or Patrick Shaughnessy, (512) 239-5000, TNRCC

Major Air Pollution Study Launched

Six aircraft, 60 ground stations, three DOE labs among 40 institutions participating

Houston, TX - A national team of over 150 researchers has begun one of the most comprehensive air quality studies ever conducted in the U.S. Over six weeks, scientists at three U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) laboratories, in collaboration with researchers from more than 40 public, private, and academic institutions, will study air pollution in the Houston region and the eastern half of Texas.

Their aim is to better understand the complex interactions among various sources of pollution, meteorology, and other variables that contribute to ozone production and fine-particle air pollution. The ultimate goal is to identify cost-effective, efficient ways to control these pollutants to protect public health and the environment.

"If you understand a lot about the sources of pollution and the processes that are involved, you can make intelligent decisions about how to deal with the problem," says Peter Daum, one of the lead investigators on the study. Daum is a chemist at the DOE's Brookhaven National Laboratory.

During the Texas 2000 Air Quality Study, six research aircraft, including the DOE Grumman Gulfstream 1, will make daily sampling flights: some at fixed altitude approximately 2,500 feet above the surface, and some ranging from 300 feet to 10,000 feet to study the vertical distribution of pollutants and their precursors. Sixty ground-based air-quality and meteorological monitoring stations, including one at the top of a Houston skyscraper, will provide additional data on ozone, sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, fine particles, and precursor chemicals. The scientists will combine these data to study how the chemicals mix, move, and react in the atmosphere under a variety of meteorological conditions. Ozone, one of the pollutants under study, is formed from reactions between sunlight and nitrogen oxides and/or hydrocarbons, such as those emitted from power plants and automobiles.

The traditional approach to controlling this pollutant has been to limit emissions of hydrocarbons. Daum points out, however, that despite the fact that lower hydrocarbon emissions have improved air quality in many areas over the past 30 years, "there are still large areas of the country that are out of compliance with national ozone standards." A more detailed understanding of all the variables that contribute to ozone and fine-particle pollution could lead to more effective control measures to improve air quality in the Houston region and the rest of southeastern Texas, and provide fundamental scientific knowledge that can be applied to similar problems in other areas of the country. August and September, the period of the study, are the months when Houston and the rest of southeastern Texas experience the worst air-quality problems due to the presence of hot, stagnant air. This region was chosen as the study site in part because of the severity of the pollution problem there and also because the region's unique chemical and meteorological features present interesting scientific questions. These questions need to be addressed to both improve the ability to assess the effects of emissions on air quality, and make sound decisions if and when emission controls become necessary. The scientists expect to be analyzing the data for several years, with some preliminary results being reported in 2001.

In addition to Brookhaven scientists, researchers from DOE's Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Washington state will participate. Other collaborators include the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission (TNRCC), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

DOE is participating in the study as part of its Atmospheric Chemistry Program, whose objective is to provide advanced information on the atmospheric environment, which is required for long-range energy planning. For more information on the study, go to: http://www.utexas.edu/research/ceer/texaqs/

The U.S. Department of Energy's Brookhaven National Laboratory creates and operates major facilities available to university, industrial and government personnel for basic and applied research in the physical, biomedical and environmental sciences and in selected energy technologies. The Laboratory is operated by Brookhaven Science Associates, a not-for-profit research management company, under contract with the U.S. Department of Energy.


Note to local editors: Peter Daum lives in Shoreham, New York.