Idling School Buses Are Poisoning Our Children's Air

CC BY 2.0. Enric Archivell

In their quest to create healthy, secure environments for children, many school have overlooked one of the most toxic dangers of all.

Schools have made many steps toward improving children’s safety and health, such as reducing the number of vending machines selling sugary drinks and junk food, banning allergenic foods like peanuts, and incorporating active, outdoor learning into the curriculum. But there is one area that most schools have overlooked completely, and that is the air pollution caused by idling school buses and other vehicles.

Pick-up and drop-off times create clouds of invisible yet toxic diesel fumes. With asthma being the most common chronic disease found in American children nowadays, this is a serious problem and one that should not be ignored. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency explains:

“Idling vehicles contribute to air pollution and emit air toxins, which are pollutants known or suspected to cause cancer or other serious health effects. Monitoring at schools has shown elevated levels of benzene, formaldehyde, acetaldehyde and other air toxics during the afternoon hour coinciding with parents picking up their children. Children’s lungs are still developing, and when they are exposed to elevated levels of these pollutants, children have an increased risk of developing asthma, respiratory problems and other adverse health effects.”

Another study has found that idling vehicles do create serious pollution: “The concentration of air pollutants near schools may significantly exceed community background levels, particularly in the presence of idling school buses.”

Streetsblog USA believes that schools should take a stance against this health threat by banning idling vehicles in the school’s vicinity. It would require a significant shift in the way things are done, but it is not impossible. Streetsblog suggests implementing the following four steps:

1. Encouraging active transportation
2. Establishing anti-idling zones near schools
3. Forbidding school buses from idling unnecessarily
4. Retrofitting school buses for cleaner options

Encouraging active transportation is important no matter what, but it relies on towns and cities establishing safe bike paths, sidewalks, and walking trails that separate children from traffic. The fact that school buses pull up right in front of schools is enough to terrify any parent about potential accidents and discourage them from allowing kids to walk, even if the buses are not idling. Clearly the whole system needs to be reconsidered.

Streetsblog makes a compelling argument – one that parents should take to their children’s schools, along with the EPA’s Idle Free Schools toolkit, in order to make it happen.