Your Lungs Hate DFW's Air

The stars at night are big and bright, but in the morning it’s all hazy pall

While some Dallas schools shrink from giving failing grades, the American Lung Association doesn’t mince facts: it gave Dallas, Collin, Tarrant and Denton counties F’s for several nasty sounding pollution varieties.

In ozone pollution (the primary component in smog and a failing category for Dallas), the city had a weighted average of  29.8 days in unhealthy ranges. Mitigating the rough news, however, San Bernadino, Calif., the first-place winner, had a staggering 138.8 days in unhealthy ranges, yet received the same grade.

Because ozone is formed by chemical reactions of gases that come from tailpipes, smokestacks, fossil fuels, and power plants, multiple possible causes for excessive ozone in the Dallas-Fort Worth have been postulated.

The American Lung Association’s report named coal-fired power plants as among the largest contributors to such pollution, and Texas' rankings in coal production are high as well. The state has the third highest coal capacity in the nation, and in 2000, 41 percent of its energy came from coal power.

But before blaming everything on big bad coal or Texans' supposed penchant for Conestoga-sized SUVs, a recent study by SMU’s Dr. Al Armendariz, found that the toxic smog-forming compounds being emitted from the Barnett Shale area oil and gas production were a significant contributor. The area had roughly the same emission of greenhouse gases as two 750 MW coal-fired power plants, and equivalent smog-producing emissions to all the cars and trucks in the DFW metroplex in a single day. The Barnett Shale region differs from historical oil drilling in Texas in that it is taking place in and around a populated and developed area, near downtown Fort Worth.

Making matters a little unfair, the EPA changed the grading standards for last year. Dangerous ozone levels are now considered .08 parts per million to .075 ppm, pushing Dallas up slightly higher on the list than it might have been. But still, anywhere within the range of 7 on the “People at Risk in 25 Most Ozone-Polluted Cities” is not good.

Holly LaFon has written and worked for various area publications including D Magazine and Examiner.

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