Approximately 600,000 buses transport 24 million students to and from school each day. Most of those vehicles still run on diesel fuels. While all new buses must meet EPA’s tighter emission standards, many older school buses continue to emit harmful diesel exhaust.
“So what’s the big deal?”
The big deal is that diesel exhaust has a negative impact on human health in general, and especially on children because they have a faster breathing rate than adults and their lungs are not yet fully developed.
Diesel exhaust is comprised of very fine particles of carbon and a mixture of toxic gases. Federal agencies have classified exhaust as a probable human carcinogen. And the truth is, that toxic gas isn’t just existing outside the school bus; it often dirties the air inside school buses.
“Surely not that much exhaust gets in, right?”
Wrong. A study done by the Coalition for Clean Air and the University of California at Berkeley found that levels of diesel exhaust inside a school bus can be four times HIGHER than those in passenger cars driving ahead of the bus.
“It’s just a little dirty air. Can it really cause that many problems?”
Yes. Diesel exhaust has serious health effects that have been extensively documented. Numerous studies have shown that diesel fumes cause cancer. And since children often ride buses to school every day for many years, their exposure adds up. Exhaust also aggravates diseases like emphysema and bronchitis and can worsen (or trigger) asthma attacks.
And that's not all diesel exhaust does. It's equally terrible for the environment, contributing to the production of ground-level ozone (smog) and acid rain, air toxins, and black carbon. These emissions can damage plants, animals, crops, and water. Additionally, it affects air quality, weather patterns, sea level, and agriculture. Overall, it's really bad for everyone and everything around.
"So, what are we to do?"
The EPA recommends a wide range of emission reduction strategies for diesel vehicles, including: installing a diesel retrofit device with verified technologies, maintain/repair/rebuild/repower engines, replace older vehicles and equipment, improve operational strategies, and use cleaner fuels including natural gas and propane.
“So, what if we can't afford all that?”
New school buses are obviously a big-ticket item. But there is help available. Because these diesel fuels are so harmful, the Environmental Protection Agency is working to update fleets to cleaner fuels.
In fact, that’s the exact reason they launched the National Clean Diesel Campaign. These technologies include emissions and idle control devices, aerodynamic equipment, engine and vehicle replacements, and alternative fuel options.
In January 2011, President Obama signed legislation re-authorizing grants to eligible entities for projects that reduce emissions from existing diesel engines. The bill authorizes up to $100 million annually from 2012-2016.
School buses in your fleet may be eligible for these grants. To read more about eligibility and uses of funding, click here.