Softening the Edge: A Strategy to Reduce Air Pollution in Houston's Fence-Line Communities.

Open Access
Frass, Cristina
Area of Honors:
Landscape Architecture
Bachelor of Landscape Architecture
Document Type:
Thesis Supervisors:
  • Larry James Gorenflo, Thesis Supervisor
  • Larry James Gorenflo, Honors Advisor
  • Marc L Miller, Faculty Reader
  • landscape architecture
  • air pollution
  • VOCs
  • bio-filtration
  • trickling bio-filter
  • biofilter
  • Houston Ship Channel
  • Harris County
  • landscape design
  • fence-line communities
Air pollution is a reoccurring global issue that has been increasing in intensity since the beginning of the industrial revolution. Contamination of the air by particulate matter (PM) and volatile air compounds (VOCs) puts people at risk of various health issues, such as lung and cardiovascular diseases, and various types of cancers. These conditions particularly affect fence-line communities who live in close proximity to petrochemical factories and refineries, as these produce air pollutants in the process of creating their products. There is a strong correlation between the people who live in industrial locations and higher rates of chronic diseases; however, fence-line communities are often composed of minority populations of low socioeconomic means, who cannot afford to seek proper healthcare for the adverse effects of air pollutants on their health. This thesis attempts to tackle issues of air pollution in Harris County, Texas, particularly in the area of the Houston Ship Channel. The channel houses one of the biggest petrochemical corridors in the nation, with over 400 petrochemical facilities and two of the largest four refineries in the United States. One particularly prominent polluter is Valero Refining Systems Inc, located next to the fence-line community of Manchester. The design project for this thesis proposes to reduce air pollution in the Valero Refinery through the use of bio-filters, which are systems that utilize microbes to break down air pollutants through metabolic reactions, and convert them into carbon dioxide, water vapor and organic biomass. Additionally, the project creates recreational and educational opportunities in the community of Manchester by exposing the bio-filtration process in a public space, through landscape designs that provide an aesthetic appeal to the site. This strategy presents an effective, cost-efficient solution to mitigate air pollution within specific sites in the Houston channel while creating opportunities for engagement with the communities surrounding these industries.