The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality has new tools for detecting airborne pollution following hurricanes and other disasters.
Two existing TCEQ mobile air monitoring vans have been upgraded and a new SMART (Strategic Mobile Air Reconnaissance Technology) Rapid Assessment Survey van has been added to the agency’s fleet.
The van upgrades and brand-new vehicle were purchased with $1 million provided by the state legislature during the 2019 session. They will help TCEQ better monitor air quality in densely industrialized areas like the Houston Ship Channel, the Beaumont-Port Arthur area, and Corpus Christi’s Refinery Row.
“This is cutting-edge technology,” said Cory Chism, deputy director of the Monitoring Division in TCEQ’s Office of Compliance and Enforcement. “These vehicles are nimble and sophisticated.”
The upgraded mobile air monitoring vans feature advanced mass spectrometers capable of sampling more than 1,000 pollutants, including formaldehyde, nitrogen oxide, sulfur oxide, methane and ozone.
The new SMART RAS van is capable of pulling in air “like a vacuum cleaner,” can measure 16 different pollutants and analyze results in real time while driving up to 35 mph, according to the TCEQ. It was deployed to assist with air monitoring efforts in the wake of Hurricane Laura.
The vans augment a network of over 200 air monitoring stations across the state, maintained by TCEQ and its partners, equipped with more than 400 individual air quality monitors.
TCEQ has also recently purchased four drones capable of providing live video during disasters.
The drones will provide “a new platform for situational awareness during emergency responses,” said TCEQ Executive Director Toby Baker. “Having eyes in the sky after these events will be useful, without putting our staff in danger.”
In addition to the drones and monitoring vehicles, TCEQ’s Regional Offices are able to deploy advanced handheld monitors, which can take instantaneous readings of pollutants.
An upgraded version of the handheld devices – now capable of isolating benzene, critical for monitoring along the ship channel – will help when stationary monitors may have been taken offline by hurricane winds.