Ozone, Lung Disease, and Houston’s Air Quality Ranking

Today on Discovery News I found this article: Ozone Linked to Deadly Lung Disease. The article was pretty interesting, explaining that long-term exposure to high ozone levels dramatically increases the risk for lung cancer and other respiratory diseases.

On days when ozone levels are high, breathing can be difficult and exercising outdoors is usually discouraged. Now research shows that breathing in the gas year in and year out can lead to chronic and deadly lung disease.

A study of nearly half a million people found that the risk of dying from lung disease went up by as much as 50 percent in cities with the highest levels of ozone. Repeated daily exposures to even moderate levels of ozone proved far worse than occasional exposure to high levels.

It is the first study to look at the effects on the lungs of breathing in ozone, day after day, year after year. And it suggests that current regulations may be missing the mark.

Curious, I checked to see how Houston stacks up against other cities, and was disappointed to find we came in as theĀ  #4 worst offender for ozone in 2008.

25 Worst Cities for Ozone in 2008
  1. Los Angeles
  2. Bakersfield
  3. Visalia
  4. Houston
  5. Fresno
  6. Sacramento
  7. Dallas
  8. New York City
  9. D.C./Baltimore
  10. Baton Rouge
  11. Philadelphia
  12. Atlanta
  13. Charlotte
  1. San Diego
  2. St. Louis
  3. Beaumont
  4. Merced
  5. El Centro
  6. Phoenix
  7. Kansas City
  8. Modesto
  9. Birmingham
  10. Las Vegas
  11. Chicago
  12. Hanford

That’s pretty uncool to say the least. So what is Houston doing about it? Apparently not a lot. I spent a while digging around for information about air quality improvement efforts in Houston, and all I was able to find was this page from the city that looks like it was last updated in the 90′s. No discussion of any real effort to promote change. I spent a while digging around various news archives, and the most recent local news I could find on the topic was this report from Houston Business Journal in 2007, which only stated that the air here is pretty bad, and had no mention of any effort to change that.

Finally I recalled that HGAC has a main section of its website branded “Transportation and Air Quality“, which I thought I’d check out. From their information what I can see is that they’re doing a lot to study and monitor air quality, but again very little is being done to improve this.

So, if air quality is a serious public health issue, why does no one seem to talk about it? HGAC offers the simplest explanation by placing their Air Quality page together with transportation. The facts are simple. When it comes to air pollution, the worst offender is the cumulative emmissions of our cars. Nobody in the US is giving serious thought to changing our automobile-based transportation system, and as long as that remains our policy, there is little we can hope to do to improve air quality. Sure we can keep dreaming that someday we’ll all drive electric cars, or that California-esque emissions standards will become law everywhere.

But all those technological shifts eventually result in a marked increase in the already outrageous personal cost of owning a car. Alternative concepts intended to use the current road system (like electric cars with battery swap stations, or PRT systems where cars drive themselves to and from pick-up/drop-off areas) are still well outside the current realities of our economy, and until a dramatic shift in transportation paradigm occurs, the problem of poor air quality and its related health costs isn’t going away.


Posted: Monday, March 16th, 2009 at 11:42 am
Categories: featured, sustain
Tags: , , , , , ,
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One Comment

  1. “When it comes to air pollution, the worst offender is the cumulative emmissions of our cars.”

    If this is the case, then why are Bakersfield, Modesto, Fresno, Visalia, and El Centro having such a problem? These are agrarian areas with miles of orchards, cotton fields, grapes, etc. and very little population density.

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