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Texas Air Cleaner in Four Cities

AUSTIN, Texas, January 22, 2010 (ENS) – Lower levels of air pollutants in four Texas cities prompted the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to remove these chemicals from the state’s Air Pollutant Watch Lists, the agency said today. In the case of Corpus Christi, levels of benzene, the sole remaining air pollutant, are now low enough to warrant lifting the entire watch list.

As a result of lowered emissions, the air quality in the Lynchburg Ferry area of Houston, Texas City, Beaumont and Corpus Christi has improved, the commission says.

The TCEQ maintains Air Pollutant Watch Lists for areas of Texas where specific pollutants have been measured at levels that exceed the effects screening level for that compound. The ESL is a measured level at which no health effects would be expected, but readings above the level will trigger further investigation by the TCEQ.

When an area is placed on watch lists, it allows the TCEQ to focus agency resources such as facility inspections, field investigations, and enforcement activities on the area, and work with the regulated industry in the area to identify and reduce emissions.

Permitting of new or modified sources of these emissions undergo a more stringent review in watched areas.

Waiting for the Lynchburg Ferry at the Houston Ship Channel (Photo by Carey Akin)

“While these reductions are significant, it is important to realize that the TCEQ will continue to monitor these areas,” said Commissioner Buddy Garcia. “We must ensure that these reductions are permanent, and we will continue to work to reduce them further.”

“These reductions in levels of pollutants in the air reflect hard, dedicated work by the regulated community, citizens and staff of the TCEQ,” said Commissioner Carlos Rubinstein. “Most importantly, they mean that many Texans are breathing substantially healthier air.”

For Texas City the chemicals acrolein, butyraldehyde, and valeraldehyde will be removed from the watch list. These compounds were placed on the list due to odor complaints. The commission said that through working with industry, odor complaints have dropped to extremely low levels and ambient concentrations of these chemicals are at levels that are no longer expected to cause nuisance odor complaints.

For the other three cities, benzene, a human carcinogen, is the air pollutant being removed from the lists.

Benzene will be removed from the watch list for the Lynchburg Ferry area of Houston near the Houston Ship Channel. Benzene levels in the Lynchburg Ferry area have been dropping steadily since 2005, said the TCEQ.

In 2004, the TCEQ found concentrations of benzene at the Lynchburg Ferry at levels that if inhaled continuously over 70 years could result in 10 to 60 additional people in a population of one million contracting cancer. The TCEQ has said it wants every community in the state to have a cancer risk from pollution no greater than 10 in 1 million.

The TCEQ said today that intense inspections, investigations, and enforcement; pollution reduction programs with industry; and coordination with the U.S. Coast Guard have resulted in benzene levels dropping 65 percent from 2005 through 2008. The current level of .9 parts per billion (ppb), is well below the effects screening level of 1.4 ppb.

In Harris County, where Houston is located, 74 percent of industrial benzene emissions are emitted by the organic chemical, petroleum refining, and petroleum bulk station and terminal industries, according to a May 2008 report by four citizens groups – the Galveston-Houston Association for Smog Prevention, Industry Professionals for Clean Air, Environmental Defense Fund, and the Environmental Integrity Project.

Benzene also will be removed from the watch list for Beaumont. A recent TCEQ health assessment for benzene indicates that the reported annual levels are below those of health concern.

For example, the latest year for which data is available, 2008, shows a reading just over .8 ppb, well below the 1.4 ppb ESL. The TCEQ is in the process of relocating the existing monitoring site to a residential area so it will be closer to the recently expanded ExxonMobil facility.

Benzene also will be removed from the Corpus Christi watch list – and because it is the only pollutant on the list, the entire Air Pollutant Watch List will be removed, the TCEQ said. Since 2002, benzene levels in Corpus Christi have been on a steady decline. In 2008, the benzene level was .9 ppb, well below the 1.4 ppb ESL.

“Texas continues to realize dramatic improvements in air quality for Texans,” said Chairman Bryan Shaw. “These improvements are the result of applying sound science and common sense to regulation, and we will continue to pursue these principles.”

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