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Houston Air Pollution Essay


Air pollution is one of the forms of pollution that affect the environment negatively. Air pollution results from chemical emissions from companies and human actions that pose health risks to individuals as well as to the environment. Furthermore, air pollution may destruct the ozone layer leading to global warming.

Though pollution is virtually everywhere, the paper focuses on Houston, one of the major cities is the US that have unacceptable levels of pollutants that pose health risks to the lives of people, plants, and animals. It addresses the sources of pollution in general besides identifying a major air pollutant in Houston. Further, the paper will present the various bodies put in place to fight air pollution in Houston.

Sources of Air Pollution

In Houston, various sources of pollutants cause negative effects to the environment and human beings. Sources of these emissions include toxic pollutants, which are emitted to the environment from chemical manufacturing facilities that surpass 400 in number in Houston (Donaldson et al., 2004, p. 3).

Two among the four largest refinery companies in the US include the port of Houston and the Petroleum Complex both of which are located along the Houston Ship Channel in Houston. Other companies that contribute to these emissions include dry cleaners, printing processes, coating process, restaurants, gas stations, gasoline fueled lawn maintenance equipment, and charcoal barbecues amongst others.

Other important sources of these pollutants are tailpipe emissions that come from trucks, buses, and cars. These emissions are spread to the air. Often, they are inhaled by human beings unknowingly.

Other particles from emissions diffuse into the air. These emissions from these companies have negative implications to the ozone layer in the higher atmosphere. When this layer is impaired by the particles, it becomes a health hazard causing global warming, which increases temperatures on the earth surface.

Air Pollutants

In Houston, various air pollutants cause environmental pollution. These air pollutants include “fine particular matter, 1-3 butadiene, the Ozone, asbestos, chromium VI, diesel particle matter, nine hazardous air pollutants, chlorine and hexamethylene diisocyanate, ethylene dibromide, acrolein, benzene, acrylonitrile, acrolein and formaldehyde” (Donaldson et al., 2004, p. 3) amongst others.

The Ozone air pollutant has high effects on the environment as well as on the health of the people, as revealed next.

The Ozone

The Ozone is one of the air pollutants that have raised a lot of concern in Houston for a number of years. The Ozone is a form of gas that usually reacts under the influence of light. Ozone is a two-fold substance implying that it has two layers: one in the high atmosphere and the other one at the ground level that is mostly considered as a pollutant. This air pollutant continues to affect the health of people in the city of Houston.

Measures have been put in place to ensure that the prevalence of ozone gas is minimized. Therefore, the danger inherent in this air pollutant has triggered relevant stakeholders to come up with ways of reducing its levels in the environment (Lezon, 2012, p. 2). The most dangerous areas are Brazoria and Galveston in Houston.

What compelled the issuance of this alert were the atmospheric conditions that indicated that Ozone pollution was in the offing. The Ozone is categorized as a definite risk in Houston because it surpasses the required standards of 8ppm (Donaldson et al., 2004, p. 6). The ratings indicated that it has the highest potential of causing air pollution.

It is among the critical causes of respiratory and cardiovascular diseases that affect people in Houston. Thus, it is an issue that Houston should be concerned about and work hard to bring its level down. The Ozone appears in two forms. One is formed in the atmosphere while the other is formed on the ground level called tropospheric.

The ground level ozone is formed from the interaction of volatile organic compounds (VOCs)/Oxygen, nitrogen oxides, and the solar energy. For the Ozone to be formed, the most favorable conditions include high temperatures, low speed of the wind, and a low cloud cover (Green Facts, 2012, Para. 2). Surprisingly, Houston reveals all the conditions. The Ozone shields the higher layers of the atmosphere.

It protects people on the ground from the high levels of ultra violet radiations that emanate from the sun. These rays are very strong, as they cause health effects when people, plants, and animals are exposed to them. Furthermore, the ground level ozone is formed from other pollutants. It is able to react with other substances when exposed to light (Lezon, 2012, p. 2).

Concentration of the Ozone is mostly higher under the aforementioned conditions. In most instances, busy urban centers of Houston experience low concentrations while suburban adjacent rural areas usually experience higher concentrations of ozone. This scenario is mostly exhibited during sunny summers in Houston.

The Ozone formation varies across cities and the time of the day (Green Facts, 2012, Para. 5). Usually, peak occurs in the afternoons. Ozone is air borne. It is “transportable over a long distance through the air and across the borders” (Hackney, 2010, p. 639). Therefore, the pollutant may affect many people following it capacity to cover wide distance.


Houston city is one of the cities in Texas that have been affected by high levels of Ozone. Environmental protection agency has been in the forefront trying to ensure that all areas and regions in the US remain clean. The enactment of the clean air act was one of the efforts by the EPA to ensure that all regions are free from any form of pollution.

Therefore, in line with this act, various standards have been set up by EPA to ensure that air pollution is minimized. Some of these standards were aimed at reducing the ground level ozone, which has had significantly tampered with the lives of people in Houston. The standards of the Ozone have taken quite some time for Houston to implement.

The notable reasons for the delayed enactments are the variability of emissions in the city. Efforts in Houston seemed to bear fruits in the last 35 years because of adherence to the strict control measures. The clean air act that came into effect in 1970 besides the subsequent amendments to the act has contributed to reduction of the Ozone levels in Houston during the period (Donaldson et al., 2004, p. 5).

However, the level of ozone is feared to have increased after the year 2000 because of various reasons. There is much concern that the issue may become unbearable. This is a worrying path even as the population of Houston continues to increase each day. For this trend to be managed, experts and concerned parties need to collaborate and find the way forward.

Identification of every particular pollutant that poses health effects to people should be investigated and dealt with. For instance, the efforts put in place by the Environmental Protection Agency should be stepped up with regulations and standards being put in place for the state to comply. This will ensure reduction of these pollutants thus making the city of Houston a place that every person will desire to visit.


The source of Ozone is the high temperature that causes the higher atmospheric layer to be prone to ultra violet rays. This layer is important in deterring sunrays from reaching the earth. On the ground level, sources of Ozone emanate from air pollutions and other substances that are toxic in the air. The interaction of these substances causes the effects of Ozone (Coleman, 2012, p.3640).

Furthermore, low speed of wind and low cloud covers contribute to the high Ozone levels. This therefore implies that the level of pollution emitted to the air through combustion of substances and chemicals emitted from industries play a crucial role in exacerbating the effects of Ozone.

Therefore, human actions may play a key role in the Ozone air pollution. Studies have revealed that exposure of the Ozone to nitric oxide helps to reduce the levels of the pollutant. This qualifies as one of the strategies that need to be employed to reduce the high concentration of the Ozone, as well as its effects. The Ozone pollutant also results from the meteorological patterns and conditions in Houston.

For instance, between the month of April and that of October, the climate is usually warm and sunny characterized by quiescent breezes that cause the ground level to build up air pollutants that concentrate and cause health effects. Furthermore, high ozone levels are caused by wind especially when it rotates continuously. The Ozone is transported from one place to another as the wind propels.

The wind taps unmoving air in the towns hence transporting it to other areas (Darby, 2005, p. 1788). This therefore makes it difficult to control the spread of the Ozone pollutant.

Apart from the major companies dealing with emissions, other small aggregate airborne emissions have emanate from many other small sources that are spread in Houston such as gasoline-fueled lawn machine maintenance equipment and surface coating processes amongst many others.

Managing the Ozone pollutant

Managing the Ozone pollutant has turned out to be a very complex process for policy makers. However, if they want to deal with the solution amicably, they need to trade off between the cost of ensuring that the problem is solved and or whether the problems should continue affecting the health of the people.

Because of the many air pollutants that are in Houston, policy makers should make decisions implicitly or explicitly to determine which pollutants pose higher health risks to be able to strategize on ways to manage them.

Consequences of exposure: Health Risks

Various consequences are brought by high exposures to the Ozone. These consequences may affect human beings, plants, and animals. According to Donaldson et al (2004), protection of the health of Houstonians from the effects of environmental pollution and other health risks has always been the agenda and the central goal of the city of Houston (p. 3).

The city adopted various measures to ensure that health of people of Houston is upheld (Green Facts, 2012, Para. 2). These measures include setting up of standards concerning emissions in the environment, requiring the sources of pollutions to limit their levels of emissions, and educating members of the public on the required actions to take to protect their own health besides ensuring that they limit environmental pollution.

These measures have been achieved because the city has experienced a number of risky health implications. Various health risks are associated with the Ozone air pollutant. The consequences of exposure in Houston are evident in the health of those who have been exposed to it.

The vulnerable populations include people who are more sensitive to air pollutants and those with a genetic predisposition, young children, old people who have developed increased sensitivity due to various diseases, environmental and socio-economic factors, and those who are exposed to extremely high levels of air pollutants (City of Houston, 2012, Para. 2).

People who are exposed to the short-term Ozone usually suffer from respiratory diseases, lung, and eye problems. The Ozone level further “increases the level of susceptibility to allergens that are inhaled” (Hackney, 2010, p. 638). When individuals are exposed to the Ozone for longer periods, relatively low concentrations of ozone may affect the functionality of their lungs.

According to Donaldson et al, from the Environmental Protection Agency, many health problems are caused by exposure to high ozone levels (2004, p. 8). He noted that the Ozone poses health problems to children, the elderly, and healthy adults. Asthma is one of the health effects of exposure to high ozone levels. It also causes acute respiratory problems when a person inhales air that is polluted with high levels of Ozone.

It also aggravates emphysema and bronchitis besides impairing the immune system defenses of an individual (Hackney, 2010, p. 639). The other effects of over exposure to high levels of ozone may make an individual have other complications in the body that may make him/her a frequent visitor of health facilities and hospitals.

Ozone Standards under the Clean Air Act

The clean air act requires the environmental protection agency to set standards and regulations that should be adopted to ensure that air pollution is minimized. The clean air act requires standards to be established to limit exposure of potentially harmful pollutants in the environment. Six criteria pollutants have been set up by EPA to ensure that environment in various cities, Houston included, is kept clean.

The six criteria standards include “particulate matter, ground level ozone also called smog, lead, Sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, and carbon monoxide” (Lisa, 2012, p. 30088). So far, most of the standards concerning the pollutants have been met successfully by the Houston city. However, the ground level ozone is the only one remaining to be successfully met.

Efforts are underway under the hospice of EPA to revise the standards concerning the Ozone. The proposed plan is to phase out one-hour standard approach to replace it with eight-hour approach to the menace. Since the establishment of the standards, Houston did not comply. Rather, it indicated in its states implementation plan (SIP) that it was planning to attain the standards by the end of 2007, which was the deadline.

Under the one-hour standards that had been set by EPA, every region of the country was not supposed to exceed 125 parts per billion (Schade, Khan, Park, & Boedeker, 2011, p. 1070). Therefore, to be compliant, Houston was not required to exceed this threshold of 125 ppb on three days and more so in three years consecutively.

Ozone Eight-Hour Standards

This was among the new EPA standards that were aimed at reducing the level of Ozone in all regions of the United States, Houston included. Under these new standards, the region is deemed not to have complied with the standards if the average of the fourth highest figures of the Ozone recorded in three consecutive years is more or equal to 85 ppb (Ngan & Byun, 2011, p. 485).

Under these standards, if any area or region under a state fails to meet the standards, the state is supposed to recommend EPA to the particular area to ensure that urgent measures are instituted to change them or reverse the trend. A plan must be submitted to EPA providing a way out on how the state will ensure that that area’s level of the Ozone is back to the normal threshold (City of Houston, 2012, Para. 2).

Reasons for High Levels of Ozone in Houston and its Persistent Inability to meet the Standards

One of the reasons behind the continued increase in the Ozone levels in Houston is because Houston is different from other cities in the US. The daily emissions in Houston vary. This variation is due to the different chemical industries that emit pollutions (Sexton, et al., 2007, p. 1388).

Most areas where the Ozone is experienced exemplify a diurnal pattern since the level of the Ozone rises in the morning hours peaking during the middle of the day though it falls in the evenings because temperatures are low. Most of the emissions from industries and stationery sources of emissions are constant thus leading to high level of the Ozone at the ground level.

Houston has the leading petrochemical base compared to other city in the US. This contributes to high levels of Ozone. It has large reactive volatile organic compounds such as low molecular weight olefins including butylenes, ethylene, propylene, and 1,3 butadiene that contribute to the high levels of the Ozone emissions.


There is a need for the state to adapt effective models that will ensure that Houston city deals with the high levels of Ozone. The models should be accurate and dependable to guarantee positive results. Prediction of the levels of Ozone in the future using meteorological data is difficult. This revelation may lead to false prediction hence making the problem even worse.

The emission models that are used are based on calculated estimates and not real time monitoring. Stakeholders need to be involved in the efforts to reduce high ozone levels in the environment. Community round table negotiations are very important in creating awareness about the various ways that they can help in its reduction. The community as a whole should be involved in the air quality issues in general.

They should be involved in the decision making process in matters concerning environmental conservation in Houston. For instance, the community should be informed on the likely causes of these high ozone levels.

Therefore, measures such as banning of early morning lawn care can help in minimizing the levels of emissions. Therefore, cooperation between the public, industries, and regulatory communities is essential in ensuring that the targets set are attained and the environment is kept clean.


Air pollution is one of the problems that face many countries especially those that depend on industries for their production of goods. Houston state is one of the states in the US that are devoted to ensuring that they adhere to the environmental conservation regulations. The environmental Protection Agency has also played a central role in ensuring that Houston city adopts and abides by the standards set in the clean air act.

Despite having many industries that pollute the environment, the state is concerned with the welfare of its people. Adequate measures have been put in place to ensure that the rate of emission is reduced.

The Ozone levels have negative health implications ranging form lung diseases, respiratory diseases, and visual impairments. Therefore, there is a need for the state to adopt the standards set to ensure that the health implications emanating from the Ozone effects are mitigated.

They should engage all stakeholders in the state including communities, industry owners, and even government to seal a deal that would help to reduce emissions. It is not good news for the people of Houston to discover that their state is among the worst affected states in terms of the levels of Ozone.

Nevertheless, if appropriate polices are established, with the state of Houston working together with the Environmental Protection Agency, it will ensure that the high levels of the Ozone are reduced thus helping in enhancing the health of the people of Houston.

Reference List

City of Houston. (2012). . Web.

Coleman, S. (2012). Approval and Promulgation of Air Quality Implementation Plans; Texas; Determination of Failure To Attain the 1-Hour Ozone Standard. Federal Register, 77(118), 36400-36403.

Darby, L. (2005). Cluster Analysis of Surface Winds in Houston, Texas, and the Impact of Wind Patterns on Ozone. Journal of Applied Meteorology, 44(12), 1788-1806.

Donaldson, G. et al. (2004). , Rice University campus. Web.

Green Facts. (2012). . Web.

Hackney, R. (2010). Do not Mess with Houston, Texas: The Clean Air Act and State/Local Preemption. Texas Law Review, 88(3), 639-668.

Lezon, D. (2012). , September 11. 2012. Web.

Lisa, J. (2012). Air Quality Designations for 2008 Ozone National Ambient Air Quality Standards. Federal Register, 77(98), 30088-30160.

Ngan, F., & Byun, D. (2011). Classification of Weather Patterns and Associated Trajectories of High-Ozone Episodes in the Houston–Galveston–Brazoria Area during the 2005/06 TexAQS-II. Journal of Applied Meteorology & Climatology, 50(3), 485-499.

Schade, G., Khan, S., Park, C., & Boedeker, I. (2011). Rural Southeast Texas Air Quality Measurements during the 2006 Texas Air Quality Study. Journal of the Air & Waste Management Association (Air & Waste Management Association), 61(10), 1070-1081.

Sexton, K. et al. (2007). Comparative Assessment of Air Pollution-Related Health Risks in Houston. Environmental Health Perspectives, 115(10), 1388-1393.

Appendix: Formation of ozone gas

Formation of ozone gas

Source: Queensland Government EPA.

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