First, the good news. According to a report just released by the American Lung Association, the air in Dallas-Fort Worth has gotten considerably cleaner in recent years. The average number of days with unhealthy levels of ozone has been cut in half over the past decade, and the concentration of harmful airborne particulates has plummeted to the point that levels no longer pose a significant health risk. The Morning News pointed this out yesterday.
And now for the bad: The region's smog levels, while much improved, are still very, very high. High enough to pose a risk to the young and the elderly, to cause wheezing, coughing, shortness of breath, and asthma attacks. Also, the ALA study cites research linking elevated ozone levels to premature death.
DFW's air is bad enough to get an F from the ALA and earn the No. 8 spot on the ALA's list of smoggiest cities. And while things improved overall this decade, they've actually gotten slightly worse in the last two years. After years of dramatic declines, the number of days of dangerously high ozone ticked up slightly in that time period.
Downwinders at Risk's Jim Schermbeck has some suggestions as to why this might be the case. There are the old, smog-belching standbys like the East Texas coal plants and cement kilns in Midlothian; the natural gas wells that now populate North Texas; and there's generally lax oversight by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.
The ALA has some suggestions for helping improve air quality. It calls for cleaning up coal-fired power plants and limiting what they can belch into the air, improving pollution standards on cars and requiring cleaner gasoline. TCEQ doesn't seem eager to enforce stricter environmental rules, so it will be up to the EPA and grassroots advocacy.
The ALA does contain one additional spot of good news. The Houston area is No. 7 on the smog list, meaning they officially have the dirtiest air in Texas. Because of course they do.