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Deteriorating Air Quality In San Antonio Could Mean More Respiratory Deaths

Jack Morgan
Texas Public Radio

If San Antonio’s air quality continues to decline, it could lead to more annual deaths due to respiratory illnesses, according to a study commissioned by San Antonio, which looks at what impact both lower and higher ozone levels have on the health of residents in Bexar County.

The study is simply named “How Ozone Pollution Affects Public Health in San Antonio” was commissioned by the City Council in response to the Alamo Area Council of Government’s study called the Cost of Non-Attainment– Non-attainment refers to falling out of favorable ozone standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency.

It found that if ozone pollution increases in Bexar County, an additional 19 people will die each year from respiratory illnesses. San Antonio MetroHealth Director Dr. Colleen Bridger says certain populations are more at risk for being affected by poor air quality.

“What we know is that the very old and the very young, and anybody who has respiratory problems are most at risk for adverse events associated with exposures to ozone,” she said.

The study looked at data from 2010 to 2014 and found that 4,700 people died of respiratory issues in that time frame.

From 2010 to 2014, 82 percent of the total respiratory deaths were reported for people over 65 years of age, whereas only 17 percent of the deaths were reported for people below 65 years, the report said. Bexar County’s current ozone level is 73 parts per million. The study said additional deaths could occur if it reaches 80 ppm, which was the level in 2012.

If ozone conditions improve, the study said 24 lives could be saved each year. That projection comes at at levels of 68 ppm or less.

Bexar County is awaiting a designation on where it stands on the EPA’s non-attainment list. When it is released, the county would likely fall on a ‘marginal’ rating, which requires morereporting to the EPA.

“Regardless of EPA’s decision on how San Antonio is designated, we need to keep in mind the primary focal point is the health of our residents,” Mayor Ron Nirenberg said. “The city of San Antonio is and will continue to be proactive in taking the necessary measures to reduce ozone pollution.”

Krystal Henagan is a Texas field consultant for Moms Clean Air Force, a national project from the Environmental Defense Fund. Henagan has a child with a respiratory illness and frequently speaks at San Antonio City Council meetings on air quality issues. She says action on reducing ozone emissions needs to be taken now.

“Our policy makers at every level shouldn’t be afraid of addressing air pollution because it’s time to start cracking a future where our children can have a health life and also we can have an productive economy,” she said.

Factors that contribute to ozone gases include power plants, heavy industry, and transportation, according to Doug Melnick, chief sustainability officer for the city. He said there’s no one clear solution to improve air quality but CPS Energy shutting down the J.T. Deely Coal Station power plant next year might have a small impact.

“It’s not the answer; it’s not going to get us to where we need to go but it’s a big step,” Melnick said. “I think we still need to look beyond that. It’s not federal regulation issue, it’s a public health issues and we need to go much lower than we are.”

Joey Palacios can be reached at joey@tpr.org or on Twitter @joeycules

Joey Palacios can be reached atJoey@TPR.org and on Twitter at @Joeycules