HOUSTON (AP) — State environmental regulators are blaming excessive soot in the Houston-area air last month on dust that blew in from the Sahara desert and smoke from crop-clearing burns in Mexico.
Harris County failed to meet federal pollution limits on soot in December, which had been tightened after a federal judge ruled previous standards weren't enough to protect public health.
So, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality investigated and told the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency of its findings. Should the agency accept them, Harris County would avoid stringent pollution controls and sanctions on airborne soot, the Houston Chronicle (http://bit.ly/16ovHTo ) reported.
"With the revised standard, concurrence on exceptional events became more important," TCEQ spokesman Terry Clawson told the newspaper. The state expects an EPA ruling by December 2014, he said.
Dust that blows in from the Sahara desert often impacts weather along the Gulf of Mexico, with scientists saying they believe it plays a role in the formation and direction of some hurricanes.
Larry Soward, a former state commissioner and currently board president of environmental group Air Alliance Houston, told the Chronicle he expects EPA approval.
The state commission has recorded seven days from 2010 to 2012 when soot levels weren't preventable due to particles that blew in from abroad.
Environmentalists reacted to the TCEQ's findings with scorn.
"It's not the way to address a serious issue. Whether the pollution comes from an exceptional event or not, the public health risk is the same," said Elena Craft, a Texas-based toxicologist for the Environmental Defense Fund.
Particulate matter from diesel exhaust, road dust and petrochemical flares are so small that they can penetrate deep into the lungs, causing disease and early death.
Soot became an issue in Harris County seven years ago when an air quality monitor near the Port of Houston showed excessive levels. That could limit some industries from expansion in Harris County and require cleaner operations along the Houston Ship Channel. Industry officials contend the tighter soot limits are burdensome.
Information from: Houston Chronicle, http://www.houstonchronicle.com