HOUSTON - Embedded in the memories of those who make Greater Houston their home, the menacing, jet black plume emerging from the massive International Terminals Fire, the 2019 disaster that inundated the atmosphere with carbon and particulate matter for six consecutive days.
As fearful residents sought sound scientific assessment of the air-quality threat, confusion and distrust prevailed.
"ITC identified enormous gaps in our ability to communicate effectively to our citizens about when it was safe and when it wasn't," said Adrian Garcia, Harris County Commissioner Precinct 2.
Garcia has been laboring ever since to get reliable, real-time air quality testing to neighborhoods most at risk on the so-called "fence line".
This week, he delivered.
"It's independence, it's redundancy. It will be a Godsend for this community, which has struggled with this for decades," said Garcia.
Garcia's talking about a state-of-the-art semi-stationary air quality sensor installed Wednesday at Hartman Park. It's one of more than 70 different detection devices purchased by Harris County with the help of a $1 million grant from a benefactor some might consider unlikely - an industry trade group known as The American Chemistry Council.
ACC President Chris Jahn calls the "neighborly" extension of resources a first of it's kind collaboration.
"Improve the ability to collect, analyze and share information about air quality, especially during an emergency. We actually could duplicate this in other areas of the country where the business of chemistry has a significant presence," said Jahn.
It's a public-private partnership welcomed by Dr. Latrice Babin, Harris County's top "pollution cop".
"It shows that it doesn't have to be an adversarial relationship with government. We know that knowledge is power and when you know what your air quality is, you can protect your family," said Babin.
While clearly pleased with the progress, Garcia says there's much more protection to provide.
"The data tells you that people on the east side of Harris County are 56 percent more likely to be diagnosed with cancer than other parts of the County. That's telling," said Garcia.