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      Houston’s Novel Strategy to Control Hazardous Air Pollutants: A Case Study in Policy Innovation and Political Stalemate


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          Although ambient concentrations have declined steadily over the past 30 years, Houston has recorded some of the highest levels of hazardous air pollutants in the United States. Nevertheless, federal and state regulatory efforts historically have emphasized compliance with the National Ambient Air Quality Standard for ozone, treating “air toxics” in Houston as a residual problem to be solved through application of technology-based standards. Between 2004 and 2009, Mayor Bill White and his administration challenged the well-established hierarchy of air quality management spelled out in the Clean Air Act, whereby federal and state authorities are assigned primacy over local municipalities for the purpose of designing and implementing air pollution control strategies. The White Administration believed that existing regulations were not sufficient to protect the health of Houstonians and took a diversity of both collaborative and combative policy actions to mitigate air toxic emissions from stationary sources. Opposition was substantial from a local coalition of entrenched interests satisfied with the status quo, which hindered the city’s attempts to take unilateral policy actions. In the short term, the White Administration successfully raised the profile of the air toxics issue, pushed federal and state regulators to pay more attention, and induced a few polluting facilities to reduce emissions. But since White left office in 2010, air quality management in Houston has returned to the way it was before, and today there is scant evidence that his policies have had any lasting impact.

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          Separate and Unequal: Residential Segregation and Estimated Cancer Risks Associated with Ambient Air Toxics in U.S. Metropolitan Areas

          This study examines links between racial residential segregation and estimated ambient air toxics exposures and their associated cancer risks using modeled concentration estimates from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s National Air Toxics Assessment. We combined pollutant concentration estimates with potencies to calculate cancer risks by census tract for 309 metropolitan areas in the United States. This information was combined with socioeconomic status (SES) measures from the 1990 Census. Estimated cancer risks associated with ambient air toxics were highest in tracts located in metropolitan areas that were highly segregated. Disparities between racial/ethnic groups were also wider in more segregated metropolitan areas. Multivariate modeling showed that, after controlling for tract-level SES measures, increasing segregation amplified the cancer risks associated with ambient air toxics for all racial groups combined [highly segregated areas: relative cancer risk (RCR) = 1.04; 95% confidence interval (CI), 1.01–107; extremely segregated areas: RCR = 1.32; 95% CI, 1.28–1.36]. This segregation effect was strongest for Hispanics (highly segregated areas: RCR = 1.09; 95% CI, 1.01–1.17; extremely segregated areas: RCR = 1.74; 95% CI, 1.61–1.88) and weaker among whites (highly segregated areas: RCR = 1.04; 95% CI, 1.01–1.08; extremely segregated areas: RCR = 1.28; 95% CI, 1.24–1.33), African Americans (highly segregated areas: RCR = 1.09; 95% CI, 0.98–1.21; extremely segregated areas: RCR = 1.38; 95% CI, 1.24–1.53), and Asians (highly segregated areas: RCR = 1.10; 95% CI, 0.97–1.24; extremely segregated areas: RCR = 1.32; 95% CI, 1.16–1.51). Results suggest that disparities associated with ambient air toxics are affected by segregation and that these exposures may have health significance for populations across racial lines.
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              Cumulative cancer risk from air pollution in Houston: disparities in risk burden and social disadvantage.

              Air toxics are of particular concern in Greater Houston, home to one of the world's largest petrochemical complexes and a quarter ofthe nation's refining capacity. Much of this complex lies along a navigable ship channel that flows 50 miles from east of the central business district through Galveston Bay and into the Gulf of Mexico. Numerous communities, including both poor and affluent neighborhoods, are located in close proximity to the 200 facilities along this channel. Our aim is to examine the spatial distribution of cumulative, air-pollution-related cancer risks in Houston and Harris County, with particular emphasis on identifying ethnic, economic, and social disparities. We employ exposure estimates from NATA-1999 and census data to assess whether the cumulative cancer risks from air toxics in Houston (and Harris County) fall disproportionately on certain ethnicities and on the socially and economically disadvantaged. The cancer risk burden across Harris County census tracts increases with the proportion of residents who are Hispanic and with key indicators of relative social disadvantage. Aggregate disadvantage grows at each higher level of cancer risk. The highest cancer risk in Harris County is concentrated along a corridor flanking the ship channel. These high-risk neighborhoods, however, vary markedly in relative disadvantage, as well as in emission source mix. Much of the risk they face appears to be driven by only a few hazardous air pollutants. Results provide evidence of risk disparities from hazardous air pollution based on ethnicity and social disadvantage. At the highest levels of risk the pattern is more complex, arguing for a neighborhood level of analysis, especially when proximity to high-emissions industries is a substantial contributor to cumulative cancer risk.

                Author and article information

                Environ Health Insights
                Environ Health Insights
                Environmental Health Insights
                Environmental Health Insights
                Libertas Academica
                27 January 2015
                : 9
                : Suppl 1
                : 1-12
                [1 ]Department of Epidemiology, Human Genetics and Environmental Science, University of Texas School of Public Health, Brownsville Regional Campus, Brownsville, TX, USA.
                [2 ]Institute for Health Policy and Division of Management, Policy and Community Health, University of Texas School of Public Health, Houston, TX, USA.
                Author notes
                © 2015 the author(s), publisher and licensee Libertas Academica Ltd.

                This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons CC-BY-NC 3.0 License.

                : 25 August 2014
                : 16 October 2014
                : 17 October 2014

                Public health
                air toxics,control strategy,hazardous air pollution,houston policy,houston air pollution


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