A new report by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) examining several high-profile emergency events, including Hurricane Laura and Winter Storm Uri, suggests that wide-scale regional deployment of agency personnel to conduct prolonged handheld air quality and mobile monitoring of affected areas during startup operations is often unnecessary. This finding is rooted in the fact that industrial facilities experiencing shutdowns and startups related to natural disasters do not restart their operations all at once, and that there is a scarcity of air quality impacts found in the data.
TCEQ staff derived data from several sources, including stationary air monitors, mobile monitoring vehicles, handheld instruments, and emissions reports. The report provides details on TCEQ air monitoring efforts following such incidents over varying lengths of time – at a minimum several days, and in some cases, depending on conditions and air quality measurements, for weeks or even months following the initial event. A key finding is that of the 3.6 million monitoring data points collected after hurricanes and other natural events, only 23 measurements were higher than a health-based comparison value.
However, the analysis does indicate that continued monitoring of air quality during and after an industrial incident with mobile vans and handheld devices will generally remain necessary.
“While each event is unique and TCEQ will tailor its response to meet specific conditions, data compiled in the analysis will be helpful in deploying resources more effectively,” says TCEQ Executive Director Toby Baker. “In the future, we’ll be able to more efficiently provide monitoring without pulling unnecessary resources away from our mission-critical activities across the state.”
TCEQ uses a variety of tools to assess air quality. The agency maintains a network of more than 200 stationary air monitors across the state, each of which can include one or more samplers that measure for ozone, nitrogen oxides, particulate matter, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, and lead, as well as air toxics such as benzene, toluene, and 1,3-butadiene. Network data can be viewed on the GeoTAM website.