School Bus Emissions – What Parents Should Know

If you, as a mom, find yourself concerned about the emissions your children are exposed to on the school bus, you aren’t alone. As we concern ourselves with all that is ‘green,’ more thought is put into what our families are exposed to on a daily basis. If you have children that ride a school bus, read on to discover the hidden dangers of school buses and what you can do to reduce the risk posed to your children.

Diesel Fuel Dangers

It’s a known fact that diesel fuel emissions contain carcinogens, or cancer causing agents. It’s a lesser known fact that the exhaust also contains micro-particles that, once breathed in, can lead to respiratory problems. Daily doses of diesel fuel exhaust can trigger asthma attacks and worsen any other breathing problems that your child already exhibits. And the most frightening statistic: 23 to 46 out of every million children that ride the bus between one and two hours per day stand a higher than average risk of developing lung cancer.

Why Diesel Fuel?

Ultimately, the answer is simple: diesel fuel is cost effective. Most buses in this country were manufactured in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s and made to run on diesel fuel. To retro-fit these buses, giving them the capability to run on alternative fuels, is too expensive an undertaking for most school districts. Purchasing new buses that are designed to run on cleaner fuels is simply not in the budget, particularly when there is a fleet of working buses readily available.

To Ride or Not To Ride

With these startling facts, you may be wondering if you should pull your child off of the school bus. The short answer is no. However, if your child suffers from asthma or other respiratory ailments, you’ll want to monitor their symptoms. If you find that your child is prone to frequent asthma attacks or troubled breathing, talk to your pediatrician. They may suggest finding alternate transportation either to or from school, or both.

Reduce Your Child’s Exposure

Because you may not have a choice in whether or not your child rides the school bus, there are ways that you can help them cut down their exposure to diesel fuel emissions.

– If your child is permitted to open the window next to their seat, advise them to do so. Exhaust from diesel fuel is highest inside the bus when all of the windows are closed.
– While it may not be cool to sit at the front of the bus, fumes are less toxic in the front than they are in the back of the bus. Children who are picked up first have the longest rides but also have their choice of seats, providing seats are not assigned. Do your best to talk your child into sitting near the front.
– If seats are assigned or the bus driver does not allow windows to be lowered, discuss your concerns with school or bus company officials and ask that steps be taken to reduce children’s risk to diesel emissions.

Ultimately, it is up to you whether or not you feel that the dangers of diesel emissions pose a significant enough risk to your child that you find other sources of school transportation. In the meantime, write to your local, state and federal officials and voice your concerns.

Providing information, such as that found in the Natural Resources Defense Council’s ‘No Breathing in the Aisles’ report, to those officials may spark change in your district. With the many pressing concerns facing school districts, diesel fuel emissions on school buses may simply be something that hasn’t been considered.

About the Author

Connie Prescott is a conservation writer who works with NRDC and other organizations to protect our health and environment. The issue of school bus emissions has been drastically overlooked, and one in which parents may want to become actively involved.

*Image: Arvind Balaraman /*