EPA looks to reduce school bus pollution for children's health

The EPA announced that it will give $525,000 to six Connecticut communities in order to reduce air pollution from school buses. The pollution is harmful to children, who each spend an average of 180 hours on a school bus annually. Flickr/Bill McChesney

A total of $525,000 in rebates from the Environmental Protection Agency will go toward replacing and improving school buses in six Connecticut communities to reduce air pollution and to improve children’s health, according to a press release from the EPA. 

“The bottom line really is that reducing air emissions from automobiles or engines is good for children,” Dave Deegan, spokesman for the EPA, said. “Children’s bodies are small and growing and are more susceptible to air pollution.”

According to Environment and Human Health, Inc. in North Haven, children collectively spend 50 million hours on school buses annually in Connecticut alone and each child spends an average of 180 hours on a school bus per school year. The organization also lists 40 different hazardous pollutants in diesel exhaust, many of which increase the risk of cancer and respiratory disease. 

The funds are part of an ongoing program under the Diesel Emissions Reduction Act and $7 million dollars in funding across the country to replace or improve older diesel school buses. The funds in Connecticut will go to Bethany, Canton, Killingly, Oakdale, Waterbury and New Britain, which were chosen randomly from a pool of applicants, according to the press release.

“Anything we can do to improve the general air quality for anyone is important,” Paul Salina, acting superintendent of the New Britain school district, said. “In New Britain, we have a higher rate of asthma in children due to poor living conditions, so we are very concerned about children’s health in the first place.”

DATTCO, New Britain’s school bus supplier since 1992, will be one of the recipients of these funds, according to the EPA. The school district works to make sure DATTCO keeps their buses maintained as part of a contract between the district and the school bus company. Salina said that school buses are required to turn off their engines when parked in school parking lots after picking up children and after dropping them off.

When it comes to the overall air in Connecticut, the EPA said there are improvements to be made.

“In the last 30 to 40 years, air everywhere in Connecticut has gotten cleaner, but there are pockets of the state that are densely populated,” Deegan said. “Facilities may be following permits, but there may still be pollutants going into the environment.” 

Studies show that school bus diesel emissions also have an impact on children’s health. One such study, published in the “Journal of Health Economics” in 2011, showed that school districts adopting cleaner diesel engines in school buses had 23 percent fewer children’s bronchitis and asthma cases per month. 

Another paper in “Pediatric Nursing” published in 2010 reiterated the risks associated with outdoor air pollution from diesel engines.

The authors of the paper wrote, “The presence of pollutants in the outdoor air contributes to numerous health effects ranging from irritation and odor to acute and long-term lung impairments, such as chronic bronchitis, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, lung cancer and cardiovascular problems.”

Old diesel engines found in many school buses today emit high amounts of nitrogen oxides and particulate matter, which could cause severe health problems when inhaled. Buses are being either replaced or retrofitted with newer and cleaner oxidation catalysts and closed crankcase ventilation systems, according to the press release. 

“Some diesel vehicles are cleaner than others,” John Rogan, spokesman for the Air Quality Planning Unit of the EPA, said. “What’s important here is that we targeted buses that were 2006 models or older.” 

The program and funding, Rogan said, is a way of accelerating statewide turnover of old buses to more up-to-date models with cleaner engines. 

The upgrades, according to the press release, could make engines up to 90 percent cleaner.

“This is an obvious solution,” Deegan said. 


Diler Haji is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus and can be reached via email at diler.haji@uconn.edu.