Healthy Schools: School Buses

More than 23 million children rely upon buses to carry them safely to school, and most of the 442,000 school buses on the road today are powered by diesel fuel. There’s no warning on the outside of diesel school buses that the black smoke coming out of the tailpipe could be hazardous to children’s health, but there should be.

Health Impact of Diesel Pollution
Diesel emissions affect all people, but children are particularly vulnerable. New studies in California find that air pollution not only exacerbates children’s asthma, but may actually cause asthma in otherwise healthy children. And Yale researchers found that the air inside diesel school buses contained 5 to 15 times more toxic soot than the outside air.

The public health threat from diesel school bus emissions is threefold:

  • Air toxics. Diesel exhaust contains 41 chemicals that the State of California has identified as toxic air contaminants. The health risks of air toxics vary from pollutant to pollutant, but are all serious, including cancer, immune system disorders, and reproductive problems.
  • Soot. Most particulate matter emitted by diesel buses is tiny enough to evade the body’s defenses and lodge deep in the lungs. Numerous public health studies have linked diesel soot to missed school days, asthma hospitalizations, chronic bronchitis, heart disease, and even premature death.
  • Smog. Urban ozone, or smog, impairs the respiratory system, causing coughing, choking, and reduced lung capacity. On smoggy days, hospital admissions, especially for asthma, escalate. Repeated exposure to smog may permanently injure lungs.

    EPA’s New Regulations
    Recognizing the dangers of diesel pollution, the EPA passed new emissions standards for diesel trucks and buses. These standards require that buses built after 2007 release 90 percent less soot and 95 percent less smog-causing emissions than today’s buses. Unfortunately, diesel buses built before 2007 can continue to release high levels of soot and smog-causing pollution. In addition, the new regulations do not recognize that there are inherently cleaner fuels than conventional diesel that are available today.

Resources

MN Pollution Control Agency – Offers sample letters to help explain the law, posters and camera-ready signs for Clean Air Zones. They have also gathered information on private, federal and state funds to help your school reduce students’ exposure to diesel emissions. They also have a great list of local national organizations working on this issue.

Project Green Fleet – Project Green Fleet is a partnership among businesses, government agencies and nonprofit organizations to reduce pollution emitted from Minnesota school buses and to protect children’s health. Project Green Fleet will help school districts and other school bus operators reduce diesel emissions by installing pollution-control equipment on Minnesota school buses to make them cleaner and safer for our children and our communities.

US Environmental Protection Agency- Clean School Bus USA Program – Clean School Bus USA brings together partners from business, education, transportation, and public health organizations to work toward these goals: Encouraging policies and practices to eliminate unnecessary public school bus idling; Upgrading (“retrofitting“) buses that will remain in the fleet with better emission control technologies and/or fueling them with cleaner fuels; and Replacing the oldest buses in the fleet with new, less polluting buses. This website offers health and technology information, grant information and a lot more.

Asthma Regional Council’s Toolkit for Reducing Diesel Emissions – Includes Powerpoint presentation, fact sheets, model policies, model newsletter articles, driver training resources, signs, maintenance and management practices and more.

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