2019’s “ozone season” came in like a lamb but is headed out as big, wheezy lion.

A three-day stretch from Thursday September 5th to Saturday the 7th that combined triple digit temperatures with lots of air pollution was enough to push Dallas-Fort Worth smog numbers for the year over 2018’s annual average.  It was the first year-to-year increase in ozone levels since 2015, and more than enough to insure DFW will be in violation of the Clean Air Act for the 28th year in a row.

Because the formula for arriving at these averages is so convoluted, discounts the highest three numbers, and is stretched out over 8-hour periods, it takes a lot ozone to make them go up even incrementally. Raising the annual average by even one part per billion (ppb), from 76  to 77, as occurred by Saturday evening, hides a lot of Really Bad Air. Smog levels were in the 90’s and even close to 100 parts per billion at monitoring sites in the northern part of the Metromess. EPA’s national standard for 8-hour exposure to ozone is a 70 ppb average.

Three sites saw their 2019 highs set during this 72 hour period. Frisco had an eight hour average of 88ppb on Saturday, Keller 84 ppb and North Dallas 83ppb. There were four hours on the afternoon of the 6th when smog was over 90 ppb in Frisco.

That’s reminiscent of the bad ‘ol days from the Turn of the Century when levels in the upper 90’s and even topping 100 ppb were routine. Since 2000, there’s been a more or less steady fall in smog in DFW thanks to better controls on combustion-powered vehicles, and the citizen-induced decreases in pollution from Midlothian cement plants and the retiring of East Texas coal-fired power plants. In 2000 DFW’s annual ozone average was 102 ppb. It’s taken 20 years to lower that number to the high-to-mid 70’s. For the last three years we’ve seen decreases of 3, 1 and 3 ppb. 2019 halts that downward trend.

Beside the human health toll these numbers represent – an increase in asthma attacks, ER visits, strokes and heart attacks. – they also represent a challenge to government. This increase comes as the usual planning process to reduce dirty air in DFW sits in tatters. In fact, there really is no process anymore.

In the past, the North Central Texas Council of Governments (NTCOG) would bring the Chambers of Commerce, elected officials and some environmentalists together to cobble out a list of proposed strategies to reduce smog, then submit it to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality in Austin where it would get watered down by corporate lobbying. Nevertheless, those past plans did have an influence on tightening emissions for ancient cement kilns and other industrial sources and they can take some credit for the two-decade decrease in smog.

But that process hasn’t taken place since even before the current administration took office. The last plan submitted by the region to the state was in 2013. Because Austin kept ignoring most of the region’s recommendations, NTCOG just gave up trying after that. It’s Clean Air Steering Committee was disbanded and hasn’t met for six years now. Despite approaching our fourth decade of illegally bad air there’s no official body in DFW working on a regional clean air plan. Everything is being run by Greg Abbott’s state agency  – one that doesn’t believe there’s a climate crisis, wants to increase permissible exposure for dangerous pollutants, and whose former Toxicologist in now leading the Trump administration’s efforts to roll back federal pollution standards.

It’s doubtful a single part per billion rise in the regional average will prompt reconsideration of this laissez-faire approach. But it should.

Before the 2016 election, Downwinders was trying to pave a path for the federal government to take away the power of Austin to determine DFW’s clean air progress. We had hoped to have EPA delegated as the “final cut” author of a new clean air plan. Trump’s election made that impossible. But should this administration be gone by 2021, that strategy is still one local residents would be wise to pursue. As long as the State’s environmental agency is in the hands of anti-science flunkies and fanatics, there will be no concern about DFW smog in Austin.

Only in the nonsensical world of EPA air quality regulation could the official regional average for DFW smog actually decrease despite the worst levels of DFW Ozone pollution in five years.

In 2018 a quarter of all North Texas official monitor sites recorded smog levels in the 90-95 ppb range for more than an hour.  2018 was the first time in two years that any DFW monitors have had 8-hour averages of 80 ppb or above, and the first time since 2013 since there been at least six. In fact, this year’s total number of 80-or-above monitors is almost equal to the total number from the last five years combined.

Nevertheless, the regional average for smog pollution that determines government action actually went down from 81 to 76 parts per billion.

How does that happen? Not without a lot of numerical manipulation. EPA’s formula for smog pollution classification  is a two part affair. First EPA only counts the highest 4th highest annual reading from each monitor in DFW. That means every monitor gets three “Mulligans” or “do-overs” before the results are eligible for regulatory use. Then EPA combines the last three year’s worth of those highest 4th highest readings to produce a rolling average. So that 2018 average is actually the results of the highest 4th highest reading from 2016, 2017, and 2018.

High readings from the summer of 2015 are rolling out of that three-year rolling average, while lower readings in ’16 and ’17 remain. While this year’s smog levels were higher, but not so extraordinarily high as to be able to counter the lower numbers making up the rest of the average.

But our smog was bad enough last year and this to once again make sure DFW is in “non-attainment” of the clean Air Act for the pollutant. For the umpteenth time in a row, we missed a deadline for meeting a Clean Air Act smog standard – this time it’s the 2008 75 ppb standard. If EPA follows its own protocol, that means DFW will be go from being “moderately” out of compliance to being in “Serious” non-compliance.

And please remember all of these numbers are based on only 20 smog monitors, half of which are located well-outside the DFW urban core, and none of which are located in Wise County, where Downwinders is doing the job of monitoring ozone pollution that the State and EPA refuse to do.

What are the consequences of this continuing violation of the Clean Air Act that imperils public health? Nada probably. At least while the Trump Administration holds office. In the past such classifications would have triggered a process leading up to some kind of official plan of action that, at least rhetorically, is aimed at correcting the 30-year old problem. But no one expects the State of Texas, or now the EPA, to take that responsibility seriously.

What you can expect is some official TCEQ spin about how it’s been successful in bringing down smog pollution levels. In fact, it was the wettest September on record that brought an abrupt end to what was shaping up to be an even worse smog year than it already was at the end of August. Historically, September is when DFW sees some of its worst bad air days. But not this year.

Accompanying the rise in smog pollution in 2018 was also a dramatic rise in the regional numbers for Particulate Matter (PM) pollution – the highest North Texas has seen since 2003.

After a long spell of annual peaks of between 24 and 28 migrograms per cubic meter of air, the 2018 average for highest daily readings among all sites has risen dramatically as of this month – to almost 40 µg/m3

Before this year, they’d only been four daily peaks above 40 µg/m3 over the last 15 years. In 2018  four out of 6 PM monitoring sties had registered daily readings averaging between 41 an 43 ppb as of October.

The EPA annual standard for PM pollution is 12 µg/m3. The 24 hour standard is 35 µg/m3.

As with smog, these readings are coming from a very small pool of monitors – in this case just six PM monitors scattered over an area only slightly smaller than Rhode Island.

Some of this might be blamed on the drought we we experiencing during the summer and increased dust circulation, but comparing it to 2011 when similar if not worse conditions were in play shows no similar bump then. Fewer coal plants blowing their plumes into DFW this year might lead you to think we were even due for a drop. Instead it’s as if someone turned the key on a couple more.  There’s no obvious reason why PM levels would have jumped so much in a single year.

What’s clear is that local governments are the last refuge for effective and new air pollution control measures. Until political leadership changes in Austin and/or Washington, there’s no expectation of any relief. In fact, every day sees new proposals from the State or EPA that will actually increase smog and PM pollution in DFW. This is why local city and county elections are just as important as state and national ones.

We’ll have to wait until the end of 2019 to see if this rise in pollution averages is a trend or blip, but there’s no question that smog and PM are taking their toll on public health in DFW. Study after study shows harms at levels of exposure well below these annual and daily averages that determine EPA regulations. In the real world, your lungs, heart, brain and immune system don’t seem to be able to distinguish between “safe” and “unsafe” levels of poison as defined by the government.

With months of  “ozone season” still to come, 2018 is already one of the worst years of DFW smog pollution this decade.

As of August 9th, six out of the 20 North Texas ozone pollution monitors have registered at least four days when the average concentrations of smog were 80 parts per billion or higher over any eight-hour period.  The current EPA ozone standard is 70 ppb over eight hours. Most scientists who study ozone pollution recommend between 60 and 65 ppb.

Unfortunately our lungs don’t breathe averages. Regulatory accounting smooths out the highs and lows. This summer has seen at least five sites record smog in the 90-95 ppb range for more than an hour. That’s very hazardous breathing.

There’s no question there were public health consequences to those extreme air pollution levels. Asthma attacks were triggered, COPD patients were gasping, but also strokes and heart attacks. We just don’t know how many…until after the fact.

It’s the first time in two years that any DFW monitors have had 8-hour averages of 80 ppb or above, and the first time since 2013 since there been at least six. In fact, this year’s total number of 80-or-above monitors is almost equal to the total number from the last five years combined.

The last week of July was a bad one for DFW breathers.

Besides the number of high smog readings, the location of the monitors recording them should be of concern. Five out of the six registering the highest numbers this year have long histories of being among those registering the highest numbers in past years – Grapevine, Eagle Mountain Lake, Dallas Hinton, Dallas North and Frisco. Only Cleburne might be considered an outlier. The fact the same sites keep popping up over and over again means the strategies for reducing smog pollution aren’t working when put to the test like this July’s heat wave.

But of course that assumes there are any strategies for reducing smog in DFW. And technically there are. But they aren’t being vetted for their effectiveness, and they aren’t being enforced, and some are even being rolled back. After 27 years of continually violating the Clean Air Act for smog pollution, there’s nobody in any level of government working on a cogent plan to get DFW into compliance. Law and order rhetoric from Austin and Washington not withstanding.

What made July smog worse than usual was the heat. Climate scientists are telling us we’re going to be having more summers like 2018, not fewer. So this year’s levels are probably a precursor, not an aberration. But that’s a hard sell to elected officials whose campaign accounts depend on denying the science.

The punch line to this year’s sudden and dramatic spike in higher smog levels?  It might still result in officials taking the Orwellian stand that the air in DFW is getting better. How is such a thing possible? Through the wonders of regulatory math.

EPA’s classification of how bad or good air quality is in any region is done by taking the 4th highest annual reading from each monitor and then keeping a rolling average of three years’ of those annual 4th highest numbers for each monitor. For this year, only the 4th highest numbers for 2016, 2017 and 2018 are included in the rolling average. Denton did see high numbers in 2015, but those are all now rolling off and not being counted.

Up to now those 2015 numbers have kept the regional smog average in Denton at 81 ppb despite relatively light ozone seasons in 2016 and 2017. Now that that 2015 high number is rolling off, it would take the Denton site having 4 separate days of 90+ ppb smog in the next 90 days to make the average rise back up to 81 ppb. If that doesn’t occur, then the Denton average could drop to somewhere in the mid-to-upper 70 ppb range.

Should that happen, expect to see lots of regional back-slapping among officialdom for bringing down that Denton number and “continuing to make air quality progress.” Even as more monitor sites see higher smog numbers, officials will declare their anti-pollution measures are working splendidly. But that will not be the case, and you should not be misled.

While there might be a bit of specific progress made at the Denton monitor site, the increase in the number of other sites registering  higher levels of smog they haven’t seen in years negates it. If all it takes is a heat wave to send two years of lower numbers down the drain, and the future is full of heat waves, then that’s not really progress, is it? We’re forced to put our fate in the hands of the weather instead of our own planning. Not very proactive, but that’s the state of air pollution control in DFW in 2018: “Please Dear God, keep it cool this summer.”

Even before the Trump Administration came into office the EPA wasn’t enforcing provisions of the Clean Air Act that DFW blew by ages ago – not correctly classifying its non-compliance, not requiring controls on major polluters, providing one extension after another. Now of course, there’s total abdication of even the pretense of striving toward cleaner air for its own sake.

Which is why if any progress is going to be made over the next 2-3 years, it must be made at the local level. No one else gives a damn. Officially.

After a few technological hiccups, the state’s first permanent smog monitor built and operated by a citizens’ group is up and running in rural Southeast Wise County. And by the looks of this summer’s ozone season, just in the nick of time.

Conceived, designed, and supervised entirely by environmental scientist and UNT doctoral candidate Kari Northeim on behalf of Downwinders, the Atlas Monitoring Station is a first-of-its-kind adaptation of smaller, less expensive technology to perform the job of monitors many times its size and cost. It instantly becomes a huge milestone in our efforts to build a better system of air quality monitoring in North Texas.

The Atlas Station is a product of Downwinders’ Wise County Ozone Project, financed by a grant from Patagonia and an EarthTank prize won by Downwinders at EarthDay Texas in 2016. It’s objective is to collect continuous readings of Ozone, otherwise known as smog, in Wise County –  until this week the only one of ten DFW “non-attainment” counties with no ozone monitors. 

Besides being downwind of much of DFW’s smog, Wise County is the birthplace of modern “fracking” and blistered with gas patch facilities that produce significant amounts of smog-causing air pollution. However, the nearest official smog monitors are approximately 30 miles to the east in Denton County and 20 miles south in Tarrant County. Despite past state and private computer modeling predicting smog to be worse in Wise County than the rest of North Texas when “ozone season” winds are out of the south-southeast, there’s been no monitor there to test that hypothesis. Until now. 

Accurate regional ozone readings are important to DFW because they determine how much in or out of compliance with the Clean Air Act we are. If smog levels being recorded by EPA monitors in their current locations aren’t reflective of higher smog levels actually being breathed in North Texas, then we need to know that and add more protective air pollution measures.

Last spring Downwinders bought two portable smog monitors the size of cable boxes from Colorado’s 2B Technologies at $5000 each. That’s a huge drop in price and size. Traditional EPA monitors doing the same job can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and take up a quarter acre.

2B factory-calibrates the monitors and they’re already certified by EPA, but from from June 2017 to March 2018, they were subject to additional testing by Kari at the University of North Texas (UNT) Engineering Lab.

Although small, these are incredibly reliable machines with an accuracy of greater than 1.5 parts per billion by volume, or 2% of the total reading. They measure ozone every ten seconds and can automatically average over a minute, 10 minute, or hour interval (like the state monitors do so we can compare apples to apples).

Small, portable, cheaper, but the monitors still need electricity. In order to have more siting options in a mostly rural county, the Atlas uses a 100 W solar panel to connect the monitors to the juice they need to take readings. Batteries provide back-up. This makes is a completely stand alone, self-sufficient monitoring station that we can put anywhere with a good south view.

Air is collected through a funnel and shuttled down a pipe that brings it into a weather-protected box where the monitor itself sits. 

During the Wise County Ozone Project, one monitor at a time will be deployed for a period of 3-6 months. Unfortunately, there’s not a way yet to get real time access to the monitor via the internet, so instead data will be downloaded by Kari every month and compared to readings at those Denton and Tarrant County monitors. Not perfect, but better than no monitor at all.

According to Northeim, who expects to be able to mine several scientific papers with the data she collects, “This research is critically important to develop an understanding of the true ozone exposure in Wise County. It’s very exciting.” 

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Putting a Smog Monitor

 

Where No Smog Monitor Has Gone Before

EPA has 20 ozone, or smog, monitors in North Texas. Approximately half of those are considered “background” monitors on the edge of the denser urban areas. Originally the DFW “non-attainment area” for smog was only Dallas and Tarrant Counties. As the area’s populations grew, so did its air pollution problem and Denton, and Collin Counties were added, then Johnson, Parker, Rockwall, and Kaufman. Citizens petitioned and sued to bring Ellis And Wise Counties into the fold. All of these counties except Wise have an EPA smog monitor, despite Wise County being included in the non-attainment area since 2012, and despite state and private computer air modeling showing the County could have some of the region’s worst smog.

 

Downwinders is Regrouping, Renewing, and Regenerating. Almost half our new board is under 30. We have a new scientist. We have a new focus. Now we need you.

Many of you are aware of the time and effort Downwinders at Risk put into the unprecedented UNT Ozone Study which brought DFW elected officials and local atmospheric researchers together for the first time to operate the same computer model for air quality used exclusively by the State and EPA.

The results of that study provided a practical map for compliance with the current federal ozone standard: new controls on coal plants, cement kilns and gas facilities. It was shared by local officials with the EPA in hopes of that agency drafting a new DFW air plan that might finally address these major sources of local air pollution.

Those hopes were dashed by the presidential election last fall.

Because of a perfect storm of regulatory changes and politics, we now believe that the EPA won’t intervene on behalf of DFW air quality for the foreseeable future. It appears DFW will not even have to submit another serious plan to address smog for at least a decade – if then.

Over the last 20 years no other group has leveraged as much change from DFW federal clean air plans as Downwinders at Risk. We won the first comprehensive study of cement plant air pollution control technology by the state. We got new smog-control technology installed on the Midlothian cement plants. We used the “Green Cement” provision of another federal smog plan to stop the burning of hazardous waste in those cement plants and close the oldest, dirtest kilns in North Texas. In the most recent plan, we exposed the large impact of oil and gas pollution on local DFW smog levels.

But while we’ll continue to stay in the EPA’s ozone/smog regulatory loop through legal representation, we don’t see any opportunity to impact public policy using federal clean air plans the way we have in the past.

With this change, we had to rethink how we work toward better regional air quality in North Texas. How do we impact the most lives, in the biggest ways, with the resources we have?

We’ve come up with three strategies, all of them taking advantage of our long history of increasing the ability of local residents and governments to take on dirty air themselves.

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OUR NEW PRIORITIES

 

 

Build a modern, independent, and citizen-friendly regional air pollution monitoring network for DFW

You can’t fix problems unless you know about them, and this is a way to begin building a regional alternative to state monopoly of air quality expertise and resources.

 

 

Identify, reduce, and eliminate health threats posed by widespread Particulate Matter (PM)pollution in DFW

PM is the new smog and local campaigns to reduce it can help a lot of people, especially  those predominantly minority neighborhoods who’ve been dumped on the most.

 

 


 

 

Organize a grassroots campaign to restore local government zoning control of industrial hazards 

A state government bought by polluters has gone too far in restricting the liberties of Texans and demolishing democracy at the local level. We’re fighting back. 

 

 

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We co-founded the DFW Air Research Consortium last year with researchers from area universities and local governments with the idea of building a modern and locally-controlled air quality monitoring grid across DFW that can track pollution plumes in real time.  This can become a powerful grassroots enforcement and education tool.

Downwinders itself bought two EPA-certified ozone monitors we’ll be using to specifically track smog levels in Wise County, where the State refuses to put a monitor despite evidence that’s where the region’s highest ozone readings are located.

This is more than just increasing the number of monitors – this is an opportunity to change the way people see air pollution affecting their lives. It’s also another opportunity to take what was the exclusive regulatory providence of an apathetic state government and give it to more concerned local governments.

We’re also beginning a new campaign focusing on microscopic pieces of soot known as Particulate Matter, or PM pollution. In recent years, PM pollution has been linked in the scientific literature to a wide variety of non-respiratory and cardiovascular diseases including ADHD, autism, Parkinson’s, dementia, and infertility. Like lead, many researchers believe there is no safe level of exposure to this kind of pollution.

Sources of PM pollution include any internal combustion engine, furnace, boiler and windswept piles of sand, or cement dust. Studies have found a correlation between proximity to a major source of PM pollution and increased risks of illness.

This is why other communities around the country are cracking down on idling trucks and buses and establishing buffer zones between major freeways and residences, parks and schools. We want to reduce the pollution as well as the exposure to it.

Finally, because there’s no hope of addressing air pollution from the oil and gas industry without any change in HB 40, the 2015 state law that took away local control of industrial zoning, we’ve begun a project aimed at building an alliance that challenges state overreach and promotes the restoration of traditional local control. Cities must have the right to protect their residents’ public safety and health. This campaign will challenge the status quo in both Austin and North Texas.

As always, they’ll also be campaigns we could not anticipate but have to wage. One example is the recent proposal by Dow Chemical to bag municipal trash for burning in the nation’s cement kilns. Dow has already targeted the local cement kilns in North Texas for this scheme, but Downwinders is pushing back hard and working with nationwide alliances to halt this project before it gets very far.

 

NOW WE NEED YOU

This coming THURSDAY is another North Texas Giving Day, a chance for your donations to be magnified by challenge grants and other incentives over the day. Because we’ve added responsibilities and staff, Downwinders at Risk needs this one to be our best, most productive Giving Day yet.

All transactions take place online that day. It’s simple to give and you can link to the Giving Day pay portal through our Downwinders’ website or FaceBook page beginning at 6 am on the 14th, and going all the way to midnight:

https://northtexasgivingday.org/npo/downwinders-at-risk-education-fund

 

DFW has been in continuous violation of the Clean Air Act for 26 years. We’re asking you to take a minute and contribute $26 to clean air work in the place where your lungs do most of their breathing.

We know hurricane season is testing the limits of our charitable giving, but $26 is all we’re asking. At a time when the state and federal government are intent on not protecting our air, Downwinders continues to be stubborn advocates for progress.

We deeply regret not being able to win a clean air plan for DFW in 2017 that might finally leave us in compliance with the Clean Air Act. But our long term goals remain the same. We hope you agree our work is worth your continued support. Thank you for your consideration.

A note of explanation: There are two meetings next week in DFW concerning the large and complicated Volkswagen legal settlement over the company’s lying about the air pollution its diesel vehicles emit. Each state, as well as about 20 counties in Texas, are looking to score millions for various reasons and programs.

The two DFW meetings are sponsored by Public Citizen/Texas. We love Public Citizen and when they asked us to co-sponsor these meetings, we reflexively signed-up, even without knowing the details. There are efforts around the country to use this money to electrify school and city bus systems and challenge the status quo in interesting unconventional ways that might not be possible without large wads of cash.

But…what we didn’t know at the time we agreed to be co-sponsors was that the meeting is really a larger effort by something called the Texas Clean Air Working Group – an official statewide organization of local county governments working with other officials and businesses  – to solicit comments…and most likely, direct the money to their priorities.

As a result, the North Texas Council of Governments is the major local coordinating entity for the Working Group. The COG will be presenting its version of a “DFW air quality update” and helping to coordinate responses. We did not know this until last Thursday, when we asked for details of who was doing what presentations.

This is problematic for Downwinders at Risk on a couple of fronts.

For one thing, NTCOG is one of the reasons DFW is STILL in violation of the Clean Air Act after 26 years. They have a perpetually overly optimistic perspective. They have a close relationship with TCEQ because they get so many grants from them, and they frequently side with the State on air quality issues. They see air pollution only thru the prism of federal transportation dollars at risk over our “non-attainment: status – not public health. In 2015 citizens had to raise money to do the DFW air computer modeling that neither TCEQ nor COG would do. You aren’t going to get a very realistic picture of DFW air quality, or the need to do more about it, from a COG presentation.

Secondly, the preferred use of the VW settlement money by many of these local governments and NTCOG is either expansion or replacement of their own natural gas fleets, or supplementing existing state programs the state legislature has refused to adequately fund, like the Texas Emissions Reduction Program (TERP). In effect the goal of most of the members of the Working Group is to reinforce the status quo, not change it. 

Because of these reasons, we’ve asked to be taken off the list of co-sponsors. We don’t feel comfortable with our name being used to promote a more rose-color than-real picture of DFW air pollution. or natural gas as the solution to that not-as-bad-as-it looks problem.

The suggestions made at these meetings will be channeled through the NTCOG, who has already given the state a quote for the amount of money it wants and a list of what it wants to spend it on. There is no citizens lobby being organized separately to argue for different priorities.

Looming over all of this is the fact that the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and/or the Governor’s office determines where the state’s part of the settlement goes. So don’t expect much. In fact, Ken Paxton, the Texas Attorney General is suing over the settlement, specifically trying to eliminate the $2 billion set-aside for “zero-emissions” vehicle development as “unconstitutional.” 

Paxton is also suing to get 20 Texas counties, including almost all the major urban areas, to drop their own VW suits. Why would the counties want that money? Because they don’t trust the state to spend it on improving air quality. Dallas County Commissioners Court sent the state the same message this last month when it voted to stop collecting the $6 inspection fee the state is supposed to be reimbursing to local governments for air quality programs, but instead is just sitting in the general revenue pile to cover-up cuts in other programs.

So even while local governments in Texas are already lobbying hard to get their share of money from Austin, Austin is trying to make their pool of money smaller and eliminate zero emissions vehicle funding all together. Cross-purposes? Yep. But that’s Texas government in 2017.

If the counties win their separate lawsuit and money, there’ll be a much better chance for citizens to influence those local choices one Commissioners Court at a time than to try and steer the entire COG or state in the right direction. That’s your best chance to make something different happen and we’ll certainly be trying to keep track of how at least the North Texas counties use their possible winnings.

Downwinders’s “Evenings of Science and Socializing”
Concludes with SRO Crowd in Denton 
 

We’re pretty sure it was the first time Cambridge-trained UTD Physicist Dr. David Lary had presented in a bar.

The occasion was opening night of Downwinders’ “Evenings of Science and Socializing” at Bryan Street Tavern, in a dark back room that came complete with fog machine, disco ball, and a too-close juke box.

But Dr. Lary is nothing if not persistent. He’s applied for one grant after another in trying to fund his dream of a regional grid of hundreds or thousands of air monitoring sensors. He was told not to even bother applying for a prestigious National Science Foundation grant. That would be the same grant  he and his consortium of colleges, cities, and citizens groups are now in the running for. That kind of persistence is why he’s an honorary Downwinder. 

And so, like the trooper he is, Dr. Lary pushed through all the distractions and pitched his plan to an audience of about a dozen and half, including wayward bar patrons who stumbled onto the exhibit and stuffed $5 dollar bills into the donation jar.

Four nights later it was Dr. David Sterling of the UNT Health Science Center explaining how his school’s partnering with the Fort Worth League of Neighborhoods gave birth to the design of the portal used by the public to access the monitoring information. His talk drew about two dozen citizens to the Ginger Man pub, including many that had been directly involved in the focus groups he had sponsored over the past five years.

And two nights after that, Dr. Lary and UNTHSC Environmental Health doctoral candidate Leslie Allsop showed up at the Greenhouse in Denton with a Standing Room Only crowd of at least 40-50 folks, plus a few latecomers who were turned away.

Some of the audience questions were the same at every meeting. How much do the sensors cost? How do we get one or more of them? Some were particular to the location or audience being addressed, like why is Denton always the “worst-performing monitor” in North Texas? Answer: location, location, location.

All of these meetings were the first time the general public had been invited to look at the technology and plans of the DFW Air Research Consortium, (DFW ARC) the less-than-year old group that’s gaining momentum in its quest to use high tech solutions to decades-old problems. Downwinders has been instrumental in establishing and administering the group. It includes the cities of Dallas, Fort Worth, Plano, the School Districts of those cities plus Richardson and the Dallas County Community College system, TCU, UTA, UNT and UTD, plus Livable Arlington and Mansfield Gas Well Awareness.

News of the National Science  Foundation grant the Consortium  applied for should be coming any day now. Considering the competition, it would be quite incredible if the Consortium won. It would generate much needed publicity and increase our chances for getting other grants. But regardless, the work that went into the NSF grant has produced a template for the Consortium to apply to other foundations and individuals to grow the same regional grid of sensors. The work won’t stop if the NSF money doesn’t come through.

Proof of that are two on-going projects of the Consortium and its members that are already up and running.

The “10-Schools” project at UTD is one where a select number of schools across the Metromess will be paired with Particulate Matter and Ozone monitors in the first attempt to sketch out the frame of a regional grid system. Selection of the schools is being weighed right now. At every meeting there was a suggestion from citizens for this or that school that should be included based on its proximity to a large pollution source, or high absentee rates. It will be tough to narrow all those suggestions down to ten.

In the Fall, the project will be distributing the monitors, being assembled now at Dr. Lary’s lab at UTD. They’ll come with a video camera, a micro meteorology unit, and the pollution sensors themselves. Students will be able to use the monitors as a tool in classes. Neighborhoods will be able to use the information to better protect themselves. It will be the beginning of building a regional grid that identifies and tracks air pollution much better than the state or EPA does now. 

Then there’s Downwinder’s own “Wise County Ozone Project,” that will use the two brand new portable ozone monitors we just bought to begin recording smog levels in the one and only county in the “DFW Non-Attainment Area” that doesn’t have any.  We have at least one location secured for a stationary monitor, but we need some additional assistance. To pull this off, we need:

 Carpenters that can help us assemble a couple of 12-13 foot wooden platforms that will house the monitors.

Solar expertise and panels to help power the monitors.

Electrical Engineers that can help us hard wire the monitors to those panels and back-up batteries.

IT experts who can help us with connectivity issues.

If you or someone you know could be of help in any of these categories, please write us at Info@downwindersatrisk@gmail.com or call us at 469-608-1972. 

What these two projects prove is the technology featured in all three of our recent events is here now and being used. We don’t have to wait. We just have to organize ourselves to make effective use of it.  Help us do that. With your expertise if you have it.  With your time if you can spare any. With a contribution if you can.

There are many things you may feel powerless to change right now but this is a “bricks and mortar” change on the ground that can take place over the next few years and promises to deliver a challenge to both Austin and DC. Become a part of it.

Thanks to Dr. Lary, Dr. Sterling and Ms. Allsop for donating their time and taking on the challenge of bringing science to the public..and pubs. Thanks to our co-sponsors: The Dallas Innovation Alliance, the Fort Worth League of Neighborhoods, and the Denton Drilling Awareness Group. And thanks to everyone who showed up and made these events more useful to citizens. Onward thru the Smog.

      Only three months into the 2017 “ozone,” or smog, season, DFW has already recorded air pollution levels high enough to guarantee the region will remain in violation of the Clean Air Act for the 26th year in a row.

The bad news? So far, we’ve had a pretty mild kick-off to “ozone season.” Most of our worst ozone alert days have occurred on weekends on when winds were shifting.

But a couple of typical episodes in early May and June were enough to put local monitors in trouble, including the regional pacesetter at Denton Airport, to make sure that we’ll be above the current 75 parts per billion EPA standard. Only mid-way through June, Denton’s three year running average is at 78. That number can only go up as Summer wears on. 

According to the the Texas Commission in Environmental Quality’s currently proposed DFW clean air plan, all monitors were supposed to be averaging 75 ppb or below. 

But the Commission was never serious about that goal. For the second time since 2011, TCEQ offered up a plan that did absolutely nothing to bring smog levels down. No new controls on large sources like coal plants, cement kilns or gas compressors. No new transportation initiatives. Nothing. And nothing is what happened. And the difference between before and after the plan? Nothing. The region is still in “non-attainment” with the Clean Air Act.

Now, you might think that qualifies as a complete and utter failure as an anti-smog plan. And you’d be right. By way of common sense and the English language. But in the “Alice in Smogland” world of EPA-TCEQ agency air plan interaction and doublespeak, this State of Texas do-nothing plan has not yet failed. Bureaucratically it cannot….yet. Because it hasn’t even been approved by the EPA.

The State’s plan is still parked at Region 6 headquarters in Dallas. Why? Who knows. Pre-Trump and pre-2017 comments from EPA staff indicated it would be rejected in part or whole by now. Downwinders, other citizens groups, and elected officials were working on that assumption, trying hard to get EPA to substitute a federal plan for the state’s. The election changed all that for us, and it obviously changed the pace of decision-making at EPA.

Given that it’s already failed, one would have to make a pretty good case for EPA to approve it, but again, this is a not a process always grounded in the latest facts. Now wedded to an administration that treats facts as hostile witnesses, things at EPA could get bizarre – and into court quickly.

What makes the State’s apathy worse is that EPA is letting the state get away with not providing a new plan for a current standard (even though its’ still violating it), while a new, lower standard is being (maybe) implemented over the next ….five to eight years.

But because the cut-off for violating metro areas to submit plans for the new standard was 81 ppb and DFW was at 80 last year, DFW was also given a pass by EPA to turn in a plan for the new 70 ppb standard.

So, after seeing a cycle of a plan every 3- 5 years since 1991, there will be no more anti-smog plans submitted on behalf of DFW – not for the current standard  and not for the new standard. Nada. DFW won’t have to turn in a plan until well into the next decade, and then, only after it’s endangered public health by failing to meet the 70 ppb standard for three years. Of course, given our progress the last 6-7 years, it’s very possible DFW will still be violating the “old” standard.

It’s also very possible there won’t be a new 70 ppb standard.  The Trump Administration has already signaled a possible roll back in EPA’s support for it.  Last Tuesday, the agency gave states another year to draw non-attainment boundaries. Most had already done so with no complaints. A year from now it wouldn’t be surprising to be hearing of another delay in implementation. There’s more than one way to kill a public health standard.

That makes this last failed DFW anti smog plan an bigger failure, and another chance to remind yourselves that elections have consequences, right down to the air you’re forced to breathe.

This year, every time
the State of Texas
declares an
“Ozone Action Day”
We want you
to take action
by donating as little
as $5 bucks to Downwinders 

_______________________________________

MONDAY, MAY 15th – The last three days in a row, and the last 4 out of 8 days have been Ozone Action Days in DFW. 

Yesterday’s wind speed kept things to a duller roar, but the smog was just bad enough to push up our regional average and make sure that we’ll spend another year in violation of the Clean Air Act, no matter what else happens this summer.

That’s right, it’s only May but the smog on Sunday was bad enough for long enough in Denton yesterday to make sure the 3-year average went over the current 75 ppb standard to 77.

And we still have June, July, August and September to go.

Downwinders at Risk has been working for cleaner air here in DFW since 1994. No group has been more successful in winning pollution cuts from local industry. But these victories don’t come easy or cheap.

We’re entirely local. We depend on local donations to support the only full-time staff devoted to improving North Texas air quality.

We started this new fundraising campaign because Ozone Action Days are the most obvious signs of failure of the state’s do-nothing approach to DFW’s chronic smog problem. 

When smog gets bad now, there’s something you can do that’s guaranteed to make them mad in Austin: making sure Downwinders sticks around and continues to advocate for your lungs.

We appreciate your support and promise we’ll keep fighting hard for safe and cleaner air.

To keep track of DFW ozone on Ozone Action days please visit our Facebook page


To make the Powers That Be angry, please 
donate to help Downwinders become an even more effective advocate for safe and legal air. 

Not to be outdone by the Trump Administration’s attempted deconstruction of the Clean Air Act, the Texas House of Representatives voted in early April to take $20 million from the Air Quality Division of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and spend it on an alternatives to abortion program.

$20 million may not sound like much in a an office that has a $191 million budget, but a lot of that total is dedicated to programs in place around the state. For example, over $150 million is set aside for vehicle “emission reduction” grants to local governments in smoggy non attainment areas like Houston and DFW to subsidize new engine and repairs. A lot less is truly discretionary and a lot more at risk.

For example, TCEQ only spends a little over $6 million on grants for air monitoring. And it doesn’t get all that much bang for its buck. Only 20 monitors record smog levels over ten counties where seven million people live in DFW. This leaves huge gaps where there should be monitors but aren’t. Like Wise County.

Only Wise County isn’t just an unintentional gap in smog data. It’s a premeditated black hole, left there by design by the same TCEQ whose job it is to set-up air quality monitoring in DFW.

Over at least the last two decades, model after computer model has shown Wise County to have among the highest, if not the highest smog levels of any county in the DFW non-attainment area. Yet every time the state had the opportunity to locate a monitor to confirm those models, it passed. Why?

Because the higher the smog levels officially recorded in DFW, the more industry needs to reduce pollution by adding controls or replacing obsolete equipment.

As it is, a single tiny part per billion difference in our regional smog level was responsible for North Texas getting an exemption to turn in any plan at all for the new, and newly-endangered, 70 ppb federal ozone standard. We’re at 80. If we’d been at 81 ppb we would have had to turn in a plan. Probably a terrible one, but still a plan. A plan we could then use for court fodder to maybe get something. Now even that slim piece of leverage is gone.  It’s very possible monitors in Wise County would have given us an average of 81 or greater, forcing DFW to write a plan for the brand new standard. And that’s why the current TCEQ doesn’t want a monitor there. 

Which is why we’re going there with our own smog monitors. 

We just invested $10,000 in two EPA-calibrated ozone sensors that we’re dedicating to the job of measuring Wise County smog. The monitors got their own display at Earth Day and their own photo shoot at D magazine for an upcoming article. Stay tuned for Texas Observer coverage as well.  Meanwhile, here’s Culture Map’s piece.

The easiest part is done – we bought the equipment. Now we need your help in building what may the biggest and most important citizen science project in North Texas.

We’ll be launching our effort in June but we need people now who can help us build a stationary, internet-connected monitor for a location in Wise county and others who live in or near there who can help drive and take measurements from a car along a specified grid. This is your chance to actually join others and strike back against the Empire on a 24/7 basis using….SCIENCE!!!

If you’re interested in volunteering to be a Wise County Smog Tracker or want help with the Project in any capacity, please contact us at downwindersatrisk@gmail.org. Thanks.