Air quality remains concern in aftermath of Harvey

HOUSTON – The Environmental Protection Agency circled back on its monitoring of the quality of Houston's air after releasing a statement Sunday saying that "local residents should not be concerned about air quality issues related to the effects of the storm."

Even as the statement was released, the agency's AIRNow website showed the Houston area was under alert for ground-level ozone, a lung-damaging air pollutant, for a fourth day in a row.

“EPA said inaccurately and inappropriately that residents should not be concerned about the air quality around Houston," said Elena Craft in a written statement from the Environmental Defense Fund. "Although air quality monitoring remains limited after the storm, we are seeing high levels of ozone across the region, as well as high levels of air toxics in fence-line communities."

Craft said Houston had measurements of up to 15,000 parts per billion of smog-forming volatile organic compounds in and around the Valero refinery in East Houston's Manchester neighborhood, as well as other refineries in the region. She said the concentrations are at least 10 times higher than health officials deem safe.

Craft said the shutdowns and startups of oil refineries and chemical plants and Harvey-related damage have caused the released of more than 4 million pounds of hazardous pollutants, including ones that contribute to the formation of ozone.

"We can expect more air pollution as facilities reboot over the next month," Craft said. "Houston residents deserve an EPA that is thorough and precautionary in protecting the health of those in risk. This is a critical time for residents to pay attention to air quality as many people are working outside for long hours to clean up their homes and neighborhoods. Please stay vigilant.”

Editor's note: In an earlier version of this story, it was reported that Craft represented the EPA. The above story has been corrected.

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About the Author:

Dawn Jorgenson

Dawn is a Digital Content Editor who has been with Graham Media Group since April 2013. She graduated from Texas State University with a degree in electronic media and a minor in criminal justice.