Houston Neighborhoods Are Unique Study Case For Air Pollution

Rice University and University of Houston faculty will lead a study of particulate matter in Houston’s atmosphere for the next two years, matching readings from their mobile lab to health statistics in the city’s neighborhoods. From left: Rice’s Rob Griffin, Justin Denney and Rachel Kimbro and the University of Houston’s Barry Lefer. (Credit: Tommy LaVergne/Rice University)
An air pollution mobile lab will soon roam the streets of Houston — looking for concentrations of particulate matter.

Particulate matter is really tiny — less than 2.5 millionths of a meter in diameter. The tiny bits of pollution can end up in your lungs and bloodstream and cause health issues, including asthma and heart  problems.

A team from Rice University, the University of Houston and the University of Texas Health Science Center will drive around in a mobile lab and measure particulate matter in neighborhoods all over Houston for the next two years.

Rachel Kimbro is director of the Kinder Institute Urban Health Program and an associate professor of sociology at Rice. She says they'll compare the pollution data with health records from the same neighborhoods.

"Unlike most urban areas which have an inner city urban core where a lot of impoverished residents live, Houston is unique in that it's really a mish-mash of different kinds of neighborhoods. So you'll have very wealthy neighborhoods right next to very poor neighborhoods. And so what that means is that things like poor air quality could really be impacting residents of all different kinds of neighborhoods in this particular city."

Kimbro says they want to see if there's any scientific correlation between high levels of particulate matter and a higher rate of
respiratory and cardiac problems in specific neighborhoods.

The study is funded by the Houston Endowment and will also work in tandem with a NASA project to study air quality from
the ground, air and sattelite images.

Bio photo of Laurie Johnson

Laurie Johnson

Local Host, All Things Considered

Laurie Johnson is the Houston host for All Things Considered at KUHF NPR for Houston. Before taking the anchor chair, she worked as a general assignments reporter at KUHF, starting there as an intern in 2002...