coal plants, or Barnett Shale gas facilities.

In response to this failure, Downwinders, in association with the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Cub, has submitted comments to the TCEQ calling its plan a failure and illegal.

You can read our comments on the 2015 TCEQ DFW SIP here.

We intend on using these comments as the basis to call on EPA to reject the state's plan in the summer of 2015, and if necessary, to explore the option of a lawsuit against EPA that would block its implementation. We'll post developments on this fight on our front page blog. 

Dallas smog aerial cropped

BACKGROUND

DFW has been in violation of the Clean Air Act because of its ozone pollution, or smog, since 1991.

Despite three separate clean-up plans submitted by the state of Texas to the EPA, six million North Texans still aren’t breathing safe and legal air during the seven-month long “ozone season” every year.

2011 was the worst year for smog pollution in DFW in the last five. We went from two air monitors out of compliance with the Clean Air Act to six; our ozone pollution levels rose from a benchmark of 86 parts per billion to 90. North Texas now has worse air than Houston.

Meanwhile, the EPA will begin enforcing a new, lower ozone pollution standard of 75 ppb over the next five years that will be even more difficult for North Texas to meet than the one we have yet to conquer after a decade of trying. That new standard will require its own, separate clean-up plan that begins with meetings of the North Texas Clean Air Steering Committee.

This plan will cover the existing DFW ozone “non-attainment area” of nine counties – Collin, Dallas, Denton, Ellis, Johnson, Parker, Rockwall, Tarrant and Kaufman – plus the two additional counties being added to the area, Hood and Wise.

Smog, or ozone, is created primarily by two different kinds of pollution: Nitrogen Oxides (NOx) that come from any source of combustion like a power plant, cement kiln or even the internal combustion engine on a car, and Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) that come from some combustion, but mostly are emitted as fumes from sources like gas pumps, or storage tanks.smokestack plumes2

When these pollutants are exposed to enough sunlight, they turn into ozone, or smog. But it takes time. NOx pollution released from a smoke stack might take five or ten miles and close to an hour to turn into ozone. That’s why it’s important to address all major sources of air pollution upwind of DFW.

For many, ozone may be associated with temporary irritation of the lungs and throat, but each year scientists produce more evidence that health effects caused by the pollutant are much more harmful.

Ozone has been linked to heart attacks, strokes, suppression of the immune system, DNA damage, and early deaths. These injuries have been documented at increasingly lower levels of ozone, so that the federal standard has had to be adjusted downward three times within the last decade to protect public health.

children-with-asthma-inhalers4The current DFW ozone non-attainment area includes 500,000 children and adults with asthma, another 200,000 with Chronic Bronchitis or Emphysema and 1.5 million with cardiovascular disease. These vulnerable groups, along with the very young and the very old, are the local populations most at risk from being harmed by ozone pollution. But it appears that even the lungs of healthy adults and children can be severely impaired as well.

A third component of smog is Particulate Matter, or PM pollution. PM is really small pieces of soot. The soot is so tiny, it’s inhaled into your lungs and can stay in them doing damage for years, or can migrate through the lung lining into the blood stream.

Because scientists have linked even low levels of PM pollution to such a wide variety of health effects including heart attacks strokes, diabetes, and IQ loss, many experts believe air quality standards need to be tightened.

DFW already has a PM pollution problem. From 2007 to 2011, there was an average of 41 days when PM readings at one of two monitoring stations in Dallas were at levels associated with increased risk of heart attacks and strokes. By comparison, DFW experienced 38 days in 2011 when the new ozone standard was exceeded. There are about three times as many ozone monitors as PM monitors in DFW.

Downwinders’ “Fighting for Air” blog is the only place you see daily air quality reporting during DFW’s ozone season. We often tell residents there’s going to be a violation of pollution standards before the state does.

Downwinders also stands alone as the DFW environmental group that’s made the local air quality planning process such a central part of its mission.

Downwinders has been involved in every clean air plan written for the DFW area since the mid-1990’s. The group used these plans to help draft innovative public policy and bring about a host of new pollution reduction measures, including new smog controls for the Midlothian cement plants and central Texas coal plants.