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Air Quality Around the State

Efforts across the state have paid off with improved air quality. (Natural Outlook, Spring 2010)

Focus on El Paso

El Paso skyline
El Paso, Texas.
Photo ©iStockphoto.com/David Liu.

El Paso was once the only city in Texas having to deal with nonattainment for three different pollutants; however, efforts to reduce carbon monoxide (CO), ozone for the 1-hour standard, and coarse particulate matter (PM10) have definitely paid off with cleaner air. The area has been in attainment of the 1997 8-hour ozone standard since 2004 and was redesignated to attainment of the CO standard in 2008. The El Paso area remains designated nonattainment only for PM10.

Because analysis of monitoring data shows that El Paso would be in attainment of the PM10 standard if not for such natural events as dust storms, the TCEQ has adopted a natural-events action plan to flag exceedance days that occur due to natural events. Flagging allows the EPA to discard those days when determining the area’s compliance with the standard, placing the state in a better position to seek El Paso’s redesignation to attainment for PM10.

Focus on the Golden Triangle

The heavily industrialized Beaumont–Port Arthur (BPA) area, which includes Jefferson, Hardin, and Orange counties, is home to a large concentration of petrochemical facilities. The TCEQ has worked closely with industry and community groups to reduce benzene, 1,3-butadiene, and ozone levels in this area.

The BPA area is currently designated as nonattainment for the 1997 8-hour ozone standard. Because BPA monitored attainment with a 2005-through-2007 8-hour ozone design value of 83 parts per billion (ppb), in 2008 the commission asked the EPA to redesignate the area to attainment for the 1997 8-hour ozone standard.

As a result of the efforts of TCEQ regional staff and industry, annual average benzene concentrations from 2000 to 2009 remained below the air monitoring comparison value of 1.4 ppbv (parts per billion by volume) for all but one of the monitoring sites. For the one site with elevated benzene levels, regional staff met with representatives from possible sources to address the problem, and subsequent reports have shown a decrease in this pollutant.

In 1996, concentrations of 1,3-butadiene monitored at one location in Port Neches exceeded the air monitoring comparison value in place at the time (5 ppbv), resulting in its addition to the Air Pollutant Watch List (APWL). Annual average 1,3-butadiene concentrations at this site decreased by 81 percent from 1996 to 2007, partially due to cooperative agreements between the TCEQ and local industry. Ambient concentrations of 1,3-butadiene continue to remain below the current air monitoring comparison value of 9.1 ppbv. As a result, it has been removed from the APWL. At all other monitoring sites in the BPA area, the annual average concentrations have remained below the air monitoring comparison value of 9.1 ppbv from 2000 to the first quarter of 2009.

8-Hour Ozone Flex Program

Two areas of the state are taking a collaborative, voluntary approach to reducing ozone-generating emissions with the 1997 8-Hour Ozone Flex Program.

The program—implemented through an intergovernmental Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) between the TCEQ, the EPA, and local communities—includes action plans developed by local governments that will reduce emissions of ozone precursors. Voluntary initiatives allow communities or regions to address ozone challenges proactively rather than wait to be required to address them through the federal nonattainment process.

Corpus Christi Bridge
Corpus Christi, Texas.
Photo ©iStockphoto.com/Philip Lange.

The Corpus Christi area of Nueces and San Patricio counties was approved for the program in 2007. Their voluntary measures include the use of less volatile gasoline from May through September; the installation of vapor recovery and control systems at marine fuel transfer and loading facilities; the rescheduling of uncontrolled loading activities on ozone action days until evening or until another day; a pollution-prevention program that targets both small and large businesses; promotion of alternative fuels through the Clean Cities Program of the U.S. Department of Energy; and the promotion of reformulated gasoline for use in large fleets by a local refiner.

In 2008, an MOA for the Austin–Round Rock area was approved. (This area includes Bastrop, Caldwell, Hays, Travis, and Williamson counties and the cities of Austin, Bastrop, Elgin, Lockhart, Luling, Round Rock, and San Marcos.) Their voluntary emission-reduction measures include area-wide programs such as Commute Solutions, Clean Cities, and Clean School Bus; a regional rideshare program; a watch and warning ozone-alert system; TERP grant applications; and road paving projects.

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