As Mother Nature relaxes her grip on the Lone Star State in the wake of a prolonged cold spell, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) is using its network of air monitors to assess air quality in communities across the state. While many of the air monitoring stations went offline due to power and/or communications related issues, all of the monitors were operational as of February 21.
TCEQ maintains a network of more than 200 air monitoring stations across the state that provide data needed to measure compliance with federal air quality standards and help determine the causes, nature, and behavior of air pollution, including concentrations of ozone and particulate matter. Each of the stations includes one or more samplers that measure for ozone, nitrogen oxides, particulate matter, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, lead, and air toxics.
“The monitors are especially important following severe weather events and disasters, when many petrochemical plants and other industrial facilities resume operations,” notes Craig Pritzlaff, Director of TCEQ’s Office of Compliance and Enforcement.
The agency’s Rapid Assessment Survey van, first used last fall in the aftermath of Hurricane Laura, began monitoring early this week in the Beaumont area. The vehicle, capable of measuring pollutants in real time while driving, allows TCEQ to quickly monitor air quality in neighborhoods and communities bordering industrial facilities. (See photos of TCEQ vans and other equipment in use in the aftermath of Hurricane Laura.) TCEQ will deploy additional vans with advanced mass spectrometers capable of sampling more than 1,000 pollutants, including air toxic compounds like benzene, toluene, xylene, and 1,3-butadiene, among others.
The shutdowns during winter storm may be considered unscheduled and therefore classified as emissions events, which are not permitted. The agency has specific requirements for reporting certain quantities of air emissions related to emissions events under its rules. Petrochemical plants and other facilities are required to report emissions incidents to TCEQ within 24 hours of discovery of the event in the State of Texas Environmental Electronic Reporting System (STEERS).
For more information on the severe cold weather event, visit TCEQ’s event response page.