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TCEQ Continues Air Monitoring Following Severe Cold Weather

 

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 is utilizing 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 Sunday.

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, and lead, as well as air toxics such as benzene, toluene, and 1,3-butadiene.

Special equipment for extraordinary circumstances

“The monitors are especially important following severe weather events and disasters, when many petrochemical plants and other industrial facilities resume operations,” said 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, will begin monitoring Monday morning 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 LauraExit the TCEQ.)

In the coming days, TCEQ will deploy additional mobile air monitoring 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 agency’s regional offices also have begun deploying investigators manned with handheld monitors capable of taking instantaneous readings of pollutants that reflect air quality at a particular location, Pritzlaff noted.

Plant shutdowns and startups

TCEQ issues permits to facilities that include special conditions and emissions limits that cover planned or scheduled shutdowns and startups.

The shutdowns that occurred due to the 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), which is available to the general public through the Air Emission Event Report Database on the TCEQ website. An initial notification contains estimated emissions.

For more information on this severe cold weather event, visit TCEQ’s event response page. Updates and tips will also be posted to Facebook and Twitter.