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 i
|Contact: Rebecca Washenfelder|
University of Colorado at Boulder