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How School Bus Emissions Are Harmful

Find Solutions To The Dangers of School Bus Emissions

Each day, more than 600,000 school buses transport 24 million children to and from school. The majority of these buses are fueled by diesel. Diesel engines emit more than 40 known carcinogens, including arsenic, benzene and formaldehyde, which are considered toxic by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) EPA.

Studies have concluded that individuals are at risk of heart and lung disease, asthma and cancer when exposed to increased amounts of diesel exhaust. In fact, federal regulators have determined that 125,000 cancers are attributed to diesel exhaust. Those suffering from asthma, emphysema and bronchitis are at greater risk.

Add to this the facts that children breathe 50 percent more air per pound of body weight than do adults and there is no known safe level of exposure to diesel exhaust, and you have a serious problem that deserves immediate and national attention.

The problem itself is simple. If buses are allowed to idle for extended periods of time while children board and exit buses, increased levels of toxins fill the air that children breathe. If a school's air intake vents are in close proximity to the bus-loading zone, the vents will bring diesel exhaust into the school. Additionally, if buses park end to end and engines are left idling while children are loading and unloading, diesel exhaust is brought into the bus. If windows on the bus remain closed, the exhaust is trapped in the bus where children breathe these toxic fumes.

However, the solution to this problem is ever more simple.

Change – State by State

Concern is growing across the United States as parents become aware of this potentially dangerous situation at their local schools. Yale University's study on children's exposure to air pollution, especially diesel emissions, conducted by John Wargo, professor of environmental risk analysis and policy, is bringing awareness front and center. Wargo's book, Our Children's Toxic Legacy: How Science and Law Fail to Protect Us From Pesticides (Yale University Press, 1996) suggests measures to take to change laws and protect our children from harmful toxins.

On May 9, 2002, Governor Jesse Ventura signed a bill calling on Minnesota schools to minimize students' exposure to toxic diesel emissions. According to Michelle Rosier, organizer of the Air Toxics campaign for the Sierra Club, Minnesota is the first state to pass this law that addresses minimizing idling and moving buses parking away from air-intake vents. Ten other states – California, Connecticut, New York, Maine, Alabama, Texas, New Jersey, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Vermont – have taken action to minimize children's exposure to diesel emissions since February 2002.

To further combat the issue, the North Star chapter of the Sierra Club recently implemented the School Bus Diesel Campaign. This campaign's main purpose is to reduce the exposure of students to diesel pollution. "The Sierra Club has partnered with the Minnesota Office of Environmental Assistance to provide resources and assistance to all school districts in the state to minimize children's exposure to school bus diesel," says Rosier. "We have started the Cleaner Bus School program, allowing schools to enroll as a Cleaner Bus School by adopting no idling policies, redesigning parking or location of air-intake vents and/or providing education on diesel emissions to parents and students."

School Bus Diesel Campaign

Over the next few years, the Sierra Club plans to roll out the School Bus Diesel Campaign nationally. School districts nationwide will be encouraged to effect change at their schools. Each school district will be asked to examine their bus idling policies and location of air intake vents in relation to their bus-loading zone. Schools should post no-idling signs near their bus loading zones, relocate air intake vents away from these zones and redesign bus loading zones, if necessary.

Districts can encourage their bus companies to retrofit filters or oxidation catalysts to reduce harmful bus emissions and to use cleaner fuels such as biodiesel, ultra-low sulfur diesel or compressed natural gas. When new buses are purchased, bus companies should ask the manufacturer if they meet the EPA 2004 emission standards.

Pollution Prevention Grant Programs are available to school districts in all 50 states. These funding resources will assist schools that are making a concerted effort to reduce children's exposure to diesel emissions. In addition, bus maintenance tip sheets, a sample "No idling" policy, advice from the EPA and EPA funding sources for a Voluntary Diesel Retrofit Program are available at the North Star Sierra Club's Web site.

To request these resources or to report your school's efforts to reduce students' exposure to school bus diesel emissions, districts are encouraged to enroll in the Sierra Club's Cleaner Bus School program via the online form.

Parental Watchdogs

Students in Minnesota have successfully worked with state agencies to implement the Cleaner Bus School program and encouraged legislators to pass statewide school bus diesel legislation. Parents and students in other states are encouraged to get involved. "If a parent notices buses idling at their school, they should ask to speak to the principal," says Rosier.

Parents are encouraged to start a School Bus Diesel campaign in their area. Downloadable brochures, petitions and posters are available at the Sierra Club's Web site. Parents can also get involved by becoming a school, or even a regional or state, coordinator for this campaign. Volunteers looking for more information or who want to get involved in the Sierra Club's campaign to clean up dirty school bus diesel can contact Michelle Rosier at michelle.rosier@sierraclub.org or 612-659-9124.

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