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Houston Health Department expands air monitoring capacity with new mobile laboratory

The Houston Health Department is better equipped to monitor air quality during routine and emergency situations with a major new piece of equipment.

A second Mobile Ambient Air Monitoring Laboratory (MAAML), combined with a network of fixed-site monitors and other air monitoring tools, provide real-time data for regulators, emergency responders, and community members to make informed decisions about health and safety.

“It has definitely increased our capacity to help the community, to go to more sites more frequently, and to deploy to multiple events if needed,” said Nguyen Ly, environmental investigator with the health department’s bureau of pollution control and prevention. “If there was a disaster like a hurricane or a flood, we’re not trapped on one side of town. We can deploy throughout the city and get more data to communities quicker.”

The mobile labs routinely respond to air quality complaints like unusual odors, airborne particles, smoke, fumes, and other outdoor air pollution. They are also used for emergency situations like chemical plant or refinery fires.

Trained chemists analyze samples and results are obtained onsite in the field.

The new mobile lab is equipped with a meteorological station, a GPS locator, humidity detector, atmospheric pressure monitor, temperature gauge, and an infrared video monitor.

Benzene, 1,3-Butadiene, and other pollutants from petrochemicals are some of the toxins targeted by the MAAMLs in communities across Houston.

“We can go anywhere the pollution is occurring. We’re not relying on a monitor three or four miles away from the event to tell us how pollution is affecting that neighborhood,” said Ly.

The new mobile lab is funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The department’s original mobile lab will undergo an upgrade to its air monitoring equipment through a grant funded by the Environmental Defense Fund.

Houstonians needing to report an air pollution concern can call the City of Houston 311 Helpline.

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