Why Denton's Air Quality Is the Worst in Texas

Categories: Environment

Rich Anderson
Here's another reason why Texas should secede: We'll avoid getting in trouble for repeatedly violating the Clean Air Act. New data shows that North Texas is continuing its 16-year-streak of failing to be in compliance with the federal law.

The Clean Air Act stipulates that ozone pollution doesn't exceed 75 parts-per-billion. But this year's measurements from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality show that much of North Texas has been hovering above even 80 parts-per-billion, which means we're also breaking looser Clean Air Act restrictions from 1997.

The grunge-era pollution is looking especially bad in Denton County, where the three-year, eight-hour average of ozone readings was 87 parts-per-billion, tying with Houston as the highest average in the state. How did Denton County achieve this feat?

"It's a mystery that everyone wants to know the answer to, and a lot of us have different theories about it," says Jim Schermbeck, director of the environmental watchdog Downwinders at Risk.

All of that ozone pollution has actually been many years in the making (and the subject of a three-part Denton-Record Chronicle series from 2009). Here are some of the popular theories:

Cement Kilns
South of Dallas, in Midlothian, sits the country's largest concentration of cement plants, a major polluter in North Texas. And areas downwind, like Denton, tend to bear the brunt of the pollution. (More on that below.)

In 2009, the cement industry agreed to a plan calling for stricter pollution controls, according to Denton Mayor Mark Burroughs, but it was the not so environmentally friendly Texas Commission on Environmental Quality that rejected it. Around that same time, the Obama administration had also begun drafting new regulations to limit pollution from the whole cement industry. But as we reported last year, the EPA and Obama flaked on the proposed rules at the last minute.

There have been some improvements, notably in June, when one of the big cement firms in Midlothian agreed to close two of its notorious kilns and replace a third with a cleaner model.

Idling Trucks
When your date pulls up to your parent's house in his Mustang and honks at you for five minutes while leaving the ignition running, he might seem kind of dangerous and cool. When a guy driving a 14,000-pound truck does this, he's just an asshole.

Lots of truck traffic bustling through Denton means lots of emissions, 78 percent of which comes from the trucks just idling, according to a recent study by the Council of Governments. As the Denton Record-Chronicle recently reported, Collin, Dallas, Kaufman and Tarrant counties have all implemented anti-idling measures, barring trucks of 14,000 pounds or more from idling for more than five minutes. But Denton County has yet to adopt such a policy.

The Natural Gas Industry
This is the one environmental groups like Schermbeck's Downwinders at Risk focus on. There are more than 14,000 gas wells and 15,000 oil wells in the Barnett Shale, according to TCEQ data from January 2012. It's not just fracking itself but the accompanying compressor stations, processing plants and trucks that make the whole industry possible. And while other industries -- even cement -- are required to make an effort to offset their pollution under the Clean Air Act, the natural gas industry has been largely exempt, making it harder for the rest of the state to be in compliance.

About a year ago, Eduardo P. Olaguer, the Director of Air Quality Research at the Houston Advanced Research Center, looked at the Barnett Shale and reported in a study that meeting federal ozone standards will be nearly impossible, "unless significant controls are placed on emissions from increased oil and gas exploration and production."

Southeast to northwest winds mean that Denton often gets stuck with the pollution created by the Midlothian region and other parts of Texas. Downwinders at Risk (notice their name) writes that the whole metroplex is effectively "getting squeezed between gas pollution being produced in the middle of its urban areas, and gas pollution blowing in from the south."

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bvckvs topcommenter

I find it interesting that the companies WANTED better regulation, but that the Texas Republicans refused.


Even though an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, at this point most people in the DFW/Denton area don't care about (or just refuse to believe) the problems that come from air pollution. They certainly don't feel the need to prevent the development of the problems. Preventing the development would require too much work and study and thought and talk...and woe be unto the poor souls that like to be messengers of the bad news about bad air...a bunch of folk like to kill messengers who carry the wrong message to the wrong people...remember Socrates...Jesus...hell - look at Sam Houston...

Wait until people start coughing up blood after breathing, or wait until the air is so bad that cotton will not grow. Because, until some obvious catastrophe happens, most folk in this area are not gonna be too interested in air quality.


Of course, common sense doesn't enter into it.  Spend 10 minutes in Denton and tell me the air is polluted.  75 parts per billion...really?  All bullshit 'ozone layer' climate change nonsense.  There's nothing unhealthy about it, you don't notice a rise in breathing issues or other health issues in Denton, do you?  Any data to back up why that number is even a reasonable thing to expect?

Just never forget: this is all 'global warming' junk science, and absolutely -nothing- to do with health and safety.


Never mind the pollution and consequent pulmonary problems.  after all, the natural gas and cement industries are providing needed employment and thus contribute to the general happiness.  So much so we could die laughing.


The Natural Gas industry does increase pollution because of the heavy equipment/trucks that are needed for well production. This activity would be the same for any major investment in any other sector. So lay off the industry, that is providing good paying jobs for most workers involved and increasing the tax base for the area drilled. The Keystone pipeline is a win, win for America and it is criminal that Pres. BO is blocking it's development.


Great article!  The only problem is one of imaging.  The lovely picture of Denton on a clear cloudless day looks like it would accompany a Forbes "Denton is #10 on the top ten US livable cities" list.


75 parts per BILLION?



...and yet homeopathic medicine is considered quackery.

holmantx topcommenter

At least we wouldn't have to beg the EPA not to hurt us after they changed the rules just to hurt us.  Like Norman Rockwell painting, small town people showed up yesterday, hat in their hands, adam's apple bobbing up and down, and stood up.  

and begged.

Residents from towns with Luminant coal plants flocked to the J. Erik Jonsson Central Library Thursday to plead with the Environmental Protection Agency not to impose regulations that would shut down their mining and plant operations.

On the other side, activists from Climate Action Now also packed the meeting chambers to urge the EPA to move forward with pollution controls for coal plants. They emphasized that the Dallas-Fort Worth region is classified as moderate non-attainment area for pollutant ozone under the 2008 National Ambient Air Quality Standards.

The EPA is conducting similar public hearings around the country to get feedback on proposed regulations that industry experts say would be impossible for existing coal plants to reach with current technology.

"The economic issues for the power industry and Luminant in particular for our area, is very, very critical," said Bob Wilson, branch president of the Citizens National Bank in Rockdale, where Luminant has a 1,137 megawatt Sandow coal plant "That’s jobs. That’s people. They’re real and we need help in that area."

Speakers in favor of the tougher restrictions say coal is outdated and should be replaced with newer, cleaner technologies.

That includes Dallas resident Maridel Hoagland, who said money and jobs won’t matter if Texas runs out of clean air and water.


No hide off that Dallasite's back.  And no doubt those twig munchers threw a lot of tax-free environmentalist money at it with studies and pro speakers.

Joe Citizen out in the sticks never had a chance.

And of course, the fix went in, in 2008 when the rules were changed to put Joe out of compliance, to make him beg, then put in Maridel to pruneface him on the way out the door.

And what do you propose to replace those critical plants with?  And who pays for it?

Joe does.


@oilman Really?  Cotton is the most toxic crop to the Texas soil acccording to the late  John Graves, the original environmental  "messenger" as in  "Goodbye To A River" , "Hardscrabble" etc.  With all due respect to Horton Foote "Places in the Heart"-- who  (post the depression era) cares about cotton crops outside of Lubbock? As for "air so bad people cough up blood", the contemporary example of really bad air to breathe is Shanghai, Bejing,etc.  If you are from the EPA you really need to do your homework... (No wonder you and your cult of trust fund followers have no credibility here.)


@xdarkridex Go talk to any asthma/allergy doctor in Denton. They will give you the data to show exactly that--there is a rise in breathing issues and health issues in Denton county as a result of pollution. Lived there for 10 years. Developed all sorts of allergies & asthma. Moved to WA 1 year ago. All of my asthma is gone. 90% of my allergies are gone too. Coincidence? Not at all.
But I don't know why I bother. Anyone who calls 'global warming' a 'junk science' doesn't have enough brain to have a conversation with anyway.


@xdarkridex Your ignorance is on plain view. The ozone layer isn't a climate change issue and neither is ground-level ozone. The ozone layer protects us from the sun's harmful UV rays, and the problem has been corrected by banning CFCs. Ground-level ozone, by contrast, results from vehicle exhaust being cooked by the sun on hot days.

Global warming results from the emitting of greenhouse gasses, like CO@ and methane. Many of the same emissions that contribute to ground-level O3 contribute to global warming also, but O3 pollution is a hazard for North Texans rather than being a global concern.


@xdarkridex I'm glad you're nose is more accurate than a device made for measuring such things. Do we have to get to black soot on every surface before you'll budge?


Those of us that breathe air care. Let's get you some of that water that you can light on fire to drink too.

Sotiredofitall topcommenter

@holmantx Who the hell is Maridel Hoagland and why does their voice count more than others?


Send the bill to Maridel and her trust fund buddies with a note "your accumulated wealth means nothing if Texas runs out of clean air and water.".



Now...look at you, this is what I mean about killing the messenger....and you missed the point.  For your information, although Texas is the number one producer of cotton in the nation, I know that cotton is no longer a major product of Denton.  However, it is not unusual to pass by huge fields of cotton in the metroplex area...but cotton is not the point...the point is bad air and what can happen with bad air...you can substitute any green growing thing for the cotton plant. If the air/environment is bad enough, plants will die.  Moving on...so what if Shanghai/Bejing are good examples of bad air???  Are you jumping up and down with joy because you can imagine Denton getting to be as bad as Shanghai? Or is that just another feeble attempt on your part to attack me because you disagree with my message? I categorically dismiss the rest of your baseless rant about trust funds and the EPA. It is not worth a response.

I suggest that you go to work and do some studying and thinking.  Then talk to some experts about your ideas.


@bifftannen @xdarkridex Protip: visit LA sometime.  That's pollution.  No incredibly sensitive electronic meter needed.  

It's a simple concept: is there a higher incidence of breathing problems reported in Denton, or not?  Seems funny we have no such supports if the pollution there is -so- bad.

Makes more sense if we have pollution and 'pollution'.  Hang around 75 when it's backed up on a weekday, and you'll breathe in pollution.  Hang around Denton and you'll find clear skies, clear air, and perfectly fine breathing conditions, even though the EPA says it's the worst 'polluted' in Texas.

holmantx topcommenter

@Sotiredofitall @holmantx 

She reps an environmentalist group.  Environmentalist have legal standing to speak for the good of the public.  


@Willie I don't want to hear about 'astounding rate of asthmatic kids in the metroplex'.  The 'metroplex' isn't what's being discussed here, it's Denton...which is really outside the metroplex by quite a bit.  If the story was about pollution in DFW itself, sure, hey, it's a big city with a bunch of folks...there's going to be real-deal pollution.

Denton is one Don Knotts away from Mayberry in comparison to the millions 30 miles south, yet it outranks them in pollution?  WHA???

Tell me pediatricians are saying Denton has higher childhood asthma rates than Dallas or Fort Worth, and then you have a point.  Until then, you're making mine.


@xdarkridex  Your ignorance is amazing.  Just call a couple of pediatricians who will tell you about the astounding rate of asthmatic kids in the metroplex.  And it ain't from breathing clean air.  You could do your part by sucking on a tailpipe or two.

ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul topcommenter

@holmantx @Sotiredofitall  

Not really, ... but since the ordinary joe and jane don't show up and are treated like retarded red headed step children when they do, it is not surprising that the environmentalist groups end up being heard and their statements spread by the media.

After all, who can decry any group whose name indicates that they are downtrodden, persecuted or ignored; or, even better wrapped in the American flag and served up with a slice of Mom's apple pie.

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