Trouble in the Air: Texas’ health at risk with dirty air days in 2016

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Environment Texas Research and Policy Center

AUSTIN – As the Trump administration considers weakening federal air quality and global warming emissions standards, air pollution remains a threat to public health. According to a new report by Environment Texas Research & Policy Center, over 23 million people who make up the 20 main  metropolitan and micropolitan urban areas in Texas experienced at least 5 days of degraded air quality in 2016, increasing the risk of premature death, asthma attacks and other adverse health impacts.

Included in the 23 million are over 6.7 million people in the Houston metro area who experienced 85 days degraded air quality, over 2.4 million people in San Antonio Metro area who experienced 36 days of degraded air quality, and over 2 million people in the Austin metro area who experienced 46 days of degraded air quality in 2016.

“Even one day with polluted air is too many,” said Luke Metzger, Executive Director of Environment Texas. “To make dirty air days a thing of the past, we need to strengthen existing air quality protections and reduce future air pollution threats from global warming.”

For the report, Trouble in the Air: Millions of Americans Breathe Polluted Air, Environment Texas Research & Policy Center, Frontier Group and TexPIRG Education Fund reviewed Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) records of air pollution levels across the country, focusing on smog and particulate pollution – harmful pollutants that come from burning fossil fuels such as coal, diesel, gasoline and natural gas.

“Texas has a history of serious air pollution problems in its large urban centers due to millions of vehicles and the largest number of industrial plants in the nation with a majority sited close to cities such as Houston, Dallas, Fort Worth, San Antonio, El Paso, Austin, Corpus Christi, Texas City and others,” said Dr. Neil Carman, Clean Air Program Director for the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club. “Texas elected officials need to take action to cleanup industrial emissions and polluting vehicles.”

“There’s no safe level of exposure to smog and particulate pollution,” said Elizabeth Ridlington, Policy Analyst with Frontier Group and co-author of the report. “Even low levels of smog and particulate pollution are bad for health and can increase deaths.”

In Texas, 48% of smog-forming nitrogen oxides come from mobile sources such as cars and trucks, 20% from oil and gas production and refining, 13% from industrial sources and 9% from electricity generation.

These troubling findings come at a time when the Trump administration prepares to weaken the federal clean car standards, which cut pollution that threatens public health and adds to global warming. And just this week, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt announced the agency will review the federal ozone standard — a standard he sued to stop when he was Oklahoma’s attorney general.

“To protect our health, we must keep cutting smog, particulate pollution and global warming pollution,” said Metzger. “We must accelerate our progress, not hit the brakes on effective programs like the federal clean car standards.”


Environment Texas Research & Policy Center is dedicated to protecting our air, water and open spaces. We investigate problems, craft solutions, educate the public and decision-makers, and help the public make their voices heard in local, state and national debates over the quality of our environment and our lives.