Pollution Control Services' (PCS) Outdoor Air Program encompasses several activities such as complaint response and investigations, monitoring activities, emissions events investigations, programmatic inspections and permit reviews.
Complaint Response and Investigations
Responding to complaints and conducting investigations is one of PCS’s highest priorities. PCS has historically relied on citizen complaints and enforcement of the Nuisance Rule and Outdoor Burning Rule to address air pollution in Harris County. For more information, view or Field Services Page
PCS also conducts inspections that focus specifically on certain types of facilities that have the potential to impact nearby communities. Harris County is in a "non attainment area" for exceeding the EPA’s 8-hour National Ambient Air Quality Standard for ozone. Since ozone is formed in the atmosphere and not at a source PCS focuses on sources of pollution that contribute to the formation of ozone. Facilities such as paint booths, gas stations, and storage tank facilities are common sources of emissions PCS investigates. In addition, PCS focuses on sources of particulate, or what may be more commonly known as smoke or dust. Sources PCS regularly inspects for these sources are rock crushers, concrete batch plants and outdoor burning operations.
Ozone is extensively monitored in Harris County. In the early 2000s PCS contributed to the regional ozone monitoring network by installing 12 ozone monitors. These monitors were installed in strategic locations to provide a more comprehensive picture of overall air quality in Harris County, specifically in areas lacking ozone data. PCS dedicates staff to ensure these monitors collect quality data. To date, all 12 of the monitors are still in use and the data being collected can be viewed on the TCEQ’s monitoring website. For more information, view our Ozone Page
PCS also utilizes multiple types of handheld monitoring equipment during certain activities, inspections, and special projects.
On occasion facilities in Harris County experience what is referred to as an emissions event. An emissions event is an upset event or unscheduled maintenance, startup, or shutdown activity that results in unauthorized emissions of air contaminants from one or more emissions points at a facility. These unscheduled events may include smoking flares, releases from storage vessels or process areas and fires. These events can result in large quantities of air contaminants being released and possibly impact nearby communities. PCS has assigned staff to specifically investigate emissions events and work with the facilities in the effort to reducing the emissions events.
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality is responsible for issuing air permits regulating major and minor facilities based on emissions. These permits can be for both major and minor stationary sources of air pollutants that specify emission limits and requirements for construction and operation. Permit conditions also specify the emission testing and monitoring requirements applicable to each source. These requirements are the primary means for demonstrating compliance with the emission limits. For more information, view our Permits and Technical Services Page
Frequently Asked Questions
How do I make a complaint or report a pollution violation?
If you live in the unincorporated area of Harris County or inside the city limits of any city except Houston, you can call us at (713) 920-2831, 24 hours per day.
If you live inside the Houston City limits, call (713) 640-4200 for air pollution complaints or (713) 640-4399 for water pollution complaints.
If you live outside Harris County, call the TCEQ at (713) 767-3500.
Your name will be kept confidential.
Can I burn my trash and leaves?
If you live in the unincorporated areas of Harris County you can burn trash and leaves produced at your residence if you do not have regular garbage service provided by a government agency. You should check your deed restrictions also. You cannot burn any material generated by a business. If you live inside the Houston City Limits contact the Bureau of Air Quality Control at 640-4200 for information on burning. If you live inside the city limits of any other city, call your city health department or fire marshal.
You may not cause a nuisance to your neighbors under any circumstances.
Does Harris County issue any air permits?
Harris County does not issue any air permits. The state agency Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) is the permitting authority. Pollution Control Services coordinates with both the TCEQ Region 12 Office located in Houston (713) 767-3500 and the Central Office located in Austin (512) 239-1000 concerning activities that require and issuance of air permits.
Ozone, what is it, what causes it?
The EPA has designated Harris County as being in severe nonattainment of its 8-hour ozone standard. Harris County participates with other state and local agencies in maintaining a monitoring network to provide the public with current ozone data and advisories.
Ozone (O3) is a compound containing three oxygen atoms. Molecules of normal oxygen (O2) are composed of two oxygen atoms. Ozone can be found in the upper atmosphere and at ground level. It occurs naturally in the upper atmosphere where it blocks harmful UV radiation. It forms at ground level when pollutants react to form photochemical smog. Ozone is highly reactive and at high concentrations it may corrode metals, degrade plastics, and cause respiratory irritation. For more information, view our Ozone Page
Particulate matter, What is it? What causes it?
Particulate matter is the term for particles found in the air including dust, dirt, smoke, soot and liquid droplets. Particles can be suspended in the air for long periods of time. Some particles are large or dark enough to be seen as dust or smoke. Others are so small that they can be seen only with an electron microscope. Some particles are directly emitted into the air. They come from a variety of sources such as smoking vehicles, construction sites, tilled fields, unpaved roads, stone crushing, and open burning. Other particles are formed in the air from chemical reactions of gases in the presence of sunlight and water vapor. They result from emissions of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, ammonia, and volatile organic compounds-gases emitted by cars, power plants, industrial plants, gasoline dispensing facilities, painting operations, and natural sources. For more information follow this link
Air toxics or hazardous air pollutants, what are they?
The Federal Clean Air Act regulates 187 chemicals that are known or suspected to cause cancer or other serious health effects, such as reproductive effects or birth defects, or adverse environmental effects.
Listed hazardous air pollutants include benzene, which is widely used in the United States; it ranks in the top 20 chemicals for production volume. Some industries use benzene to make other chemicals that are used to make plastics, resins, and nylon and synthetic fibers. Benzene is also used to make some types of rubbers, lubricants, dyes, detergents, drugs, and pesticides. Benzene is also a natural part of crude oil, gasoline, and cigarette smoke. For more information follow this link
1,3-Butadiene is a chemical made from the processing of petroleum. Most of the 1,3-Butadiene manufactured is used in the production of synthetic rubber. It is also used in the production of plastics and acrylics. These synthetic materials are used to manufacture automotive tires and tire products, automotive hoses, belts, seals, and gaskets. It is also used as a chemical intermediate in the production of some fungicides, and in the manufacture of latex adhesives, nylon carpet backing, paper coatings, pipes, conduits, electrical components and luggage. Small levels of 1,3-Butadiene are found in gasoline. For more information follow this link
Dioxin, asbestos, toluene, and metals such as cadmium, mercury and chromium compounds are also air toxics. For more information on HCPCS’ Environmental Toxins Control Program, including Air Toxics, please view our Environmental Toxins Control Program Web Page.