By Gabriel Durham
Oct. 9 marked the continuation of the Sustainability Meetup series presented by the University of Houston Office of Sustainability. With the mission of making it “easier for people interested in sustainability issues to connect with each other and learn,” this event was focused on bringing people together with shared concern over Houston’s air quality.
A long-time champion for clean air in Houston, Air Alliance Houston was the featured partner and its Director of Operations Paige Powell provided a lecture on air pollution, public health and environmental justice. She has been a life-long advocate for public health, education and the environment. She is a certified public manager and received a bachelor’s degree in economics from the University of Houston. Her work has brought her to the nexus of Houston’s energy economy and air pollution for surrounding communities.
“We all know a lot of emissions are the byproduct of energy production, and as energy capital of the world, we are a direct contributor of ozone and other air toxics,” Powell said during her presentation.
It’s not just energy production that contributes to Houston’s clean air challenges. She also explained that the Port of Houston – one of the largest in the world – is also expected to see a 40 percent increase in certain forms of shipments in the next 10 years. The ships that deliver these goods bring emissions as well to add to the full spectrum.
A surprising fact was that event recycling in Houston can contribute to air quality woes.
“Metal recycling facilities actually throw a lot of particulate metal into the air when they crush up large quantities of metal. Some of these are small enough to get into your lungs and blood stream,” Powell said.
The remainder of her talk was focused on answering questions about air quality in Houston. Many were concerned to learn how many toxins were released when Hurricane Harvey struck the city. Powell explained that HARC has a great online tool to see just how much pollution was released into the community after Harvey.
So what are some things concerned Houstonians can do? Connecting with Air Alliance Houston can be a great first step. AAH offers many resources to help people keep their air clean. Powell has many helpful apps and links for real-time air quality checking people can access here. Anyone interested in helping further can send an email for up-to-date programming and citizen science needs.