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HARC Research Analyzes Effects of COVID-19 on Air Quality

Posting Date: 
Tuesday, April 28, 2020

HOUSTON, TX – HARC (Houston Advanced Research Center) announces research analysis to study effects of COVID-19, associated stay-at-home orders, and the subsequent effects on air quality. Specifically, the changes in air quality measuring nitrogen oxides (NOx); benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, xylene (BTEX); and ground-level ozone (O3).

“In follow up to our mobility analysis, HARC researchers are analyzing the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, related social distancing measures, and effects on air quality in regional, statewide and national contexts.” said Lisa Gonzalez, President and CEO of HARC. “Results vary by region and are interesting; while most pollutants are reduced, there are still intensified formation and higher readings of some other air pollutants.”

Air quality monitoring stations from six Texas metro areas (and at a county level separately), and seven major US metro areas provided data for the analysis. The stations were selected based on EPA's AirNow database which is included in but limited to TCEQ's Continuous Ambient Monitoring Station (CAMS) network. The number of stations is different in each metro area and for each pollutant.

NOx analysis took place in Harris County, with six stations near Houston Ship Channel, and three additional scattered throughout Harris County.

The air quality analysis is led by Dr. Mustapha Beydoun, HARC’s Vice President and Chief Operations Officer, Dr. Ebrahim Eslami, a Post-Doctoral Research Scientist, Air Quality and Dr. Meredith Jennings, a Postdoctoral Research Scientist in Community Resilience. Results of the analysis are posted in a summary document online.

“Air quality analysis is complex, and many variables including meteorology and extensive historic datasets are being studied for this project,” states Dr. Mustapha Beydoun. “An interesting finding is that while BTEX, NOx, and ozone concentrations dropped, quite dramatically in many areas, we found interesting peculiarities with respect to particulate matter (PM2.5) levels in some of our Texas urban areas. As our PM2.5 research is ongoing, we will share those results in the coming weeks. Our research will culminate in a community toolkit analyzing the impacts locally, then regionally, then statewide and on to a national analysis.”

Researchers at HARC are analyzing data describing regional air quality and transportation to determine the extent of regional and statewide changes due to COVID-19 and the resulting stay-at-home orders. In the coming weeks, HARC will work to gather and share this information broadly. Please visit HARCresearch.org/covid19 to learn more.