School Buses & Idling: Toxic Air in the Making
After 16 days soggy straight days of rain here in North Central Ohio, the beginning of school caught me by surprise. Our summer passed in the blink of an eye, and now I’m walking my son to his Pre-K class. Of course, with all the requisite paperwork, the question of whether or not we’d need transportation came up. We live close enough to the school that I was excited that I could squeeze in a quick workout each day while the weather holds. Then I realized I would be walking my children past the line of buses idling in front of the school with each day. To make matters worse, I was informed there would be a pick up line in front of the doors for the teachers to walk the children out to the waiting parent’s car. Handy? Of course!
However, many people operate their vehicles under the misconception that idling saves energy. School buses themselves will sit outside the buildings for up to 20 minutes before school lets out with engines running. As buses (and other vehicles idle, fine particles, or particulates, are expelled from the tailpipe and spread through the air. These particles can then aggravate asthma and bronchitis. Children are most at risk from damage because not only are their respiratory systems still developing, they are just the right height to receive the exhaust straight into their faces as they walk by the waiting buses. As for the parents also surrounded by the exhaust fumes, we aren’t exempt either. According to a study published by the Lancet, even short-term exposure to air pollution can increase our risks of heart failure. A second study, this time published in the Lancet Oncology Journal, showed that air pollution increases the risks of lung cancer. While smoking is still the greater factor in determining the threat of lung cancer, where you live and what you are exposed to also carries a great deal of weight.
Yes, I will be “that mom” who writes a letter to my school district to talk to them about their policy. Research has shown that while many school districts are benefiting from the Ohio EPA Clean Diesel School Bus Fun Retrofit Grants Program, my county hasn’t explored that option. Considering how many children in Ohio struggle with asthma, I’m saddened that my district is not looking for ways to help their students.
What you don’t know CAN hurt you and your children! Two common myths leading people to believe school bus idling is OK:
Myth: It’s important to warm up the engine with a long idle period, especially in cold weather.
Myth: It’s better to just leave the engine idling because a “cold start” produces more pollution.
Fact: Recently, the EPA studied three different start up scenarios and buses with continuous idling for more than 3 minutes ultimately produced finer particle (soot) emissions than those with the blind restart.
I strongly encourage you to read the summary of study. The beginning of a school year is the perfect time to tell your school district to turn off their buses and stop poisoning our children!