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TCEQ continues monitoring air quality, other conditions, in aftermath of Hurricane Laura

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality continues to monitor air quality and other conditions in Southeast Texas in the aftermath of Hurricane Laura.

On Friday, Aug. 28, TCEQ deployed a mobile monitoring van, equipped with advanced rapid assessment survey technology, to report air quality data in real-time. The survey van has conducted multiple in-transit surveys for hydrogen sulfide, sulfur dioxide, benzene, toluene, styrene, and 1,3-butadiene in neighborhoods near industrial facilities in Beaumont, Port Arthur, Port Neches, and Groves. 

To date, TCEQ’s mobile monitoring surveys have not detected concentrations of concern.

TCEQ also has deployed handheld air monitoring equipment to the area and requested the EPA to utilize its Aerial Spectral Photometric Environmental Collection Technology aircraft and Trace Atmospheric Gas Analyzer mobile laboratory. The TAGA was mobilized Saturday, and the ASPECT deployed Friday. The Texas National Guard’s Texas 6th Civil Support Team is assisting TCEQ’s Emergency Management staff with handheld monitoring and command control support.

The agency continues to monitor air quality to assess any potential impacts to human health and the environment. If a threat posed by air quality requires a public response, such as sheltering in place, those orders will be issued by local government leaders or the local emergency response authority.

Stationary Ambient Air Quality Monitors

By Friday evening, all stationary monitoring stations in Houston were returned to operational status. Monitoring stations in the Beaumont-Port Arthur-Orange area with available power also were returned to operational status by midday Saturday. As of Monday, Aug. 31, five stations (two in Beaumont-Port Arthur and three in Orange) remain without power.

Stationary air monitors are not designed to withstand hurricane-force winds and were taken offline Tuesday, Aug. 25, and secured prior to Hurricane Laura’s landfall. TCEQ’s policy is to secure the stations or move them out of harm’s way and return them after the storm has passed.

TCEQ is updating the status of its monitors on the Air Monitoring webpage, including a running list of stations as they come back online, as well as those remaining offline due to power outages or damage.

Temporary Suspension of TCEQ rules

On Wednesday, Aug. 26, TCEQ received approval from Gov. Greg Abbott’s office for temporary suspension of certain rules in advance of Hurricane Laura’s landfall. Given that Texas did not sustain widespread devasting impacts from the storm, this suspension will be short-term in duration.

The suspension remains in place today, as some facilities who lost power are still in start-up mode.

The suspension applies only to certain TCEQ rules that may hinder facilities from responding to this severe weather event and is limited to those counties in the governor’s Aug. 23 disaster proclamation. Facilities are still required to do all they can to minimize any impacts from a spill or emission release and must thoroughly document their actions. The rule suspension is designed to provide flexibility in prioritizing disaster response activities.

In addition to continued air quality monitoring, TCEQ initiated emergency response plans for safe drinking water, critical water infrastructure, wastewater and sewage, and Superfund sites.

Drinking Water System Assessments

TCEQ’s Office of Water has contacted public water system operators in affected areas to assess the operational status of public water systems.

Initial assessments have been completed for all 171 drinking water systems in seven counties, including Hardin, Jasper, Jefferson, Newton, Orange, Sabine, and San Augustine.

As of Monday evening, Aug. 31, the status of the 171 systems is as follows:

  • 128 are operational (47 of which are on generators).
  • 26 are not operational (21 of which have no grid power). 
  • 10 systems are marked as unknown because at present they are inaccessible.
  • 7 systems are considered non-public entities because they no longer meet the definition of a Public Water System.

In addition, 32 public water systems are under a Boil Water Notice.

Agency personnel will deploy staff as necessary to assist operators in restoring systems to normal operating conditions as quickly and safely as possible.

Critical Water Infrastructure

TCEQ’s Critical Infrastructure Division has contacted the owners of the two large dams in East Texas near the path of the hurricane. There was no damage reported.

Wastewater and Sewage

The TCEQ Water Quality Division has assisted the agency's Region 10 office in Beaumont by contacting 62 wastewater operators in Hardin, Jasper, Jefferson, Newton, Orange, Sabine, San Augustine, and Tyler counties. Initial assessments after the storm indicated no structural damage to these facilities.

Numerous wastewater treatment plants are operating on generators until power from the local electric grid is restored in their area. TCEQ staff will continue to work with wastewater operators as needed to provide technical assistance and support.

Superfund Sites

There were no major impacts noted at state Superfund sites in the affected area. 

TCEQ asks that anyone who has a specific concern about an emission source or potentially unhealthy air quality in the aftermath of Hurricane Laura to contact the agency at 1-888-777-3186 or or fill out our online reporting form.

For the most up-to-date information on TCEQ’s response to Hurricane Laura, visit our Hurricane Laura Response webpage and follow us on Twitter and Facebook.