Warning: Air Quality Problems May Appear Smaller Than They Actually Are

by Downwinders on July 24, 2011

Turns out that TCEQ is color-blind as well.

Some of you may subscribe to the Commission’s  DFW ozone alert e-mail list.

You may think those “Orange Alerts” you’ve been getting every so often since Spring are an indication of what days represent breathing health threats. You would be wrong.

When you get an orange alert, it means one or more monitors in DFW is registering an ozone level of between 75 and 96 parts per billion (ppb). This level of smog pollution is officially classified by TCEQ as air “unhealthy for sensitive groups.” You actually have to have a smog problem above 95 ppb to just be plain “unhealthy” air at TCEQ.

But TCEQ’s entire alert system is based on an out-dated understanding of what levels of smog do damage to public health.

Three years ago, the Bush Administration EPA recommended a new federal ozone level of between 60 and 70 ppb concluding that the old 85 ppb standard was no longer protective of public health. So when TCEQ is telling you the air outside represents only a threat to “sensitive groups,” it’s really a danger to all of us. And that danger goes down to 70 or even 60 ppb.

NPR had a report on the new standard and the antiquity of similar “air quality alerts” across the country.

The difference in the number of days that there are “unhealthy” levels of smog in DFW is significant depending on where you’re starting point is.

Since April, there have been 12 “orange” days in DFW according to the TCEQ database on line here (75 to 95 ppb at one or more monitors). During that same time there were 32 “yellow days” (60 to 74 ppb at one or more monitors) including nine that saw levels at 70 to 74 ppb.

So instead of 12 days of air this summer that have been “unhealthy for sensitive groups,” there have actually been 44 days of air that would be considered potentially unhealthy for everyone by EPA scientists. The problem of bad air grows almost 400%.

When things are orange at TCEQ, they should really be red. At least, you know, according to the scientists who study this stuff for a living.

However out of whack this system is regarding public health and current science, it’s in perfect alignment with the TCEQ’s and Governor Perry’s ideological view that smog isn’t much of threat to human health. For years, the agency has argued that ozone is a “benign pollutant” and doesn’t deserve all the regulatory attention it’s gotten from EPA.

Let’s all watch and see how long it takes for TCEQ to adapt its color-coded ozone alert system to the reality of a new EPA ozone standard scheduled to be announced in early August now. Office pool starts now. Here are the odds as of today:

Change when EPA proposed new standard is announced –  1000 to 1 Against
Change when EPA adopts final rules – 100 to 1 Against
Change when EPA requires new DFW clean air plan for the new std. – 50 to 1 Against
Change when Rick Perry leaves office – 2 to 1 For  

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