HOUSTON (AP) — Texas environmental officials will start measuring air pollution next year near a Houston freeway as part of a federal requirement to monitor the health risks of living near major roadways.
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality in January will begin measuring pollution levels along a busy stretch of U.S. Highway 59 in southwest Houston.
"People move to areas near major thoroughfares to get around easier, but we haven't paid attention to how that impacts our health," Elena Craft, a health scientist for the Environmental Defense Fund, told The Houston Chronicle (http://bit.ly/14GYqqn ) . "This is a good step forward."
The newspaper reported Thursday that the assessment will provide the state with its first data on pollution near congested freeways.
The Houston region is already one of the most heavily monitored areas in the country, particularly for smog. But the existing network of 27 monitoring stations has not included one near a freeway because the system is intended to measure air quality across a region, not a specific neighborhood.
That changed in March when federal regulators ordered the largest U.S. cities to install roadside monitors for nitrogen dioxide, a smog-forming pollutant released from tailpipes. Scientists have linked the pollutant to asthma and other lung ailments.
The first Houston monitoring station will provide data from within about 160 feet of the highway between the Interstate 610 Loop and the Sam Houston Tollway. State figures show that stretch of road is the ninth-most congested in Harris County.
"It's a good location because of the high traffic, and it's near residences, and it fills a data gap," Loren Raun, a Rice University statistician who specializes in the environment and public health, said.
The federal Environmental Protection Agency said studies have detected levels of nitrogen dioxide as much as 100 times greater along busy highways.
The southwest Houston monitoring station is the first of two mandated by the EPA. A second site has not yet been selected.
Information from: Houston Chronicle, http://www.houstonchronicle.com