Houston Meets PM2.5 Air Quality Standards, Avoids Penalty

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently announced that it agrees with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality that the Houston area is meeting federal guidelines for particulate matter PM2.5, according to the state agency.

PM2.5, which is composed of tiny particles less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter, can be hazardous in heavy concentrations.

“This is good news for Houston-area citizens, who will be spared the threat of new federal regulations that could burden economic recovery and development,” said TCEQ Chair Bryan W. Shaw, Ph.D. “The TCEQ saw the possibility that PM2.5 levels at one particular monitor could some day exceed federal requirements and took proactive steps to reduce levels and prevent that from happening.”

There are three PM2.5 monitors in Houston, but only the Clinton Drive monitor, located in an industrial area near the Ship Channel, showed elevated readings. Electron microscopy showed that a large portion of the samples consisted of soil and dust particles.

To reduce PM2.5 levels, the TCEQ enlisted the aid of EPA; the City of Houston; Harris County; Port of Houston Authority; Port Terminal Rail Authority; and local industry. A nearby parking lot was paved; barriers were installed to prevent trucks from driving on dusty shoulders; new, cleaner railroad engines were put into service; and many other actions were taken, including voluntary dust reductions from industry and enhanced dust suppression requirements.

“We were pleased and thankful that we received such meaningful cooperation from so many organizations in the Houston area,” said TCEQ Commissioner Buddy Garcia. “It shows what can be accomplished when everyone works together toward a common goal.”

The PM2.5 levels at the monitor came down, from the highest annual average reading of 16.0 micrograms per cubic meter to the latest average of 12.6 micrograms per cubic meter. Overall PM2.5 averages in Houston also declined, from 13.2 micrograms per cubic meter to 11.9 micrograms per cubic meter. The federal standard for PM2.5 is 15.0 micrograms per cubic meter.

Another important factor in the reductions is that the EPA recognized that many high monitor readings were caused by exceptional events that Texas does not control, such as smoke from agricultural burning in Central America and fine dust from Saharan dust storms. Readings were adjusted accordingly.

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