Houston Community News >> Houston Tops List of Air Polluted Cities

9/28/2006 HOUSTON: “Urgent attention” and immediate steps are required to reduce the toxicity levels in Houston's air if the city wants to protect its people from serious health hazards, a group of academicians said yesterday.

High percentages of known carcinogens and respiratory irritants in the air triggered concern among a group of Houston scientists. In a report they prepared, they identify four highly toxic chemicals present in the air at highway intersections, areas along Houston Ship Channel and downtown. The study observed the toxicology of diesel particulate matter, benzene, 1,3-butadiene, and formaldehyde. These are included in a list of 189 hazardous air pollutants.

Houstonians face “dangerously high risk of cancer and other health problems” from the high concentrations of air pollutants in the city, lead researcher Matt Fraser said. Fraser teaches civil and environmental engineering at Rice Univ. Based on findings of the study, the professor has urged city authorities to act immediately to improve the air quality.

The study uses statistics to drive home the point of an impending health crisis. 1,3-butadiene, a cancer causing compound, was found to be far above its annual average concentration – at 4 parts per billion (ppb), the highest level of all cities compared in the report. The next highest Los Angeles with only 0.2 ppb is still way below Houston. Motor-vehicle exhaust contains a high percentage of 1,3-butadiene as well as Benzene; both hazardous chemicals. Both these pollutants were far above the average as well as levels observed in other cities.

A section of the report allows reference and comparison by indicating air quality regulating methods adopted in other states and countries.

The 245-page report also calls for the enforcement of air quality standards that could lower the risk of dying from cancer and other respiratory diseases. A previous goal of reducing deaths from long-term exposure to pollutants, should be revised, the study recommends from 1 in every 100,000 to 1 in 1 million.

The current risk assessment, based on the percentage of the 1,3-butadiene and diesel PM, is more than 1 plus 1 in every 10,000. The actual risk may be greater, the researchers point out because these assessments are for individual compounds. The damage potential from the combined presence of the pollutants in the air could mean a far greater risk than is perceived.

(Contributed by Earthtimes.org)