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Thursday, May 6, 2021

Academics & Research

Professor to conduct research on Houston’s air pollution


Houston’s pollution and smog has been a prevalent issue in the city for many years.

Gasoline-powered vehicles are commonly used in a commuting based city; this, along with traffic, has put Houston on the ranks for one of the top 10 most ozone-polluted cities in the US. | Wikimedia Commons

Award-winning UH civil and environmental engineering professor Shankar Chellum will conduct research to find the source of some of the city’s air pollution.

Chellum received a $75,600 grant from the Texas Air Research Center to detect the pollution that gasoline-powered vehicles can cause in Houston. The study is estimated to take at least one year to complete.

Chellum has previously researched this problem, but specifically in petroleum refineries. This study will focus on the most commonly used thing in Houston and especially at a commuter school like UH, the gasoline-powered vehicle.

He will test the air in the Washburn tunnel, which is the only two-lane underwater vehicular tunnel in the state of Texas.

The Washburn tunnel, built in 1950 connects through two suburbs of Houston, Galena Park and Pasadena. The tunnel doesn’t allow diesel-powered semi-trucks to pass through, therefore the only root of the air’s pollution comes from gas-powered cars.

“If we sample the air in this tunnel, the chances of other sources impacting our sample are very, very slim,” Chellam said in a UH news release. “Whatever we measure can be directly attributed to the vehicles that go through the tunnel.”

The air will be sampled and tested for chemicals. The location is beneficial for the study because the tunnel is underwater and any pollution that is measured and sampled in the tunnel can be directly traced back only to the vehicles passing through it.

Testing on a random freeway in Houston could be difficult in the open air because there can be many other sources of pollution. Chemicals and elements like metal extracted from the vehicles’ exhaust will be tested in the tunnel. Metals like zinc, copper, platinum and lead are emitted into the air from vehicles and will be sampled to determine if this contributes to the pollution of the air.

“I think this project will be a pretty good and beneficial idea,” electrical engineering senior Joshua Kovits said. “People may think the only cause of polluting the air are the city’s chemical plants, so it would be interesting (for them) to find out that they are also contributing.”

Chellum will team up with other officials in Texas as well as Matt Fraser, a professor from Arizona State University. The objective is to help find the exact fingerprint and makeup of each vehicle’s contribution to pollution and in hopes of making the city a more breathable place to live.


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