Air pollution in San Antonio causes concern

Vehicle emitting exhaust fumes on the road
Polluting vehicle emitting exhaust fumes.

By Bianca Del Conte
Pulse staff writer

During the trek from Pedernales Hall to the Performing Arts Center, I walk under a few trees in front of the Executive Offices Building, looking onto the parking lot of cars that I will cut across.

As I weave through, I hear the sound of engines idling and smell pungent exhaust fumes. I want to hold my breath until I am in the safety of the Botanical Garden ahead, but the parking lot is large, so I am forced to breathe this toxic air.

I am not the only one. The Ray Ellison Daycare Center’s playgrounds face the parking lot and Loop 410, and 35 children are exposed to this human-created pollution every day.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, children and infants are at the highest risk of contracting asthma because of air pollution, and the number of asthma cases among children and adults is increasing nationwide.

“The number of Americans with asthma has doubled in the past 15 years to more than 25 million,” said Sarah Vogel, director of the Environmental Defense Fund, in an article from Solutions Magazine.

Data from the EDF reveals that cars are the second largest emitters of nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds, which are the primary pollutants known to trigger asthma attacks.

Freshman Emily Saenz, a Speech Pathology major at Palo Alto, said that she was diagnosed with asthma at age nine and must carry an inhaler with her at all times.

San Antonio is now on the Environmental Protection Agency’s radar as the city’s air pollution level has risen from 80 parts per billion (an amount of concentration) to 81 ppb, exceeding the EPA standard of 75 ppb. The EPA has even considered lowering the federal ozone standard to the 60 to 70 ppb range, which would make San Antonio even further out of compliance.

One possible measure to reduce air pollutants could be biennial (every other year) smog checks for vehicles manufactured before 1976, a measure that California has already adopted.

Gabriel Urquidez, inventory control specialist for the Alamo Colleges is a Los Angeles native and said that although the air quality is better in San Antonio in comparison to LA, Texas does not follow the same clean air laws that more polluted states enforce, causing the air quality here to diminish rapidly.

“If you ever drive from here to Los Angeles, you…notice the difference in air quality,” Urquidez said. “LA has a big black cloud that hovers [over] the city, and when traveling back to San Antonio, you can start to see this same effect happen here.”

According to the Alamo Area Council of Governments’s website, ground-level ozone is San Antonio’s major air pollutant and is known to trigger asthma attacks. Motor vehicle exhaust, industrial pollution, gasoline vapors and chemical solvents react with heat and sunlight along with oxides of nitrogen to create ground-level ozone, according to the EPA’s website.

“My symptoms seem to worsen when it is humid outside and in the summertime when it’s really hot,” said Saenz. “My chest gets really tight, and I can’t breathe.”

Saenz was unaware that ground-level ozone has proven to be a contributor to asthma attacks.

“Unfortunately my doctor has never really talked to me about the smog affecting my attacks,” she said.

According to Drive Clean Across Texas, a statewide initiative that encourages drivers to keep their car in shape and take simple steps that will help keep our air cleaner, chronic exposure to harmful pollutants can lead to a lifetime of lung problems.

“Having asthma feels like… an elephant is sitting on my chest and then it feels like my throat [closes] and I turn a little pale,” said sophomore Emily Head, a Psychology major at PAC.

Though most students, faculty and staff believe it’s necessary to use vehicles to commute to school, work and between campuses, AACOG identifies a variety of ways individuals may help reduce ground-level ozone.

Drive less

  • Combine errands into as few trips as possible
  • Carpool (you may find a carpool partner at NuRide)
  • Use public transportation (check VIA for San Antonio or ART for greater regional areas)
  • Walk or ride a bike

Conserve fuel

  • Avoid aggressive driving: start and stop gradually
  • Drive the posted speed limit or less
  • Avoid drive-thru lanes: go inside instead
  • Shut off the engine while waiting outside of schools and businesses
  • Keep excess weight out of your vehicle
  • Don’t continue to fill your gas tank after the pump has automatically shut off
  • Seal the gas cap tightly: Turn the cap until it clicks three times
  • Keep tires properly inflated
  • Refuel after dusk