Mar 10, 2023 - News

Houston among top hot spots for air pollution

Photo of a skyline that is hazy. Forefront with greenery.

Hazy smog blankets Houston. Photo: Joe Raedle/Newsmakers/Getty

Houston, particularly central and east Houston, deals with some of the country's heaviest air pollution of fine particles known as PM2.5.

  • Houston areas ranked sixth worst in the nation, according to a new Guardian analysis of research from the University of Washington and Virginia Tech.

Why it matters: This type of fine-particle pollution can travel deep into the lungs and blood, increasing the risk of death from respiratory disease, heart attack and stroke, studies show.

Context: The area with the densest cloud of pollution is where numerous communities of color reside, near one of the nation's busiest ports and petrochemical processing centers, according to Robert Bullard, who is known as the father of environmental justice.

What they're saying: "The polluting facilities are all located in our neighborhoods," Bullard told The Guardian. "And then when we start looking at which communities are most likely to have elevated asthma, respiratory problems, diabetes, heart disease, stroke or COVID, it's like, 'Oh my God, it's the same map!' That's what we're mad about."

Plus: High levels of air pollution can negatively impact mental health, Meng Li, an associate professor at the Bauer College of Business at the University of Houston, told Houston Public Media.

  • "Air pollution can undermine people's mental health, and this impact becomes stronger as the duration of exposure to air pollution increases," Li said.

The bottom line: Neighborhoods with the highest pollution are most often those with the most people of color, lowest incomes and least access to health care.

  • Bullard said the geographic pattern constantly repeats itself in this country.

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