Thursday 28, 2021
Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo joined Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia, county officials and representatives from a research nonprofit and private industry to provide an update on actions the county has taken over the past two years to enhance environmental monitoring and enforcement.
Since the ITC Fire on March 17, 2019, Harris County has undertaken historic steps to modernize the county’s ability to protect the environment and enable a proactive response to threats to public health and safety. These actions, which represent the biggest investments in environmental protection in more than 30 years, follow decades of systemic underfunding and neglect of key County departments and services aimed at protecting residents against environmental hazards, including man-made and natural disasters.
“We are committed to addressing the root causes of repeated incidents that disproportionately affect vulnerable populations who live in the shadow of industry,” Judge Hidalgo said. “All families, regardless of zip code, should be able to raise their children without fear of explosions and the spillover effect of poor air quality. The steps we’ve taken are charting the course for long-overdue change, but it will take a sustained effort of working together, across disciplines and industries, to reverse the damage of decades of underinvestment.”
Since March 2019, Harris County has invested in vigorous environmental monitoring and enforcement, with more than $11 million allocated towards improving our preparedness and response to chemical incidents . The County added emergency response workers, chemists and field investigators to the pollution control department, and doubled the size of the County HazMat team. To hold polluters accountable, the County increased its capacity to pursue legal actions. Also, following the findings of a gap analysis, Judge Hidalgo directed agencies to improve monitoring and information sharing.
Most recently, a partnership between Harris County, the research nonprofit Houston Advanced Research Center (HARC), and private industry will add 5 air monitors to the county’s existing fixed, 24/7 air monitoring network and dozens of handheld air monitors for emergency response. The effort, which will include an examination of historical data and the improvement of air monitoring protocols and communication, was made possible through a $1 million grant provided to Harris County by the American Chemistry Council (ACC) Foundation in December 2019.
The actions taken thus far represent the most significant enhancement of County environmental protections in at least 30 years, and include:
Vigorous Environmental Monitoring:
Holding Polluters Accountable:
Transparency and Disclosure