Bus Fumes a Threat to Children’s Health

September 27, 2010

Today we have a guest blog by Ashley Collins, Environmental Health Manager, Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago

Did you ever think the school bus your children may be riding is a serious threat to their health?  In Illinois, there are more than 18,000 buses that transport over 2 million school children to and from school every day.  While riding on a school bus is generally a safe way a student can travel to school, diesel exhaust from school buses can pose a significant health threat to school children, drivers and school staff.  The exhaust from diesel buses contains over 40 toxic air contaminants, carcinogens, ozone smog-forming compounds, and fine particulate matter (“soot”).  Exposure to fine particles is known to cause asthma attacks, heart attacks, lung cancer, strokes, and even premature deaths.  

In recent years, several studies [pdf] have indicated that the pollution emitted from diesel school buses can pose a grave threat to school children, bus drivers and school staff. These studies have found that soot levels inside a school bus can be ten times higher than the outside air, increasing children's and staff's exposure to harmful pollutants.

Children at Risk
Although diesel exhaust is unhealthy for everyone, children are particularly vulnerable to diesel pollution because their lungs are still developing.  In addition, children breathe 50 percent more air per pound of body weight than adults do. 

The effects of diesel pollution are particularly harmful for people who have lung disease, such as children who have asthma. Asthma is the number one cause of missed school days due to a chronic illness among children.  As such, exposure to diesel exhaust has been identified as a major environmental health risk for children. 

What is being done?
Today, the federal government requires all newly-manufactured school diesel buses (models 2007 and later) to be equipped with pollution controls called diesel particulate filters, which can eliminate up to 90 percent of diesel soot from a tailpipe. These same pollution controls are commercially available and should be installed on older dirty diesel school buses as well.

Free funding available to clean up dirty buses!
Here in Illinois, our state EPA has made available $1 million in funding to help school districts clean up their dirty diesel buses with advanced pollution controls. Funding is currently available for school districts that are located in the counties of Cook, DuPage, Kane, Lake, McHenry, Will and portions of Kendall and Grundy that own their bus fleets.  There are no match requirements with this funding.  

If you are in one of those areas, don’t miss out on this opportunity to clean up your buses! For more details about this funding source and an application, visit www.illinoisgreenfleets.org and click on “Illinois Clean Diesel Grant Program.”  Or contact Ashley Collins, Environmental Health Manager, RHAMC directly at acollins@lungchicago.org or 312-628-0202.

We’d love to hear about other efforts to tackle this problem around the country. What’s going on in your area?