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Houston Health Department

Collaboration -- Funded by Grant from Environmental Protection Agency -- Seeks to Improve Air Quality in Houston

The Houston Botanic Garden’s status as an urban oasis in the middle of the country’s fourth-largest city drives its popularity as a place to escape, embrace nature, and learn about important environmental issues. Now, the Garden’s unique physical location has also resulted in an opportunity to play a critical role in scientific research that can significantly impact the surrounding community. 

Sitting adjacent to Sims Bayou, between a freeway and the Houston Ship Channel, Houston Botanic Garden will be one of nine area locations to host an air quality monitoring device for a year as part of a recently awarded grant funded by the Environmental Protection Agency and led by the Houston Health Department. 

Dr. Loren Hopkins, Ph.D., is the chief environmental science officer for the Houston Health Department and oversees the grant’s implementation. 

“We’re really thankful to have Houston Botanic Garden involved to help us highlight the work and engage the community,” said Dr. Hopkins. “It’s a great location for us to educate people about the project, have them see the monitor, and be aware of what is happening.”

A Community Effort

Through the grant, officially titled “Enhanced Air Quality Monitoring in High-Risk Houston EJ Communities through Local Government and Community Partnership,” Dr. Hopkins and her team plan to track four hazardous air pollutants that can pose a risk to communities. Three sampling methods will be used to monitor the contaminants, and the community will work with local partners for actionable outputs, such as the education programs planned at the Garden.

The device placed at the Houston Botanic Garden will passively but continuously collect air samples over the course of a year. However, the collection media will need to be changed every two weeks, which HHD plans to use as an additional way of educating and involving residents.  

“We’ll be hiring some students from Milby and Chavez High Schools to go with us, as part of the mayor’s Environmental Youth Council, so they can learn the details of that kind of monitoring.”

The grant aims to monitor air quality specifically in the Meadowbrook/Allendale, Park Place, and Pecan Park super neighborhoods. In addition to Houston Botanic Garden, the EPA and HHD are partnering with Air Alliance Houston, Environmental Defense Fund, Environmental Integrity Project, and Houston Wilderness on the project. The team is currently working to identify eight additional public and residential sites where additional monitoring devices will be placed to gather data for the research. 

Education is Key

Throughout the grant, the Garden will host a series of panel and roundtable discussions featuring Garden staff, scientists, and representatives from the various entities involved. The collaboration between the Health Department and community partners is intended to expand the community’s understanding of the causes and significance of air pollution and to develop sustainable solutions using a multi-pronged approach. 

“The EPA doesn’t fund very many of these types of cooperative agreements, which means they’re very interested in making sure the data is good and that the results have a meaningful impact on regulation and policy,” said Dr. Hopkins. “Of course, the education component is also essential to the grant’s goal of encouraging local efforts to monitor air quality and teaching community members how to use the information as a catalyst for regulatory change.” 

The first Houston Botanic Garden event related to the project will be Understanding the Air You Breathe on Sunday, March 24, at 2:30 p.m. The $10 non-member entry fee includes general admission to the Garden, while members can attend free of charge.

Our Mission

Enriching life through discovery, education, and the conservation of plants and the natural environment.

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One Botanic Lane
Houston, TX 77017
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Houston, TX 77017

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