Child Safety: School Bus Still Best
Experts weigh the merits of changing safety standards of school buses.
Diesel Exhaust Danger
In May 2006, two California environmental advocacy groups filed a lawsuit against Laidlaw Transit, the nation's biggest school bus contractor. The suit alleges that the company exposes children to hazardous diesel exhaust, and therefore, under California law, must warn parents and anyone riding on its buses about the danger.
The Environmental Law Foundation and Our Children's Earth Foundation, the groups who brought the suit, are not voices in the wilderness. Many public health and safety organizations, as well as government agencies, share concerns about children's exposure to diesel fumes.
Diesel engines power most school buses in the U.S. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) classifies diesel exhaust as a "likely human carcinogen," meaning that exposure to diesel fumes has been shown to increase the risk for cancercancer. The exhaust also contains tiny particles that lodge deep in the lungs when inhaled. These particles may damage the lungs and may worsen respiratory conditions such as asthmaasthma. The EPA states that children are especially vulnerable to bad health effects from breathing diesel exhaust.
Children may breathe diesel exhaust while riding inside a school bus, studies show. Researchers from the National Resources Defense Council and the University of California Berkeley tested actual school buses used to transport San Francisco school kids. They found levels of diesel fumes to be four times higher inside the buses than in cars driving in front of the buses.
Another recent study, sponsored by the California Air Resources Board, looked at several Los Angeles school buses built between 1975-2002. Levels of diesel fumes inside the buses were much higher than background levels of diesel pollution typically found in urban areas of the U.S. Older buses had the dirtiest inside air.
Reducing Diesel Emissions
The EPA is working to reduce diesel pollution by school buses in a variety of ways. One has been to strengthen emissions standards for new diesel vehicles. The agency also gives grants to help schools buy newer, cleaner buses, and to install pollution control devices on older ones. Another effort aims to discourage the practice of letting engines idle when buses are parked, such as when they are waiting to load children after school.