Particulate Matter 2.5 (PM2.5) is pervasive in Houston and poses serious threats to human health in Houston. The underlying health issues caused by inhalation of PM2.5 increases the risk of complications and death due to COVID-19.
PM2.5 emissions in Houston are strongly associated with concrete batch plants.
Residents of Houston are particularly at-risk. Increased frequency of asthma and heart attacks in some neighborhoods are indicative of more pervasive air quality issues beyond PM2.5.
Most municipalities control the location of concrete batch plants through land use regulations. Since Houston does not have land use regulations, the City’s ability to restrict the location of these plants in residential areas is severely limited.
- The Texas Supreme Court struck down a 2007 City of Houston ordinance that would have required city approval for concrete batch plants.
Since 2014, Texas has led the nation in ready-mix concrete production, with around 1,700 permitted plants. These concrete batch plants dot the Houston map like confetti, often in “batches,” and are clustered in working class, minority neighborhoods that lack the political power to fight them.
- In south Houston, 18 concrete batch plants sit within a 4-mile radius.
- Harris County has the most concrete batch plants in Texas with 188, mostly located in working-class, minority communities.
Attempts by community groups and environmentalists to persuade the TCEQ to regulate the cumulative impact of the plants have been unsuccessful.
In fact, the TCEQ made it more difficult to oppose a concrete batch plant permit by reducing the public comment period from 45 days to 30 days. The aggregate result of these policies means that, in Houston, there are few tools to stop the growth of concrete batch plants in residential areas. Even after they are built, these batch plants do not have on-site monitoring.
- The only tactic that has been successful is a combination of public education, community organizing, political pressure and media attention.
Rep. Senfronia Thompson filed House Bill 1627 to try and even the playing field between vulnerable neighborhoods and concrete batch applicants. The bill would have:
- Allowed a municipality with a population over two million with no land use regulation (only the City of Houston), and a county with a population over four and a half million (only Harris County), to require approval for all new concrete batch permits in addition to a TCEQ permit.
- Allowed for the City of Houston or Harris County to be party to a contested case hearing, helping local members of the community with resources to present their case before TCEQ.
The bill was heard in the House Committee on Environmental Regulation on March 29th and left pending.