Sophisticated gear now tracking air quality in DISH




Posted on April 22, 2010 at 9:50 PM

Updated Thursday, Apr 22 at 9:59 PM

Location of DISH, Texas

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DISH, Texas — Residents in this tiny community southwest of Denton that people and livestock are breathing bad air.

They are surrounded by natural gas facilities.

Residents call the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality whenever the horses act up or they smell something funny, but they aren't always satisfied with the response.

"Well, it took them an hour to get here," said Margaret Wagner. "By the time they got here, of course, the odor was gone, so it didn't do any good to call."

The state says a new trailer chock full of high-tech equipment could help resolve any concerns.

There's a gas chromatograph inside; a monitor that checks the air around the clock for 46 volatile organic compounds, including benzene.

TCEQ says it's a huge improvement compared to the dozens of short-term canister tests it had previously relied upon.

"When we do a mobile monitoring trip, it tells us what's going on right then and there at that particular time," said Matt Baker, who heads up TCEQ's monitoring operations group. "This monitoring station will tell us what's going on all the time."

With a price tag of $250,000, the unit is built for the long term.

The monitor identifies trends over several years, so toxicologists can point to potential health concerns.

In the short term, it records irregularities and wind patterns simultaneously, so investigators can track down the culprit.

"And when we see those peaks, we can go ask the questions," said Tony Walker, TCEQ Region 4 director. "And that's our thing — being able to get out and ask the right questions of the right facilities."

The trailer may not clear the air in DISH, but at least it will tell residents what's in it.

There are now four air monitoring stations in North Texas.