Soot concentrations might not be as safe as feds say

Professor Al Armendariz of the Department of Environmental and Civil Engineering, who specializes in air quality issues, talks about potential hazards in Houston's air.

The Houston Chronicle

The amount of tiny particles in Houston's air might actually pose a health risk despite the federal government's recent decision to designate the region as safe.

Along the Houston Ship Channel, concentrations of soot — a mix of airborne matter from diesel exhaust, industrial flares and road grit, among other sources — exceeded the Environmental Protection Agency's annual limit from 2005 to 2007, according to the most recent federal data available.

But the region is considered in compliance because the EPA based its latest list of violators on the newly tightened daily standard, not the yearly benchmark, which has gone unchanged since 1997. That means Houston won't be required to reduce soot from the air.

Such pollution, much thinner than human hair, can reach the deepest parts of the lungs. Once there, scientists say, the particles might aggravate breathing problems or heart conditions and cause premature death. . .

Al Armendariz, a Southern Methodist University professor studying air pollution, said that even if the EPA throws out the days flagged by state regulators, "the particulate-matter levels in Houston are still hurting people. They're still above the scientific recommendation."

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