Industrial pollution is still impacting Houston during the pandemic
After Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo issued a stay-home, work-safe order in late March, reducing the number of commuters on the region's roads, Dr. Gunnar Schade wondered whether the skies might begin to clear, as they have in Los Angeles and the northeastern U.S.
By early April, after his analysis of the region's air quality, Schade, an associate professor of atmospheric sciences at Texas A&M, tells 13 Investigates' Ted Oberg, "It doesn't seem like there's a huge change from before." Along with fine particulate matter, Schade says that industry was still emitting nitrogen oxide, a pollutant that can aggravate asthma and cause respiratory issues. Oberg reports, "The primary drivers of pollutants ... aren't necessarily the traffic, but the dozens of plants that line the [Ship Channel]."
Even though the Environmental Protection Agency began waiving enforcement of noncompliance for routine reporting and monitoring during the pandemic and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality began exercising "discretion," the communities who live near this air pollution remain at risk.
These communities can't waive their concern for their health and safety, and they need protection and enforcement, Dr. Grace Tee Lewis, health scientist with the Environmental Defense Fund, tells Oberg. "When air quality is worse for those susceptible groups, then that makes their ability to respond to illnesses more difficult. It's not fair to them that they live on a daily basis with the burden of their environmental situation and now have to be even more susceptible to this pandemic."
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