Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Texas petrochemical emissions down, but still underestimated, says study

Date:
August 12, 2010
Source:
University of Colorado at Boulder
Summary:
A thick blanket of yellow haze hovering over Houston as a result of chemical pollution from petroleum products may be getting a little bit thinner, according to a new study. But the new findings -- which have implications for petrochemical-producing cities around the world -- come with a catch, says a team of scientists who participated in the research.

While petrochemical air pollution in Houston is decreasing, industry there still is underestimating the amounts of reactive chemicals released into the air that lead to ground-level ozone problems, according to a new study by a team of scientists at the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, a joint institute of the University of Colorado at Boulder and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Image of WD-P3 on the tarmac in Houston courtesy of CIRES.
Credit: Bill Dube/NOAA

A thick blanket of yellow haze hovering over Houston as a result of chemical pollution produced by manufacturing petroleum products may be getting a little bit thinner, according to a new study.

But the new findings -- which have implications for petrochemical-producing cities around the world -- come with a catch, says a team of scientists from the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, or CIRES, a joint institute of the University of Colorado at Boulder and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The problem is that industry still significantly underestimates the amounts of reactive chemicals being released into the air, according to airplane measurements made by the research team as part of the study. Inaccuracies in the reporting of emissions pose big challenges for the reduction and regulation of emissions coming from petrochemical plants. The emissions are important to monitor, because some chemicals released from the plants react to form ground-level ozone that can be harmful to human health and agricultural crops.

"Emissions may have decreased some, but there's still a long way to go," said study author Joost de Gouw, a CIRES atmospheric scientist. "And the emission inventories by industry were not any better in 2006 than they were in 2000."

States that regularly suffer from ozone problems like Texas are required by the federal government to scientifically model what happens during air pollution episodes and develop plans for mitigation. For that to happen effectively, modelers need good inventories, says the research team.

"Initial inventories are not based on measurements. They're based on estimates," said de Gouw. "When you go back to verify those estimates, we find they're not very accurate."

To check on those estimates, lead study author Rebecca Washenfelder of NOAA's Earth System Research Laboratory and CIRES, along with de Gouw, took to the plumes in an aircraft, the NOAA WP-3D, outfitted with an array of air quality measuring instruments. The plane flew through emissions over Houston as part of the second Texas Air Quality Study in 2006, sampling air for signs of ingredients of the chemical reaction that makes ozone, including nitrogen oxides and reactive hydrocarbons.

Washenfelder, de Gouw and their study colleagues compared these measurements with data taken during similar flyovers from the first Texas Air Quality Study in 2000 and another flight in 2002. They then compared those measurements against emissions inventories for each year. In all cases, the industry-reported inventories -- which are supplied to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency -- didn't agree with the measured amounts of pollutants.

The conflicting data is likely a problem of estimation and general industry practice. "There are tens of thousands of valves and fittings installed throughout the plants in most cases with an assumed -- not measured -- leak rate for each," Washenfelder said.

But industry is taking steps to lessen ozone-causing emissions, and repairs to petrochemical plants may have contributed to recent emission declines. Washenfelder and de Gouw found that the concentrations of ethene and propene -- which both contribute to ozone formation -- dropped by 52 percent and 48 percent respectively between 2000 and 2006.

The two scientists see the study as a wake-up call for emissions monitoring.

"There are a lot of discussions with the petrochemical industry on how to measure these things instead of relying on estimates," said de Gouw. "I think the No. 1 issue here is awareness. As soon as industry is aware that there could be emissions problems down the road, they can figure out how to fix them at lower cost."

The study been accepted for publication in the Journal of Geophysical Research -- Atmospheres, a publication of the American Geophysical Union. Funding for the project came from NOAA Air Quality, NOAA Climate Research and Modeling Program, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and a National Research Council Postdoctoral Fellowship.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Colorado at Boulder. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

University of Colorado at Boulder. "Texas petrochemical emissions down, but still underestimated, says study." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 12 August 2010. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/08/100811135043.htm>.
University of Colorado at Boulder. (2010, August 12). Texas petrochemical emissions down, but still underestimated, says study. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 21, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/08/100811135043.htm
University of Colorado at Boulder. "Texas petrochemical emissions down, but still underestimated, says study." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/08/100811135043.htm (accessed October 21, 2014).

Share This



More Earth & Climate News

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Traditional Farming Methods Gaining Ground in Mali

Traditional Farming Methods Gaining Ground in Mali

AFP (Oct. 20, 2014) He is leading a one man agricultural revolution in Mali - Oumar Diatabe uses traditional farming methods to get the most out of his land and is teaching others across the country how to do the same. Duration: 01:44 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
How Detroit's Money Woes Led To U.N.-Condemned Water Cutoffs

How Detroit's Money Woes Led To U.N.-Condemned Water Cutoffs

Newsy (Oct. 20, 2014) The United Nations says water is a human right, but should it be free? Detroit has cut off water to residents who can't pay, and the U.N. isn't happy. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Hey, Doc! Sewage, Beer and Food Scraps Can Power Chevrolet’s Bi-Fuel Impala

Hey, Doc! Sewage, Beer and Food Scraps Can Power Chevrolet’s Bi-Fuel Impala

3BL Media (Oct. 20, 2014) Hey, Doc! Sewage, Beer and Food Scraps Can Power Chevrolet’s Bi-fuel Impala Video provided by 3BL
Powered by NewsLook.com
White Rhino's Death In Kenya Means Just 6 Are Left

White Rhino's Death In Kenya Means Just 6 Are Left

Newsy (Oct. 20, 2014) Suni, a rare northern white rhino at Ol Pejeta Conservancy, died Friday. This, as many media have pointed out, leaves people fearing extinction. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins