Rice study identifies sources of Houston smog particulates

HOUSTON, April 21, 2003 -- Air quality researchers at Rice University in Houston have completed the first detailed study that attempts to apportion the fine particulate matter measured in the city's smog to their sources of origin.

The researchers found that diesel engines are the primary contributors of fine particles to Houston's air, followed by gasoline-powered vehicles and road dust. Smoke particles from wood burning and fatty acids from meat grilling contributed considerably smaller but nonetheless significant amounts of the particulates in Houston's air.

"There's been a good deal of speculation about the relative contribution of various sources to the particulate matter in air pollution," said lead researcher Matthew P. Fraser, assistant professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Rice University. "With this study, we're helping build a scientific body of evidence that policymakers and regulators can use to focus attention on the most significant contributors."

The findings from the Houston study will be published in the May 15 issue of the journal Atmospheric Environment.

The data in the study, a composite of seasonal samples representing a total of four months of records, were collected in 1997-1998 at four locations in the greater Houston-Galveston area. One site, located on Galveston Island, served as a background site because it is commonly upwind of the Houston metropolitan area, with typical winds off the Gulf of Mexico. Of the other sites, one was in a northwestern suburb and two were located near the petrochemical complexes along the Houston Ship Channel.

Collaborators at the Desert Research Institute in Reno, Nev., analyzed each air sample by quantifying the major chemical components making up the fine particles. At Rice, researchers measured individual organic compounds that have been linked to specific sources of air pollution like smokestack emissions or diesel exhaust. By analyzing the amount of t

Contact: Jade Boyd
Rice University

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