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Texas petrochemical emissions down, but still underestimated, says study
Date:8/11/2010

n an aircraft, the NOAA WP-3D, outfitted with an array of air quality measuring instruments. The plane flew through emissions over Houston as part of the second Texas Air Quality Study in 2006, sampling air for signs of ingredients of the chemical reaction that makes ozone, including nitrogen oxides and reactive hydrocarbons.

Washenfelder, de Gouw and their study colleagues compared these measurements with data taken during similar flyovers from the first Texas Air Quality Study in 2000 and another flight in 2002. They then compared those measurements against emissions inventories for each year. In all cases, the industry-reported inventories -- which are supplied to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency -- didn't agree with the measured amounts of pollutants.

The conflicting data is likely a problem of estimation and general industry practice. "There are tens of thousands of valves and fittings installed throughout the plants in most cases with an assumed -- not measured -- leak rate for each," Washenfelder said.

But industry is taking steps to lessen ozone-causing emissions, and repairs to petrochemical plants may have contributed to recent emission declines. Washenfelder and de Gouw found that the concentrations of ethene and propene -- which both contribute to ozone formation -- dropped by 52 percent and 48 percent respectively between 2000 and 2006.

The two scientists see the study as a wake-up call for emissions monitoring.

"There are a lot of discussions with the petrochemical industry on how to measure these things instead of relying on estimates," said de Gouw. "I think the No. 1 issue here is awareness. As soon as industry is aware that there could be emissions problems down the road, they can figure out how to fix them at lower cost."


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Contact: Rebecca Washenfelder
rebecca.washenfelder@noaa.gov
303-492-3810
University of Colorado at Boulder
Source:Eurekalert  

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