New mobile air quality monitor to increase air pollution data for Harris County

ABC's Equity Report shows communities of color more impacted by risks associated with air pollution
HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- A new half a million-dollar air monitoring unit is soon to hit the streets of Harris County. Officials say it will help them detect and report dangerous levels of air pollution that can negatively impact the health of residents.

The new addition is called the RAAM, or the Rapid Ambient Air Monitoring unit.

Not only will it be out when there is a fire or explosion, but it will be deployed even on what the county calls "blue sky days," as it is able to collect baseline air quality data.

"A few of our immediate goals with the RAAM is to strategically plan our routes to establish a robust baseline data, and we will use that to create heat maps and databases. These decision-making tools will help inform and enhance our emergency response," explained Dr. Latrice Babin, the director of the Harris County Pollution Control Department.

Babin went on to say they plan to conduct case studies in specific neighborhoods, and will be taking a look at residents' exposure to toxins and hazards in different parts of town.

"The RAAM is going to be out in every community in Harris County, especially communities of color. We are going to pull data to connect the dots on the environmental risks that our communities are facing, and then we are going to make strong efforts to meet these communities where they are," explained Babin.

Babin spoke about how her department is committed to pursuing environmental justice. Air pollution is one of the issues that does not impact all Harris County residents the same.

The ABC data group recently published the Equity Report. Part of the study measures where Houston stands across five different quality-of-life categories- the environment being one of them.

The data shows the share of people in the Houston region who live in neighborhoods that the EPA has determined face the highest cancer risk from air pollutants. About 58% of white people live in these areas, where the percentage is a bit higher at 63% for Black people and 66% for Latino or Hispanic people.

Stephanie Thomas from Public Citizen, a nonprofit advocacy group, explains more about the inequities when it comes to air pollution in our area.

"It doesn't matter what your income is, if you live in a community that is primarily people of color, you are likely going to be more exposed to pollution and that has big consequences. Across Harris County there is as much as a 23-year difference in life expectancy which is just shocking and no one's life should be cut short because of the zip code they live in," explained Thomas.

County officials said the addition of the RAAM is the latest step, as they are working to improve environmental monitoring, enforcement and disclosure.
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