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Air quality improving in Port Arthur
PORT ARTHUR - by Lauren Huet
Air quality is improving in Port Arthur, according to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ). The TCEQ removed Port Arthur from its Air Pollutant Watch List because for the past five years benzene emissions have dropped below the level that qualifies cities for the list.
The Southeast Texas Regional Planning Commission and the TCEQ have air monitor sites across Southeast Texas.
"So, we can show over the last ten or fifteen years that significant emission reductions have taken place at our region at the area industries that are documented through the air monitoring data," said the Director of the Transportation and Environmental Resource Department of the Southeast Texas Regional Planning Commission, Bob Dickinson.
That includes reductions in benzene. Over the past five years, benzene concentrations have been below 1.4 parts per billion, which is why the TCEQ removed Port Arthur from its Air Pollutant Watch List. Port Arthur Mayor Deloris "Bobbie" Prince says it's a huge positive for the city.
"What it does is it increases the healthy lifestyles of the people here. Not only the people of Port Arthur, but the surrounding cities that are affected by industry," said Mayor Prince.
Dickinson says industries are making an effort to reduce emissions.
"When they build a new facility," said Dickinson, "they put in more sophisticated environmental technology, and it makes the units run more efficiently, and they're able to reduce emissions. In other words, they shut down an older unit and build a newer technology driven unit."
"Industry has come along way in either changing out some of their equipment or retrofitting some so they don't emit as much," said Mayor Prince.
Prominent Port Arthur environmentalist Hilton Kelley says he's happy benzene emissions are lower, but believes Port Arthur should remain on the Air Pollutant Watch List. He says, because Port Arthur has so much industry, there is always the danger of an emission event. He's afraid if the city is no longer on the list, people will be less vigilant about monitoring benzene emissions.
Dickinson says both the TCEQ and the Southeast Texas Regional Planninc Commission will continue to monitor benzene levels in Southeast Texas.
"To protect the health of the citizens in the Port Arthur community and as well as the rest of the Southeast Texas regions," said Dickinson, "we're continuing to do our air monitoring and to maintain that database of air quality data."
Data that shows the air quality has improved over the last ten years.
"I believe it will bring people in," said Mayor Prince. "People don't want to come to a city that's polluted. It will bring more economic development here into the city of Port Arthur, so we're hoping those things occur as a result of being taken off that list."
Every twelve days, the Southeast Texas Regional Planning Commission's Environmental Resource Department tests for 52 different toxic compounds, and shares its data with the TCEQ.