Cleaning the Air for Kids

Each day the routine act of riding a school bus exposes children to a toxic mix of airborne carcinogens and particles from diesel exhaust. Diesel engines have long been known to spew dirty exhaust from their tailpipes, but studies now reveal that levels of diesel pollutants getting inside school buses can be up to four times greater than outside levels.

Children also inhale exhaust fumes when they stand in the parking lots waiting to board idling buses. While buses are commonly regarded as a convenient and safe mode of transportation, parents need to understand the health risks and costs associated with this convenience.

Diesel exhaust, filled with tiny particles and toxic gases, impairs our children’s developing lungs and aggravates asthma and allergies. Air pollution affects children in particular because, given their faster respiration rate, their lungs process up to 50 percent more air than adults. Studies have shown that children growing up in polluted air suffer, as adults, from a reduction in lung capacity by as much as 15 percent.

A 2005 Clean Air Task Force report cites diesel exhaust being responsible for some 300 deaths, 340 heart attacks and 6,500 asthma attacks each year in North Carolina.

The good news is that technology to reduce dangerous pollutants inside and outside of school buses is readily available and cost-effective. The best technology is a closed crankcase ventilation system for the engine to prevent fumes from getting inside the bus cabin, coupled with a diesel particulate filter for the tailpipe. Retrofitting a bus with a ventilation system and a tailpipe filter reduces particle pollution by an impressive 95 percent.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS), with the largest bus fleet in North Carolina, has been a leader in reducing emissions. Since 1995, CMS has used a variety of strategies to retrofit their buses and reduce idling. Even with these efforts, none of their 1,300 buses uses the combined 95 percent reduction technology and just 3 percent of the fleet has diesel particulate filters.

If you are thinking of pulling your child off the bus, think again. Although no government agency monitors air quality inside school buses, parents have a critical role to play in cleaning up school buses for all children.

Clear the Air for Kids!, an initiative sponsored by the Carolinas Clean Air Coalition (CCAC), wants to solve this problem immediately and needs active participation from parents and parent groups. In May, State Representative Ruth Samuelson of Charlotte introduced the Clean School Bus Act in the state legislature. The proposal was to clean up school buses, create a diesel reduction funding program and take advantage of federal matching dollars to support these goals. This bill is just the beginning of a long campaign to ensure our children have a healthy and safe ride to school.

Take Action Now
• Join a meeting of parents, medical professionals and others on Sept. 17 to get involved in Clear the Air for Kids!
• Visit www.cleanschoolbusaction.org for meeting details and more action ideas.
• Contact school board members and state legislators to demand funding for school bus retrofits.
• Turn off your engine when waiting in the carpool line for your children.