News Roundup: Researchers Estimate Impact of Excess Emissions On Texans’ Health

Our daily look at Texas headlines.

By Becky FogelFebruary 16, 2018 1:11 pm

The Standard’s news roundup gives you a quick hit of interesting, sometimes irreverent, and breaking news stories from all over the state.

A study out this week finds that excess emissions from Texas industrial facilities, including oil fields and chemical plants, are a major contributor to pollution. Researchers at Indiana University Bloomington looked at Texas because it’s one of the few states in the country that measures this type of pollution.

One of the authors of the paper, published on Wednesday, is environmental economist Nikos Zirogiannis.

“Almost no other states – with a few exceptions, Louisiana and Oklahoma being two other states that also collect that information – almost no other state collects information on excess emissions, therefore we have no idea what’s happening in other states,” Zirogiannis says.

So what exactly is an excess emission? Industrial facilities have permits that allow them to release a certain amount of pollutants, but in some instances they release more than what is legally allowed.

“There are cases, usually during malfunctions or start-ups, or shutdowns, that a facility might exceed those permitted levels. Those emissions that go beyond that exceed the permitted levels the facilities have and those are these emissions we studied,” says Zirogiannis.

Zirogiannis and his fellow researchers found that between 2004 and 2015, excess emission events resulted in the release of over 100,000 tons of volatile organic compounds. Zirogiannis estimates these emissions cause roughly $150 million each year in negative health consequences. One form of pollution that can be the most harmful, he says, is particulate matter which is like a tiny speck of dust and is the size of about 1/70th the diameter of a human hair.

“So these tiny specks of dust can be inhaled by people,” Zirogiannis says. “They can lodge into our lungs or get into our blood stream and they can create respiratory problems and cardiovascular problems.”

He adds that Hurricane Harvey also led to excess emissions as industrial facilities had to shut down during the storm and then start back up again after rain and flooding subsided.

The Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) is reversing its decision to lay off more than 100 older troopers. Those troopers are employed under a program that allowed them to retire and then be rehired at the agency to collect a salary and retirement benefits.

The Texas Tribune reports the program began in 2002 when the agency was having trouble recruiting and retaining employees. In 2013, the agency phased out the effort after the Texas Legislature allowed DPS to offer troopers more competitive salaries. The 117 troopers who would have lost their jobs are holdovers from the retire/rehire program.

When the agency announced the cuts last year to meet budget requirements it faced backlash from some employees and lawmakers, which led to the change of heart. The troopers would have lost their jobs on May 31.

Several Texans have been nominated for best chef in the southwest.

Of the 20 regional chefs who are semifinalists for a James Beard Award, 12 are from Texas. They hail from Houston, Austin, Dallas, Pearland, Lexington, and San Antonio.

KERA News profiled the lone chef in this category from north Texas; Regino Rojas of Revolver Taco Lounge. Another well-known name on the list of semifinalists is Tootsie Tomanetz of Snow’s BBQ in Lexington, Texas. You can check out this profile from Texas Monthly here.

Texans also showed up in other categories including Best New Restaurant, Outstanding Baker, and Outstanding Pastry Chef. Finalists will be announced next month and the winners will be announced in May.