Feb 8, 2024 - News

Houston to face EPA crackdown on fine particle pollution

Illustration of a person using a napkin with the seal of the president to wipe up soot.

Illustration: Gabriella Turrisi/Axios

The Environmental Protection Agency just tightened standards for tiny, pervasive soot particles from construction sites, smokestacks, tailpipes, wildfires and other sources.

Why it matters: Air quality in Harris County, with its factories and petrochemical plants, does not meet the revised standard, per the EPA.

The big picture: The Houston area is a hot spot for fine particle air pollution, and the new rules could impact new and existing development.

Driving the news: The agency is imposing a new annualized exposure mandate for fine particulates of 9 micrograms per cubic meter (µg/m3), down from the current 12 µg/m3 requirement, Axios' Ben Geman reports.

Threat level: Soot particle air pollution is dangerous and linked to asthma, irregular heartbeats, bronchitis, and even premature death in people with heart or lung disease, per the EPA.

  • Multiple studies show people of color face higher exposure to fine particulates.

Zoom in: The Houston area ranked sixth worst in the nation for air pollution of fine particles known as PM2.5, according to a Guardian analysis from last year.

Between the lines: Environmental groups called it an important public health move, while business groups, citing steady improvements in air quality, said more requirements again would throttle development and jobs.

What they're saying: "Houstonians have been forced to breathe harmful soot pollution for too long from too many sources," Jennifer Hadayia, executive director of Air Alliance Houston, said in a statement.

  • "This new standard will finally force a hard look at local measures to protect our health."

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