Questions answered by the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality regarding air quality

Candid Conversation

The job of DEQ is to monitor air quality, can you give an overview of how that happens?

LDEQ has 39 air monitoring stations positioned throughout the state that analyze ambient air continuously and these sites are maintained and visited frequently by LDEQ staff.  Additionally, LDEQ operates 3 MAMLs, Mobile Air Monitoring Labs, that can deploy anywhere in the state on relatively short notice and supplement our ambient air monitoring capabilities.  LDEQ also conducts periodic inspections of facilities with an air emissions permit to ensure the facility is in compliance with the permit.   Several resources are available to citizens so they can personally receive real-time updates on the air quality in their area – these are though the Enviroflash program, AirNow, and on the DEQ website where every air station’s readings on certain constituents can be seen.

What challenges, if any, does DEQ face in monitoring air quality?

Our Surveillance Division continuously inspects facilities and our investigative efforts work to eliminate those negative impacts.  LDEQ’s Emergency Response teams routinely investigate facility flaring and emissions upsets, along with calls from the public regarding other toxic air pollutant releases such as ammonia spills.  Open burning is an ongoing problem that LDEQ continues to address.  Informing the public on the hazards of burning household waste involves a continuous effort, and again, we implore citizens to be watchdogs of illegal burning and to report any instances to us so we can investigate.  While weather and shifting winds are often factors in negative air quality readings from one place to the next, LDEQ does its best to identify, isolate and track the source(s) of any facility or operation that is creating a negative impact to the area’s air quality. 

When looking at our air quality compared to other states, how do we stand up?

In 2017, the 5-parish Baton Rouge area was designated attainment for ozone under the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) stringent 2008 8-hour ozone standard, making Louisiana’s air the cleanest it has been since the promulgation of the Clean Air Act.  The accomplishment has been a cooperative effort between the department, industry and the citizens of Louisiana.  Currently, Louisiana has two areas of the state that are non-attainment for the SO2 standard, these areas are St. Bernard Parish and a portion of Evangeline Parish.  LDEQ is working with facilities in both of these areas and expects to have these areas designated attainment in the near future.

While every state has its own characteristics with respect to type and degree of industry, location and topography, infrastructure and other factors, Louisiana is unique in that we have a robust oil and gas infrastructure that brings air emissions challenges that must continually be addressed through outreach, inspections and strict permitting guidelines.  A great deal of work continues to take place, and positive impacts are being seen through both ozone reduction and the reduction of emissions/constituents of concern.  The American Lung Association’s annual State of the Air report noted that 2020’s year-round particle pollution levels in the New Orleans area were significantly lower than last year and met the national standard, so improvement is being seen in the pollution reduction effort.

Does DEQ work with Louisiana’s chemical plants to come up with plans to address possible air quality impacts?

Each plant with an air emissions component as part of their operational model has an air permit through LDEQ.  The air permit is based on highly technical scientific modeling combined with the respective plant’s operational discharge of specific constituents (as it relates to type, degree and frequency).  Our Surveillance Division conducts inspections to ensure facilities are in compliance with department-issued permits, state regulations and federal regulations. LDEQ works with facilities not in compliance to get into compliance through additional protective means that may be required.

Are there any checks and balances that DEQ has with plants, businesses, people, etc. to ensure air quality isn’t negatively impacted?

The Surveillance Division protects the citizens of the state by conducting inspections of permitted and non-permitted facilities, by responding to environmental incidents such as unauthorized releases, spills and citizen complaints, natural disasters, and other emergency situations. LDEQ also provides compliance assistance to the regulated community through the assessment and monitoring of air quality for compliance with standards.  Our facility inspections ensure that emissions meet state and federal limits and regulations and are protective of human health and the environment.  LDEQ works with facilities to ensure that they can continue to meet those standards set forth in their permit while maintaining successful operation.  We encourage citizens to contact us via online or by phone to our Single Point of Contact line to report any air quality problems they may be experiencing.  LDEQ takes all calls seriously and investigates ASAP to ensure that the source or potential source of the problem is located and communication is established regarding the incident.

Environmental groups have raised concerns that the number of chemical facilities in south Louisiana (primarily between Baton Rouge and New Orleans) are contributing to clear air problems in our state. Is this true?

Ensuring for clean air statewide involves a concerted effort among both industry and the citizens of Louisiana and LDEQ certainly recognizes the concerns over air quality among many residents along the Baton Rouge-New Orleans corridor.  LDEQ has been proactive in addressing those concerns, and began fostering relationships with underserved communities by bringing assistance via the TLC Ambient Air Monitoring Program. This program has allowed LDEQ to expand its outreach to under-served communities and to respond meaningfully and effectively to their concerns.  

LDEQ Secretary Dr. Brown created a model known as EEAT — Environmental Education, Access to decision makers, and Trust in the decisions that are made. Each of these values is at work in the Temporary Located Community Ambient Air Monitoring Program.  To boost our air monitoring capabilities, LDEQ ordered two new MAMLs to advance the department’s air monitoring reach throughout the state.  These mobile labs add an extra layer of support to our stationary air monitors positioned throughout the state.

These transitions highlight that our efforts in these areas were not futile but the start of a long-term solution. TLC Air Monitors collect ambient air quality data in neighborhoods using EPA approved methods and protocols for at least one year. The data is collected and relayed to LDEQ’s website, https://airquality.deq.louisiana.gov/Data, providing real-time data on the extent of outdoor pollution and air quality pollution trends of certain regulated pollutants.

Louisiana’s air quality- as it relates to the impact chemical plants have on it- is an issue that’s now made it to the White House and to the international community through the United Nations. What is DEQ’s response to the criticisms of our air quality.

Positive changes are being seen in the state’s air quality through the combined effort of the EPA, LDEQ, industry and citizen action.  In January 2021, LDEQ received the 2020 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Clean Air Excellence Award in the Community Action category for LDEQ’s Temporary Located Community (TLC) Ambient Air Monitoring Program. The EPA Clean Air Excellence Awards Program periodically recognizes and honors outstanding innovative efforts to help make progress in achieving cleaner air. LDEQ’s TLC Air Monitor Program exemplifies the agency’s efforts in this undertaking. The LDEQ has been working to promote environmental justice in Louisiana for nearly three decades. 

LDEQ has added two Mobile Air Monitoring Labs (MAML) in addition to a third MAML, to support the TLC Air Monitoring Program. The MAML and TLC Air Monitors also serve as an educational opportunity for LDEQ to invite the public to tour the resources being dedicated to their community.

LDEQ regularly meets with various community groups as it conducts its business of environmental stewardship. These locally-led, community-driven solutions help to improve environmental protection and have become a key component in LDEQ’s mission to protect human health and the environment in Louisiana. LDEQ’s TLC Ambient Air Monitoring Program is explained in further detail at:  https://deq.louisiana.gov/page/tlc-air-monitoring

LDEQ also has been an active participant in several programs designed to reduce negative air emissions throughout the state.  These include monitoring protocols established under the Clean Power Plan and the Diesel Emissions Reductions Act, the motor vehicle inspection program, implementation of State Implementation Plans (SIPs), stack testing and asbestos and lead inspection efforts.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Latest BRProud Articles

More Local News

Stay up to date with the latest news by downloading the BRProud App from the App Store or Google Play.

Trending Stories