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Research Leads to Air Quality Improvements

Investment in research has helped to improve air quality in the state. (Natural Outlook, Spring 2010)

Texas has devoted more funds to air quality research during the past decade than any other state in the country,” says TCEQ Chief Engineer Susana Hildebrand. “Using state resources and in-kind support from colleges, universities, and national organizations, almost $50 million have been invested in investigating the complex and often unique issues associated with ozone formation in the state.”

Flare Task Force and Research


Flare systems gather and burn unwanted gases, converting these vapors into less-objectionable compounds. Flaring safely eliminates unwanted gases generated over the entire range of plant operating conditions.

To evaluate the adequacy of existing flare regulations and to provide executive management with options for improving air quality, the TCEQ created a flare task force. With input from industry and public stakeholders, a draft report was issued in 2009, recommending additional monitoring of flare operational parameters, flare minimization plans, process changes to agency permitting programs for flares, and continued public outreach on flare issues.

In addition, research will be conducted in 2010 to assess how efficiently flares function as emissions-control devices under varying design and operating parameters. Results from this study will allow the agency to evaluate the accuracy of flare emission estimates as well as any proposed improvements to flare operational or monitoring requirements.

Residential Exposure Studies

The TCEQ Toxicology Division has been involved with numerous studies investigating human exposure to airborne toxic chemicals and the potential of these exposures to cause adverse health effects. For example, studies have been completed in Houston, Midlothian, and the Dallas–Fort Worth area. These studies have been critically important: they have not only led to a greater understanding of air pollution and more knowledgeable decision-making by the TCEQ, but they have also become an invaluable way to address community concerns, since many of these studies were originally requested by citizens. Additional studies are being planned for the Corpus Christi and Barnett Shale areas. (The Barnett Shale is a large natural gas reserve encompassing more than 5,000 square miles and covering at least 17 counties in North Texas.)

TexAQS 2000

In 2000, the TCEQ joined forces with over 40 research institutions and more than 250 scientists to conduct the Texas Air Quality Field Study 2000 (TexAQS 2000), a comprehensive research field study designed to shed new light on the complicated issues associated with air quality in the Houston-Galveston-Brazoria area and throughout East Texas.

TexAQS 2000 resulted in the TCEQ taking major steps to improve the reporting of emissions inventories from industrial sources along the Texas Gulf Coast region. The better inventories improved the computer-based predictive tools used to design air quality plans. An improved understanding of what contributes to high ozone in Houston helped the agency develop regulations to reduce smog-forming pollutants.


For the Texas Air Quality Field Study II (TexAQS II), conducted in 2005 and 2006, data was collected throughout the eastern portion of Texas from the Interstate 35 corridor eastward.

The results of this study have been useful in highlighting the importance of background air-pollution levels and the impact of air-pollution transport within Texas and between states. Analyses show that upwards of 50 percent of ozone pollution can be transported from outside the state. Understanding the transport effects is critical to explaining the challenge of addressing and attaining the recently proposed, more stringent federal ozone standard.

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