Grantee shows risk of airborne particle pollution in Texas

Downtown Houston on a smoggy day. Particulate matter, an ingredient in smog, has been linked to a long list of health effects, including premature death, stroke and breast cancer. Credit: Dave Fehling/Houston Public Media

Airborne particles routinely released by power plants, petrochemical companies, motor vehicles, concrete plants and other sources have grown dramatically, prompting the Biden administration to tighten regulations for these microscopic particles. The pollution has been linked to heart disease, breast and lung cancer, Alzheimer’s and other grave health problems. With support from the Fund, Public Health Watch commissioned an analysis showing that, in Texas, residents need extra protection. Their analysis, described by reporter Savanna Strott, estimates that 8,405 Texans died in 2016 from exposure to particulate matter. The analysis also linked particulate pollution to an estimated 24,575 new Alzheimer’s cases, 7,823 new asthma cases and 2,209 strokes in Texas. It used 2016 NASA satellite data and health databases. Researchers estimated that Harris County, which includes Houston and an array of oil refineries and petrochemical facilities, had the most deaths in 2016 from particle pollution: 1,372, or 31 people per 100,000. The annual death rate in Texas has likely risen since the NASA data was collected because the petrochemical industry — a major source of particulate matter — has grown since 2016.  Eight petrochemical plants have been built in Texas in the past seven years and 30 have expanded.