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Child Safety: School Bus Still Best

Experts weigh the merits of changing safety standards of school buses.

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.

"We agree that we need to definitely do whatever we can to have cleaner-burning engines," says Martin. Nevertheless, he says he does not believe that bus exhaust poses an immediate threat to children. "It shouldn't be something that scares people into taking their kids off the school bus."

"This is a serious problem, but I think it's a solvable problem," says Rich Keller, senior attorney for the National Resources Defense Council and director of the group's clean vehicles and fuels project.

"[The] EPA put in place, for example, extremely strong diesel regulations for new engines in 2001 that will result in engines, starting this fall, that are 90% cleaner than the ones that are being sold today," Keller tells WebMD. "If your child is on a very dirty 1988 school bus and the new buses won't arrive until after she or he graduates, that's no consolation."

Rather than pull kids off the bus, concerned parents can press their school district to retrofit older buses with technology that makes them run cleaner. A diesel exhaust filter can reduce harmful particle gas emissions by 60%-90% and costs $5,000-$10,000. Also, a much cleaner diesel fuel called ultra-low sulfur diesel will be available nationwide in October 2006. This fuel will cost 8 to 25 cents more per gallon than regular diesel.

These options may be within reach even for schools operating on meager budgets, because grant money from many sources is available. "There is dedicated funding for these diesel retrofits that will be spent in the school districts where the parents make the most noise," Keller says.

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