Our Blog

Thursday, February 27, 2020

Assessing Air Quality in Harris County and Future Endeavors

Back on the road to study

HARC Mobile Lab to assist in multiple studies in our region.

Upgrades to technology and rapid deployment capabilities enhance the lab’s reach.

HARC has an extensive track record of air quality research expertise. Over the past few decades, we have managed large scale air quality programs and campaigns, employed cutting edge monitoring technologies, and utilized innovative modeling and health impact analysis techniques. We have worked with research partners from national labs and universities to private consulting firms, industry, environmental groups, and regulators and government partners. These are all things that we continue to do as we grow our air quality program.

In the coming months, HARC will begin to take on the broad public engagement effort of an air quality assessment and monitoring project for Harris County Precinct 2. The project is undertaken in partnership with Harris County, specifically Commissioner Garcia’s Office and Harris County Pollution Control Services, also, Air Alliance Houston, which will help lead the project’s community engagement and outreach efforts.

Those broad stakeholder engagement efforts will include area residents, civic leaders and representatives, community groups, industry and all parties concerned about air quality and its impact on public health, economic development, and quality of life.

As part of the project, HARC will also analyze ambient air quality data from the area’s existing regulatory air quality monitors while identifying the area’s major emissions sources, including large-scale industrial facilities. Supplemental air quality monitoring will be undertaken utilizing HARC’s mobile air quality lab in those areas of concern identified as part of the project’s data and resource analysis efforts.

The HARC Mobile Air Quality Laboratory
The HARC mobile air quality lab consists of a Ford E-350 passenger van outfitted with several innovative technologies that allow it to measure air quality on a second-by-second basis. Key to its ability is the IONICON proton transfer reaction mass spectrometer (PTR-MS). This instrument allows for the fast measurement of various volatile organic compounds (VOC) to parts per billion (ppb) level sensitivity, including many air toxins such as benzene. The van is also equipped with air quality sensors for monitoring various criteria air pollutants such as ozone (O3), nitrogen oxides (NOx), and particulate matter (PM). The lab can be deployed rapidly and used remotely almost anywhere with vehicular access.

The mobile lab includes an ultrasonic anemometer to measure wind speed and direction along with temperature and humidity sensors. A global positioning system (GPS) provides speed and location data on the lab and its measurements. The mobile lab’s ability to simultaneously measure multiple gas concentrations, GPS coordinates, and wind velocity, combined with instantaneous Internet data uploads to a cloud server, makes possible real-time anywhere mapping and visualization of the measured results.

Future Research
For the Precinct 2 project, future efforts may include area-specific air quality and public health indicator development to further communicate complex data through easy-to-understand infographics; predictive modeling simulations; and web-based tools and interactive geographic data portals, including searchable/scalable mapping applications.

In the coming months, we will share information with you on our work assessing the possible air quality and public health impacts of the widening and deepening of the Houston Ship Channel. We will also begin to hopefully share some of our various forthcoming research efforts on vehicle emissions and air quality which include comprehensive analyses of the feasibility, emissions, and air quality attainment benefits, and electric power sector related issues and opportunities associated with largescale vehicular electrification scenarios across Texas.