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News

Findings may lead to more effective regulations for protecting public health

DOE/Brookhaven National Laboratory : 27 May, 2007  (Technical Article)
Using data from one of the most comprehensive U.S. air pollution studies ever conducted, scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy
Specific efforts to control these industrial emissions of VOCs might be necessary to control Houston’s ozone problem, say the authors, whose findings will appear in an upcoming issue of Geophysical Research Letters.

“A clear understanding of the complex causes of ozone pollution will help to identify cost-effective ways to control smog and protect public health,” said atmospheric chemist Larry Kleinman, one of the lead Brookhaven researchers on the study.

Traditional efforts to control ozone have focused on limiting emissions of precursor chemicals such nitrogen oxides and/or volatile organic compounds, which are emitted from automobiles, power plants, and other industrial sources and form ozone when they react with sunlight in Earth’s atmosphere. But despite improvements in air quality due to more stringent emission standards, many areas still exceed ozone standards.

Ninety two air-sampling flights were conducted in the five-city study. On 13 flights, ozone concentration exceeded the 120 parts per billion federal standard set by the Environmental Protection Agency to protect human health. Nine of those flights were in Houston. These results agree with data collected by the EPA at ground level. Over the past five years, 15 of the highest 25 ozone concentrations recorded in all of the U.S. were in the Houston-Galveston area.

“We found that most of Houston resembles other urban areas in its concentration of ozone precursors and ozone production rates,” said Daum. “The industrial Houston Ship Channel region, however, the location of one of the largest petrochemical complexes in the world, has a distinctive chemistry,” he said. There, very high concentrations of VOCs not seen in the other cities, nor in the other parts of Houston, specifically ethene, propene, and butanes, lead to excessive production of ozone.

“Calculations based on the aircraft measurements show that the ozone production rate in the Houston Ship Channel region can be as much as five times higher than occurs in the other four cities or in nonindustrial parts of Houston,” said Kleinman. “This extra kick in the photochemistry is a direct result of the high concentrations of VOCs emitted by industrial facilities.”

This work was funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, which supports basic research in a variety of scientific fields; the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; and the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission.
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