The Toxicology Division of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) has just released its “TCEQ Environmental Health Update” report. The report gives health-related data on air pollution, drinking water contamination, blood lead levels in children, cancer incidence, and asthma hospitalization rates. Notable findings include:
For Air Pollution:
Measured annual average levels of benzene across the state are less than 1.4 parts per billion, the agency’s level at or below which no adverse health effects are expected.
Levels of air toxics which were of concern to the TCEQ have been reduced to acceptable levels in four areas of Texas. These are nickel levels in Dallas, sulfur dioxide in Beaumont, propionaldehyde in Texas City, and benzene in Galena Park.
There are still four areas of the state in which air toxics levels are too high to be considered without human health or odor nuisance risk. These include hydrogen sulfide levels in El Paso, Evadale (Jasper County), and Bowie and Cass Counties; and arsenic, cobalt, nickel, and vanadium levels in Freeport (Brazoria County).
For Drinking Water Contamination:
Twenty-two new instances of groundwater contamination were reported in 2015. Six of these were in Houston and six were in the Midland area. The causes of the contamination were not given in the TCEQ report.
Blood Lead Levels:
Levels of lead in Texas children have decreased in the years 2005 to 2011 (the most recent year for which data are available). In 2011, 0.5 percent of Texas children tested had blood lead levels greater than 10 micrograms per deciliter. This is slightly less than the national average, and is a small percentage. However, with an estimated 7 million children living in Texas, this means that some 35,000 Texas children have lead levels above 10 micrograms per deciliter.
Furthermore, in 2012 the Centers for Disease Control lowered their blood lead level of concern to 5 micrograms per deciliter (see https://www.cdc.gov/nceh/lead/acclpp/blood_lead_levels.htm). No data on how many Texas children exceed this new level of concern were contained in the TCEQ report.
Cancer Incidence Data:
The data show that overall, Texas now has one of the lower cancer incidence rates of all the states. Cancer incidence in Texas as a whole has declined over the years 2007 to 2013 from about 470 cases per 100,000 population to about 410 per 100,000. This is compared to the overall U.S. rate of 450 cases per 100,000.
The counties with the highest cancer incidences in Texas were Potter and Armstrong Counties in West Texas (455-460), Hunt County in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area (470), and Orange County in Southeast Texas (470). Counties with major cities had lower cancer incidence rates than the Texas average (Dallas and Houston: 425; San Antonio: 390; Austin: 385; and El Paso: 380). Of course, there are many factors other than air and water pollution that affect cancer incidence rates, so little can be concluded about why some areas have cancer incidences higher or lower than others.
The rates of asthma hospitalizations and asthma mortality rates in Texas have shown an overall downward trend over the past 10 years or so, although the mortality rates have leveled off in more recent years. Both the Texas hospitalization rates and mortality rates are below the national averages.
Asthma hospitalizations were highest in Amarillo, Abilene, San Angelo, and Waco and lowest in Dallas-Ft. Worth, Tyler, Houston, and Harlingen. Again, there are many causes for asthma and these data don’t let us conclude whether air pollution levels have an impact on asthma incidence in Texas.
For more detailed information, here is the link to the full report: