School Buses & Idling: Toxic Air in the Making

by Laura Michelle Burns

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.

Fact: Today’s engines are designed to warm-up quickly and efficiently. Running an engine at low speed (idling) causes a significant increase on the wear of the internal parts as compared to the engine running at a regular speed. Warm-up time should last about 30 seconds in the winter, and just a few seconds in warmer seasons.

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!


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Carrie-Anne Brown

interesting article, thanks for sharing :)

Kitiara Fey
Kitiara Richards4 years ago


Amy Leibrock
Amy Leibrock4 years ago

Great post! This is a huge problem. Most people don't know that idling for more than 10 seconds wastes more gas than turning of and restarting. I work for a nonprofit that's running an anti-idling campaign right now. If you sign the pledge to stop idling, you'll get a free bumper sticker to help spread the word in your community:

Donna Ferguson
Donna F4 years ago

thanks for the reminder

Shanti S.
S S4 years ago

Thank you.

Amandine S.
Past Member 4 years ago

Thanks for the post.

Dimitris Dallis
Past Member 4 years ago

Thank you.

Nimue Pendragon

Buses are disgusting pollution machines.

Georgeta Trandafir

thank you

Alfonso Lopez
Alfonso Lopez4 years ago

Thanks for sharing