State agency unveils new technology aimed at closing air quality monitoring gap

HOUSTON – Channel 2 Investigates uncovered a lapse in a safety net that so many of our communities depend on. A gap in air quality monitoring where dangerous chemicals could be released into the air.

Nearly two months after our report, the Texas Commission On Environmental Quality is unveiling new technology aimed at improving that effort.

Network of 200 Stationary Air Monitors

One of the criticisms has been, right before a hurricane rolls in, the fixed air monitoring stations would go offline when they’re needed most as plants and refineries burn off excess chemicals as they’re being shut down.

“They require putting towers up. The wind knocks down those towers or they get put underwater and then it shorts circuits everything so you’re talking about hundreds of thousands of dollars of equipment that’s fried like that,” said Toby Baker, TCEQ’s executive director

Strengthening The Safety Net

TCEQ’S response plan includes three new vans equipped with improved air monitoring technology that gives readings in real time and the ability to quickly analyze the results after a disaster in the areas around the Houston Ship Channel.

“Get real time data about the air, not just where our stationary air monitors are but all around the facility is going to be a game changer for us,” Baker said.

New Handheld Monitors

The TCEQ is also adding to its arsenal of handheld monitors that are used to measure the number of levels that are potentially harmful pollutants. The new monitors are specific to measuring benzene.

“As you probably know after any of these events one of the markers that we really look for and measure for is benzene because there are real health effects attached to that,” Baker said.

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