Try Not To Breathe Too Much Today, DFW
Take a look outside your window. You've probably gotten used to that omnipresent, smoky haze that hangs over the Metroplex like a pall of economic viability -- upwind power plants a'chugging; cars snaking down tangles of toll roads and highways; shale gas production amid the cities and 'burbs slowed but steady. Says the state environmental regulator to its citizenry: Try not to breathe as much air, DFW. Today, it will be bad for you.
This afternoon in particular, that big laboratory in the sky will brew a potent, alchemical mixture of nitrogen oxide, volatile organic compounds, sunlight and heat to create something else altogether: Ozone.
According to a Texas Commission on Environmental Quality prediction, the air today has been categorized as Code Orange, or "unhealthy for sensitive populations." Now, you may think, as a fine physical specimen, that this doesn't apply to you. But you'd be wrong. "Sensitive" doesn't mean what you think. Sure, asthmatics shouldn't breathe outdoors. Neither should folks with heart conditions. Yet it also pertains to children who plan to burn some pent-up exuberance by frolicking in the backyard. It pertains to you, the runners in the top cardiovascular percentiles, whose exertions will make for an especially hack-y, wheezy jog.
And it might be even worse than you think. "That rating is based on archaic system that doesn't keep pace with science," says Jim Schermbeck of watchdog group Downwinders At Risk. EPA's own scientists have long said current ozone standards are inadequate to protect our health.
This is the second such alert this season. March saw the highest ozone reading for that month ever recorded in the region. The ozone alert comes the year after Houston -- Texas' petrochemical hub -- violated air quality standards fewer times than we did. And it comes as the weather begins warming in earnest, six months since TCEQ submitted some Pollyanna-esque modeling forecasting the cleanest summer air we've seen since, well, ever. If Wall Street could short clean air in DFW, it would.
Thing is, we could get there. But we won't, says Schermbeck, until the TCEQ admits oil and gas activity contributes mightily to the problem.
"Every other source has added pollution controls," he says. "Cars have reduced emissions. Everybody except oil and gas. It's the one category that's grown. TCEQ thinks it's a bunch of hooey. They want to talk about nitrogen oxide, and that allows them to ignore the oil and gas problem."
Meanwhile, get on a treadmill. Indoors.