The student-run newspaper of the Liberal Arts and Science Academy

The Liberator

The student-run newspaper of the Liberal Arts and Science Academy

The Liberator

The student-run newspaper of the Liberal Arts and Science Academy

The Liberator

Austin Air Pollution Escalates

City Out of Compliance with Environmental Protection Agency
Sarah Garrett
ILLUMINATED SKYLINE | Downtown Austin is lit by the early morning sunrise. In 2023, when the Environmenal Protection Agency set the standards for ozone pollution levels, the city of Austin fell out of compliance, reflecting growing concerns over air pollution.

Amidst the hustle and bustle of everyday city life lurks a silent danger: air pollution. The quality of the air breathed affects everyone, from people with top-notch health to at-risk individuals, and maintaining low pollutant numbers is an effort that takes work from all. 

In 2023 the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standards for ozone pollution were adjusted, which caused the city of Austin to fall out of compliance. This, along with a recent study conducted by the University of Texas at Austin (UT) Dell Medical School connecting serious cases of asthma to air pollutants, shows an increasing concern about the cleanness of the air Austinites breathe every day. 

Ramon Zarate is an Air Quality Program Specialist at the Capital Area Council of Governments (CAPCOG). He explained that the two main concerns in terms of air pollutants in the Austin area are ozone and PM2.5 pollution, which if left unregulated present large health risks to citizens.

“Regarding air quality, the two major concerns are ozone and PM2.5 pollution,” Zarate said. “Ozone is a colorless gas made up of three oxygen atoms, while PM2.5  is particulate matter that is made up of fine inhalable particles with diameters that are generally 2.5 micrometers and smaller. PM2.5 can pose a great risk to health as these particles can get deep into your lungs and even into your bloodstream.”

Orla Tower is a freshman at LASA who feels concerned about the condition of Austin’s air quality. She has seen the negative effects of air pollution and recognizes how important studying this issue is to keep her community healthy. 

“I feel really bad because some of my friends have asthma, and they definitely feel the air quality a lot more than me,” Tower said. “And especially when doing sports. When they have asthma attacks it’s really scary, and that just shows how pressing this air quality concern is.”

Sarah Chamblis is a research associate at UT who studies asthma as a result of air pollutants. She and her team considered these new EPA standards while analyzing the correlation between severe cases of asthma and air quality in certain Austin neighborhoods.  

“Cities and states are going to have to make sure that they’re cleaning up their air to an extent that they weren’t before,” Chamblis said. “ It gets pretty complicated to figure out specifically how to remove sources of air pollution and we’re trying to give them a place to start looking.”

Similar to the research Chamblis and her team have conducted, Zarate’s work with CAPCOG is aimed at protecting the welfare of citizens. His organization is keeping a close eye on the health of our air and the way the new EPA guidelines may affect us in the future. 

“If the Austin area is designated nonattainment the federal government could withhold funding for transportation and other projects,” Zarate said. “Or [the city can]refuse to issue permits for initiatives that would exacerbate the pollution.”

Chamblis and her team of researchers hoped to find out more about the connection between asthma and air pollution through their study. They wanted to explore how certain areas are affected. 

“There are these persistent patterns within Austin and within a lot of cities,” Chamblis said. “There are some neighborhoods where people with asthma go to the emergency department a lot more.” 

From a pedestrian perspective, Tower has also experienced these patterns. She agrees that certain places feel more affected by air pollutants than others, especially dense urban areas. 

“I guess downtown is pretty bad,” Tower said. “That’s where I notice it the most. There are less trees. It’s kind of grimy and [there are] lots of buildings.”

Zarate hopes more people will get involved in helping reverse some of the negative effects air pollution has inflicted on our city. He noted the major actions every citizen can do to help their community get back on track.

“Transportation and energy use are major sources of air pollution in our region,” Zarate said,  “ and while cleaner technologies are being introduced, we can take individual actions to reduce transportation and energy use-related emissions, help protect lives, and get Austin back in compliance with the new standard more quickly.”

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