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Wear respirator
Report raises more questions about Texas pollution

Editorial
Waco Tribune

January 24,2005

It's not unusual for Texas to get an "F" on its air quality report card from the federal government.

Texas, a land known in song for its prairie skies wide and high, has a more modern reputation for having some of the most polluted air in the nation.

Adding to the state's reputation, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality has issued a new report saying the air is so toxic in some locations that breathing could cause cancer.

Texans who live in the areas identified by state regulators that contain hazardous airborne chemicals can only hope that the TCEQ report finally will spur regulators, lawmakers and industrial polluters to clean up the air.

Texas has both air and water pollution problems. In both cases, it is the TCEQ that is in charge of protecting the state and its people from harmful pollutants.

TCEQ officials recently adopted 60 recommendations to improve that agency's ability to enforce state and federal air and water quality standards.

That's an encouraging sign if only the agency matches its states goals with long-term commitment. State lawmakers also must give it the funding needed to strictly enforce pollution standards.

As it is now, only three other states pump more hazardous air pollutants into the environment. Experts agree: Texas has one of the worst records in the nation for regulating air pollution.

In an independent investigation of air quality in the Houston area, the Houston Chronicle reported TCEQ air quality regulators found the air so polluted near the Houston Ship Channel that they stopped occupying a monitoring van.

"It's either wear a respirator or leave it unmanned," Tim Doty, a TCEQ monitoring team leader told the Chronicle. He described nausea, headaches and sore throats for his staff when it tried to to man the computer and machines analyzing the air.

As usual, most of the worst areas are near the refineries and petrochemical plants in the Houston and Gulf Coast areas. There monitors found high concentrations of toxics such as benzene, butadiene and formaldehyde.

The Alliance for a Clean Texas and other environmental and public interest groups are calling on lawmakers to do more to ensure that Texans are protected from polluted air and water.

The 79th Legislature should increase TCEQ's budget and insist that stiff fines for polluting are accompanied by vigorous enforcement of strong standards.

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