From: Dina Cappiello, Houston Chronicle
Published February 1, 2005 12:00 AM

Inspections to Begin at 28 Industrial Plants

Feb. 1—State environmental officials will begin inspections this month at 28 industrial plants in the Houston area that reported releasing more than 1,200 pounds of unauthorized pollution. The investigations are one of two initiatives announced Monday by the state to improve air quality in the region.

In addition to the probes at industrial plants — which will focus on four highly reactive chemicals that help form ground-level ozone — agency inspectors will conduct investigations of 100 diesel engines used by facilities along the Ship Channel to generate emergency power. These engines release nitrogen oxides, another potent smog creator.

"We would like to be able to come away from these investigations and have some measure of reductions that resulted directly" from our work, said Steve Ligon, an air and enforcement manager at the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. "It is a very focused investigation compared to what we do routinely."

An estimated 32 investigators will conduct the inspections, Ligon said, including 11 from offices outside Houston. The first plants to be inspected will be BP Solvay Polyethylene in Deer Park and Lyondell Chemical in Bayport, an agency official said.

Typically, the agency checks on leaks and unauthorized emissions at facilities, as part of a comprehensive check-up, about once every five years. The TCEQ expects to complete inspections at the 28 facilities targeted in the initiative within the next four to six months.

While the agency recently released a series of changes to its enforcement procedures — the result of a 14-month review sparked by criticism from state overseers and environmental groups — the initiatives were not part of the broader overhaul, Ligon said.

Still, environmentalists said Monday the agency's priorities are in the right place.

"These are two of the top priorities for reducing air pollution in the region, so they've got that right," said John Wilson, executive director of the Galveston-Houston Association for Smog Prevention, or GHASP. "What I'm waiting to see is whether they upgrade their enforcement techniques."

The city of Houston, which is under contract with the TCEQ to inspect plants within the city, said Monday that about three or four of the 70 to 80 major facilities it inspects emitted more than 1,200 pounds of unauthorized emissions during the last fiscal year. Among the compounds that will be targeted is 1,3-butadiene, a chemical used to make synthetic rubber that was recently detected in high concentrations in Milby Park.

"It is good news for the city of Houston anytime the TCEQ decides to do their work a little more thoroughly on a more frequent basis," said Arturo Blanco, chief of the city's Air Quality Control Bureau.

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